What is a ‘College Hoops What-If Team’?
Great question. The concept is rather simple. Many college sports teams have endured adversity by way of injuries, coach departures, and especially stud underclassmen declaring for the NBA draft.
The first requirement is staying within reason – no crazy multi-faceted hypotheticals involving multiple recruits declaring to a different school, hiring a totally different coach that wasn’t looking for work, etc.
The next requirement is having the actual team and theoretical outcome as a marginal difference from reality. Example – if Kostas Antetokounmpo had stayed at Dayton, this past season would have been his junior year. Would that really change the outcome for Dayton’s season, a presumptive #1 seed had the NCAA tournament happened? Not really. It could have been very fun to see him with Obi Toppin, but a rather one-dimensional exercise.
Third and final requirement – national contenders or bust!!! If a team isn’t a legitimate threat to win a natty after I spin some wild scenario, it’s probably not worth talking about.
Without further ado – let’s dive right in.
The 2006-07 Texas Longhorns:
Record: 25-10 (12-4, 3rd In the Big 12)
Season Outcome: Lost in 2nd round of 2007 NCAA Tournament
History tells us this was a really fun Longhorns squad. Albeit a bit topheavy with talent, and ended up having an okay but largely underwhelming tourney performance. Most college hoops fans can tell you right off the bat that the 2007 Texas team is best known as Kevin Durant’s first and only season representing the classic burnt orange.
Durant 06-07 stat-line (courtesy of SportsReference-CBB):
As the above photo and stats insinuate, it was quite an illustrious one-and-done season for KD at Texas. He was the player of the year across the board. John Wooden Award, AP Player of the Year, Naismith Player of the Year, Big 12 Player of the Year, etc. In fact, he was the first freshman in the history of the Big 12 to win the conference player of the year award. Needless to say, he put up one of the most dominant seasons we’d ever seen from a 1st-year player. What’s the only accolade missing from his hardware? The NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player Award. The easy explanation as to why he didn’t win that was that Texas failed to make it to the Sweet 16 as a #4 seed in the 2007 NCAA Tourney.
Notables of the 06-07 squad
Coach: Rick Barnes – Say what you want about Barnes not being able to win it all, but he’s a very good coach. Not super sexy but he has a career winning % of .652 – very respectable. Barnes has been at the helm for winning basketball programs in the Big East (Providence), ACC (Clemson), Big 12 (Texas), and most recently the SEC (Tennessee).
Kevin Durant (Freshman) – Already touched on KD a bit, but I would add that he was the only player in the country to be in the Top 10 nationally in both scoring (4th) and rebounding (4th). Also, Durant was just the 2nd freshman in NCAA basketball history to eclipse 900 points in a season.
DJ Augustin (Freshman) – The only other would-be lottery pick on this squad, DJ Augustin was an elite point guard from the moment he stepped on campus at Texas. 6.7 assists per game as a freshman is VERY impressive. That assist line was good enough to be 4th in the nation, especially impressive considering that’s while playing against some pretty stiff Big 12 competition. Shooting 44% on three-pointers with 3 attempts per game is quite solid as well. Bottom line: a great starting point guard to trust to run the offense effectively, even as a freshman.
Damion James (Freshman) – James, another stud freshman, was actually ranked higher as a recruit than Augustin (#17 nationally to Augustin’s #35). His impact on Texas basketball was made later on in his 4-year college career, but he was a high-quality defender and contributor for the Longhorns. His per-game numbers: 7.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks. More than solid stats for a freshman and future NBA 1st round draft pick.
Relative Deep Cuts, But Worth Mentioning
Dexter Pittman (Freshman) – Another NBA talent and recognizable name, Pittman was a formidable big off the bench in limited time. While his impact didn’t amount to much in this season, having a raw 6’10, 300 pound top 100 recruit is quite a card to have in your back pocket.
AJ Abrams (Sophomore) – Perhaps somewhat of a deep cut, but a relevant piece for this Texas team. Abrams started alongside Augustin in all 35 games as an undersized offensive sparkplug, particularly from deep. In 06-07, Abrams averaged 15.5 points per game while shooting 42% from 3-point range on just over 8 attempts per game.
