Looking ahead: Texas rebuilds with promising underclassmen

It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Texas.

In Austin, Texas, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School sits 13.4 miles from the Frank Erwin Center, home of the Texas Longhorns.

Its elite prospect, five-star center Jarrett Allen (ranked 15th in the 2016 class, per RecruitingNation), could make a choice in the coming weeks that alters the 2016-17 campaign for Texas. Let's start with Allen’s tweet from April 28:

We know his list includes the college that’s just a 26-minute drive -- you can quadruple that during Austin’s rush hour -- from the uncommitted big man’s high school.

Texas will soon announce that Jai Lucas, the son of basketball guru John Lucas, has been promoted to assistant on Smart’s staff and that Mike Morrell has been reassigned to another role, per a source. The long-term significance of that choice is easy to decipher. The Lucas brand in the prep circles of Houston and beyond is strong. Jai Lucas should help Texas recruit the Lone Star State now that he’s allowed to hit the road.

But the Lucas move also could affect the pending decision of Allen, who has a relationship with John Lucas. Per ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, new TCU coach Jamie Dixon tried to lure Lucas to Dallas before Smart promoted him. So, he’s obviously an important resource.

But recruiting is complicated. The Lucas move does not guarantee a commitment by Allen, who is reportedly considering Kansas, Houston and Texas. And an Allen commitment would not ensure a return to the postseason for a group that must rebuild its nucleus.

We’ll wait for Allen’s choice. He’s a monster who will shine from day one.

Texas cannot wait, though. It won’t. And that’s fine, because the next generation of Longhorns can ball without him -- although five-star bigs do tend to boost projections.

Days after he accepted the Texas gig in 2015, Smart flew to Saginaw, Michigan, to persuade a wavering Eric Davis Jr. to maintain his commitment to the Longhorns. Davis, along with Rick Barnes recruit Kerwin Roach Jr., told Smart he’d stay. Tevin Mack switched his commitment from VCU to Texas, too.

Those decisions affected the transition unfolding in Austin right now.

Isaiah Taylor turned pro and Javan Felix and Cam Ridley graduated, so the Longhorns will enter 2016-17 without their top three scorers from last season. Key veteran Connor Lammert (7.1 PPG), versatile wing Demarcus Holland and elite defender Prince Ibeh also departed.

But Mack, Davis and Roach combined to average 20 points per game, an impressive sum for a group that played next to quick-trigger guards Felix and Taylor. Those numbers should increase in 2016-17. Will the efficiency? That’s the pre-eminent question surrounding a promising sophomore class that includes two players, Roach and Mack, who shot below 65 percent from the free throw line.

After losing five seniors and the best player on his roster, Smart could do far worse than a Mack-Davis-Roach alignment. Kendal Yancy and Shaquille Cleare, a veteran big man, will help, too.

Plus, Andrew Jones, a 6-foot-4 guard ranked 29th in the 2016 class by RecruitingNation, will not wait to get his. He’s ready now. His presence will enhance the potency of a youthful backcourt fortifying Smart’s squad. Smart expects Jones to deliver early.

Top-100 center James Banks can run the floor and find his place within UT’s intense defensive scheme, too.

In 2016-17, the Big 12 will shift after losing some of its best players. The league’s membership will attempt to replace the production of Georges Niang, Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis, Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, Wayne Selden Jr., Devin Williams, Jaysean Paige, Taylor and others.

So a young Texas roster in flux will not seem odd next season.

But Taylor rose in critical moments. He dropped 18 in a win over North Carolina in December. He scored 28 points in a win over Iowa State in January. He collected 23 points in a February victory over West Virginia. Yes, those highlights also included a 42 percent clip from the field overall. But Taylor anchored a team that reached the NCAA tournament.

Who will play that role for Texas in 2016-17?

The Longhorns will need time to mature. They’ve lost so much. By the end of the season, however, Smart could mold this group into one of the nation’s top young squads, a group that could enter 2017-18 as a favorite in the Big 12.

The Longhorns are ready to go and grow without Allen.

And if the Austin product does pick Texas, we’ll have to raise our expectations for 2016-17.