Coming into this season, one of the toughest teams to pin down in the state was Texas.
Last year's team went 21-10 and made the Elite Eight, but Charli Collier left school early to go to the WNBA, while Celeste Taylor transferred to Duke and Kyra Lambert graduated and is playing overseas. That's three starters on that Elite Eight team gone.
So, what would Vic Schaefer do to take a young Longhorns team that overachieved at the end of last year and keep that momentum going while losing three key pieces?
Recruiting. The transfer portal. Plus, being a very good coach.
Texas sits at 6-1 right now with its only loss coming in overtime against Tennessee. It's defeated two ranked teams already. It's looked at times like the best team in the Big 12, though conference play will be the final deciding factor in the battle to see who comes out on top out of Texas, Baylor, and Iowa State.
So, let's take a deeper look at what Texas is doing right.
Rori Harmon and the freshman class
Texas brought in three high-ranked recruits, but injuries have limited Aaliyah Moore to three games and Kyndall Hunter to two.
But nothing is limiting former Cy Creek star Rori Harmon.
The first-year Longhorn is averaging 12.1 points and 6.6 assists per game, with the latter ranking eighth in the country. She's had a couple of games where her shot has been off, like her 3-for-16 night against the Volunteers and her 2-for-9 game against Jackson State.
Mostly, though, Harmon has been a steadying presence on this team, playing beyond her age and making plays for this team. You want the ball in Harmon's hands.
On this play, for instance, we see Harmon running the fast break and making the smart pass to Aliyah Matharu. That combination is really working in the early going. The team has a +42.3 net rating when the two share the floor, with a 116.5 offensive rating in those minutes.
Harmon also brings some nice shooting to the Horns. I don't think she's got quite as quick a release — or as score-first a mentality — as her high school teammate Hunter, but she's shooting almost 40 percent from the floor this season. Her efficiency from three will improve as the shooting/spacing around her improves, i.e. when Moore and Hunter are back in the lineup.
Aliyah Matharu adds another scoring dimension
Last year's Longhorns team's leading scorer was its center, with Charli Collier scoring 19.0 points per game.
This year, that scoring has moved away from the basket, as Aliyah Matharu is the leading scorer at 16.6 points per game.
The Mississippi State transfer averaged 10.2 points per game last season with the Bulldogs, but moved to Austin this year to play for the coach that recruited her to Starkville.
Her numbers are up across the board in her new role with the Horns as the team's go-to scorer, as she's taking 11.4 shots per game, up from 8.2 last season. Per Her Hoop Stats, Matharu ranks 97th in the country in field goals made per game, and she's shooting an absurd 48.8 percent from three. That number will come down some, but it's worth noting that last year's Texas team had three players who shot 35 percent or better from three, with Audrey Warren leading at 40 percent. This year's team has three as well, but Warren and Joanne Allen-Taylor, both who shot well last year, aren't among them. If we assume those players will look more like their usual selves as the year goes on, Vic Schaefer's team is set to have some added shotmaking from deep, with Matharu providing the team with a guard who can create her own shot.
What about bigs?
We've talked about how Schaefer has reinvented this team offensively around his two new guards, but that doesn't mean Texas is just ignoring the interior.
The team ranks in the 96th percentile in defensive rating per CBB Analytics, while a Hakeem Percentage — which combines steal and block rate — in the 71st percentile. Some of that is because the guards are forcing mistakes and turnovers, but the team's getting some good production inside out of Lauren Ebo and DeYona Gaston, two players who were on last year's team.
Ebo played 17.8 minutes per game last year. The former Penn State transfer is up to 27.3 this season though and has been one of the best rebounders in the country, grabbing 7.4 boards per game, good fr the 94th percentile.
She's also been efficient inside, shooting 53.2 percent from the floor, which ranks in the 91st percentile.
As for Gaston, the former Pearland big played just 11 games as a freshman, but has seen a big increase in her usage this year, as she's started four games and is averaging 8.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
Neither player is giving Texas the kind of inside production it's had in recent years with players like Collier and Joyner Holmes, but the two are doing enough. It's like Texas A&M in that way, as the team doesn't necessarily have the personnel to replicate what Ciera Johnson and N'dea Jones were doing, but they have enough bodies to put in the post to keep things moving and to let the guards do their work.
Vic Schaefer and Gary Blair teams that are both built around guard play?
What a weird, strange season this is going to be.