The 2005-06 Texas Longhorns:
Record: 30-7 (13-3, 1st In the Big 12)
Season outcome: Lost in Elite Eight of 2006 NCAA Tournament
Quite the Longhorn squad here. If not for a dominant performance by LSU’s frontcourt of Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Tyrus Thomas, this Texas team might’ve made a run at a national title. Rick Barnes got plenty out of his team to make an Elite 8 appearance in what was a loaded NCAA tournament. Though one might opine it was a letdown after being ranked as the #2 team in the nation to start the 05-06 season. Led by a trio of would-be contributors at the NBA level, their roster’s talent may have been a little too top-heavy. All that being said, their regular season was still good enough to receive a #2-seed in the Big Dance, and though the path wasn’t very imposing, they knocked on the door of a Final 4 appearance.
Notables of the 05-06 squad:
Coach: Rick Barnes – * See above.
Lamarcus Aldridge (Sophomore) – LaMarcus Aldridge!!! An absolute BEAST, who as most know, emerged as a star in the NBA, and remains one to this day. Aldridge had yet to develop a 3-point shot, but to dominate at the college level, he didn’t need to. At 6’11 and 240-pounds Aldridge was an absolute force to reckon with in the paint. Additionally, LMA was 2nd in the nation in defensive win shares and 4th overall in total win shares. His stats were solid, but not quite prolific. On a per-game basis, 15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1.4 steals will certainly get it done. But his impact on the floor goes beyond those numbers.
PJ Tucker (Junior) – NBA fans know PJ Tucker as a gritty defender willing to sacrifice his energy to guard the opposing team’s stars, regardless of being overmatched on paper physically. His smaller frame mattered far less at the college level though, and he tore up the Big 12 as a 6’5, 225-pound small forward. Surprisingly, Tucker actually led this Texas team in points and rebounds per game (as well as nearly assists per game). 16.1 points, 9.5 boards, and 2.9 assists make for a highly effective upperclassmen capable of being a leader on any college hoops team.
Daniel Gibson (Sophomore) – Gibson was a score-first point guard who many will recall as part of those classic early LeBron-led Cleveland Cavs teams. ‘Boobie’ as he was called, was a volume 3 point shooter, taking the vast majority of deep-ranged attempts for the Longhorns. Gibson ended up shooting 38% from 3-point range on 7.2 attempts per game – amounting to 13.4 points per game. Nothing crazy, but a consistent contribution, especially considering every opponent knew they’d be mainly calling his number throughout the game to stretch the floor and balance the offense.
Relative Deep Cuts, But Worth Mentioning
Kenton Paulino (Senior) – Paulino served as a solid veteran starting guard to slot next to the high-octane scoring of Gibson. His per-game stats certainly contributed with 9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3 assists. But alas, Paulino was a senior and would not be around for our hypothetical
Brad Buckman (Senior) – Another outgoing senior, but also a starter for the 30-win ’05-06 Texas team. Buckman’s presence as a rock-solid 6’8 power forward allowed for Tucker to do his thing and take advantage of less bulky small-forwards. Sorry to Buckman, but he cannot be a part of our next portion. Good luck to our Class of 2006 graduating seniors.
Put These Teams Together and What Have You Got in 2006-07?
Now for the fun part! Let’s assume those 3 non-seniors I mentioned as 2005-06 notables stayed in school. Now, the 2006-07 rotation looks like:
Forward: Kevin Durant (Freshman)
Center/Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge (Junior)
Forward: PJ Tucker (Senior)
Guard: Daniel Gibson (Junior)
Guard: DJ Augustin (Freshman)
Damion James (Freshman)
AJ Abrams (Sophomore)
Dexter Pittman (Freshman)
WHAT A SQUAD. NBA careers aside, this would have been one of the most talented 8-man rotations I’d seen in my lifetime of watching college basketball.
Is this roster realistic though?
Honestly, I think so, but it’s impossible to know for sure. Aldridge clearly had a hunch he’d be a top pick in the 2006 NBA draft, as he went 2nd overall. However, not totally outlandish to think an elite player who was so close to a glorious Final 4 appearance would come back for a 3rd season to finish the job and win it all. Had he stuck around for another season, I imagine PJ Tucker and Daniel Gibson would’ve been very tempted to make another go at it. After all, they were both 2nd rounders going with the 35th and 42nd picks, respectively.
The other big question is whether or not Durant still goes to Texas knowing he’s the #2 recruit in the country, with plenty of options. With Aldridge, Gibson, and Tucker still in the fold, KD’s role and share of touches definitely take a hit. While it’s unlikely that the Texas offense would be totally be run through him to the same degree as it was from the moment he stepped on campus.
Here are a couple of tweets from Durant for some more context:
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) April 15, 2015
Wanted to set my own path RT @BallLikeMe12: @KDTrey5 why Texas over Duke?
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) April 15, 2015
Not sure if Aldridge and Tucker are obstacles in Durant’s desire to ‘set his own path’, or if that’s more of a reference to program prestige. For what it’s worth, based on recruiting databases, he committed in the summer of 2005, before Texas’ deep 2006 tourney run.
In the name of this being fun, we’ll assume he wanted to be a transcendent talent for Texas Longhorn basketball regardless on how many talented upperclassmen were in the rotation. By doing so, he could prove capable of taking his game to the next level without needing to go through an elite machine of a program like those he mentioned as finalists. Might be a slight diss to Rick Barnes, but alas, I’m sure he’s not complaining KD went to Texas.
Hypothetical ‘What-If’ 2006-07 Season Outcome:
I have no doubt that the core 3 contributors from the previous season’s 30-win squad would have led this team to more than 25 wins and better than a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament… but let’s not go overboard. For simplicity, let’s look at who the 06-07 Texas team played / would have played in March Madness.
1st Round: #4 Texas vs #13 New Mexico State
They won by 12 without Aldridge, Tucker, and Gibson, so they probably win by 25-30 instead. Not much to think over on this one. Statement win to open the tourney.
Verdict: Texas wins by 28
This is the only actual photo from this 2007 tournament. Thanks to the Aggies of New Mexico State for coming out.
2nd Round: #4 Texas vs #5 USC
This is where they actually lost by 20, despite KD putting up 30 points and 9 rebounds. Add in Aldridge in particular, and suddenly USC’s big man Taj Gibson has a much tougher time in the paint. Taj Gibson feasted for 17 points and 14 boards, 5 of them which were on the offensive end. Hard to imagine LMA allowing that to happen had he been around. Nick Young had 22 in this game for the Trojans, but the inclusion of Daniel Gibson doesn’t exactly have me thinking that would impact that line much. The other major impact is PJ Tucker defending USC’s Daniel Hackett. Hackett’s 20 point performance on 10 shot attempts simply does not happen if PJ Tucker is defending him. I’m going with Texas here in what would serve as a painful follow up to Vince Young’s performance leading Texas over USC in the 2006 National Championship.
Verdict: Texas wins by 8
Nick Young appears to be having a fun time playing against KD. This is preceding their NBA Championship together on the 2018 Golden State Warriors.
3rd Round / Sweet 16: #4 Texas vs #1 North Carolina
In reality, USC lost to UNC by 10 in this matchup. Pretty balanced offensive attack from USC, but neither team shot well from deep. Initially, you might think Tyler ‘Psycho T’ Hansbrough was a beast in this contest, but USC actually held him to just 5 points, and 1 of 6 shots from the field. The Tar Heels were famously down by 16 early on in the 2nd half, but Brandan Wright was too much for USC in the paint. That doesn’t happen if Aldridge is banging with him down low. Suddenly UNC is forced to shoot outside shots, which wouldn’t fare them well. UNC was just 2 of 14 from 3-point range, good for 14% – yikes. USC had all the makings of a major upset but fell short by not finishing the Tar Heels off. My alternate-timeline Longhorns squad, however, secures the upset against the top-seeded Tar Heels.
Verdict: Texas wins by 6
As you can see below, the Tar Heels were pretty ticked off about this loss to Texas.
4th Round / Elite 8: #4 Texas vs #2 Georgetown
As I just mentioned, North Carolina was sloppy this season, even as a 1-seed and due for an upset. The next round against the Georgetown Hoyas is where UNC’s journey ended in overtime. Hansbrough and Wright combined for 40 points in the paint, along with another 14 points from big man Deon Thompson. Clearly, Georgetown’s interior defense led by Roy Hibbert actually left a ton of opportunity for bigs with the ability to shoot out of the post and in the mid-range. As a result, guys like Durant and Aldridge would FEAST here. Granted, Durant probably matches up with the hyper-athletic Jeff Green, which makes for an exhilarating matchup between stud NBA prospects (and soon to be teammates in Seattle / OKC).
Combining Durant’s athleticism, length, and shot-blocking ability with Aldridge’s defensive presence in the paint, Green would fail to get to the rim as often and as a result, doesn’t match his 22 points.
As for how Texas would attack the Hoyas’ formidable active zone defense, it’s not too complicated. A barrage of 3-point shooting from DJ Augustin, Daniel Gibson, and even Durant would force Georgetown out of their desired zone defense. Forcing them into a man to man defensive set would be critical, especially if Aldridge got going in the mid-range, pulling the 7’2 Roy Hibbert out of the paint. By minimizing the impact of Georgetown’s best 2 players on either end (Green and Hibbert), Texas has more than enough talent to win.
Verdict: Texas wins by 12
Try as he might, John Thompson III just couldn’t get it done in the Elite 8 against the loaded Longhorns squad.
5th Round / Final 4: #4 Texas vs #1 Ohio State
This matchup in the Final Four would’ve been the NCAA’s absolute DREAM. Kevin Durant versus Greg Oden. Head to head. The best 2 players in the country, #1 and #2 recruits, and soon to be 1st and 2nd picks of the 2007 NBA Draft. What a showcase this would’ve been for the Final Four in Atlanta.
Aldridge remains the ultimate defensive presence and would be able to shunt Greg Oden offensively. Granted, Oden probably plays a more well-rounded defensive game than Georgetown’s rim-protecting Hibbert. BUT, in real life, Oden got into foul trouble early and was outscored by Hibbert, 13 to 19. Let’s assume Aldridge tops Hibbert’s 19 with a few more to account for his more advanced post-moves and mid-range game.
But, that’s okay because I have no clue who on Ohio State would be capable of matching up with Kevin Durant. Ivan Harris is probably the best option for the Buckeyes, but that’s not really saying a whole lot. Durant’s ability to shoot the 3 and length to get to the rim is what enables him to really take advantage here, despite a great Ohio State team defense.
What scares me here is Mike Conley. Conley was the glue for Ohio State to make their Final Four run. As a result, I’m not totally convinced Augustin and Gibson can do enough to totally neutralize what he meant to the Buckeyes offense. Defensively, Conley would do quite a good job on Augustin, neutralizing him a bit from making as much of an impact as you’d like. However, with Durant’s mismatch – I’m still riding with the Longhorns.
Verdict: Texas wins by 6
A bittersweet trip to Atlanta, as Ohio State’s Jamar Butler solemnly walks off the court following their loss to Texas.
6th Round / National Championship: #4 Texas vs #1 Florida
Well, congrats Longhorn fans. You made it to the National Championship. The Big Dance. The good news is you’ve come this far. The bad news is that you have to play the defending champion Florida Gators.
As the kids say, no cap when it comes to how good this Florida team was. Arguably one of the best teams in recent NCAA history. Such a deep fleet of elite talent and a top coach in Billy Donovan. This team was no joke and won multiple national championships for a reason.
The Gators don’t really have a glaring weakness to exploit. They played phenomenal defense as a unit, with an impressive balance of size and athleticism. Guys like Joakim Noah and Al Horford made for the best frontcourt in the nation – that is until the Texas frontcourt of LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant came to be! Horford and Durant is probably the matchup Texas would look to exploit, just due to the vast difference in speed and raw athleticism. Horford’s sound fundamental defense works against 99% of opposing players, but Kevin Durant is the 1% in this case.
Guard play is an interesting facet to consider as well. Florida allowed Oregon’s Aaron Brooks to drop 27 points, which allowed the Ducks to hang with them for nearly the entire Elite 8 game. While Brooks was an electric college player, I do think Augustin and Gibson would combine for that and then some for the Longhorns. Worth noting, Ohio State stunk from 3-point range against Florida, which very well might’ve been the difference for them. In this alternate-reality where Texas gets a crack at Florida, the Longhorns would out-perform what the Buckeyes did. As a result, through the power of the best player in the nation, Kevin Durant, I have the Longhorns edging out the Gators to win it all.
Verdict: Texas wins by 2; Kevin Durant wins the 2007 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
Hell of a game and postseason run for the 2006-07 Texas Longhorns. Texas superfan Matthew McConaughey gave a rousing halftime speech to push the Longhorns to beat the Gators of Florida. Truly a storybook ending to the season.
Final Verdict: The 2006-07 ‘What-If’ Texas Longhorns Win Their 1st NCAA Basketball National Championship
Welp – you heard it here first. What a shame. If LaMarcus Aldridge, PJ Tucker, and Daniel Gibson had stuck around in Austin for another year, they would’ve won a National Championship. Also big congratulations to Kevin Durant for his hypothetical 2007 Final Four Most Outstanding Player award. He finally got all of the 2007 hardware.
-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, @VerbalCommitPod and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166 / https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/verbally-committed/id1516871465
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