Texas has been a pleasant surprise coming into Big 12 play. Will this early success translate into job security for Rick Barnes?
When it rains, it pours.
That is what Texas basketball fans must have been thinking after a tumultuous offseason.
Following a 16-18 season which included losing in the first round of something called the College Basketball Invitational tournament, fans witnessed a program mired in turmoil and unrest. Sheldon McClellan, Jaylen Boyd and Julien Lewis transferred to different schools. Myck Kabongo left early for the NBA Draft, and Ioannis Papapetrou signed with a professional team in Greece. The Longhorns suddenly became a team thin on experience.
Schools routinely lose a player or two. No one thinks much of it. When a program loses five players, and is coming off its first losing season since the 1997, people began to wonder if the wheels have fallen off.
Entering his 16th year at Texas, Barnes has to be feeling a little uneasy. The winningest coach in Texas basketball history is on the hot seat. How can a coach with 365 wins and 14 straight NCAA Tournament bids to start his Longhorn coaching career be in trouble? Simple: What have you done for me lately?
To find an example of this, Barnes needs to look no further than his own school. He has seen what happened to his colleague over on the football side of operations. Subpar play just won’t cut it. Texas fans expect their teams to compete for championships, basketball included. The last time Texas advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament was the 2007-08 season. The Longhorns have only one Final Four appearance under Barnes. And no NCAA championships.
That is a lot of pressure for a coach who has to replace five veteran players with four freshman.
Yet here the Longhorns sit at 11-2 going into their Big 12 opener today against Oklahoma. A lineup that includes just one upperclassman is quickly coming together. Five players average more than 10 points per game. Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley combine for 14 rebounds a game. Rebounding has been the strength of this team so far – Texas ranks ninth in the nation while averaging more than 43 rebounds a game. The Longhorns have won the battle of the boards in all but two games this season. Texas has also held its own against the likes of BYU, Temple, Vanderbilt, and North Carolina. Even the Michigan State game was close until the Spartans pulled away late in the second half.
Despite the early success, Barnes’ team is still a work in progress. Nine players average ten or more minutes, but the Longhorns lack a go-to scorer. Holmes may eventually fill this role, but for now there is no J’Covan Brown, A.J. Abrams or Kevin Durant to carry the team offensively. Inexperience at the guard position is concerning. Texas is last among Big 12 teams in both assists and turnovers.
Texas AD Steve Patterson has his hands full with the search for Mack Brown’s successor. Barnes will likely finish out the season regardless of how Big 12 play goes. What happens after Texas plays its final game is anyone’s guess. Will a competitive team in Big 12 play be good enough, or will it take a return to the NCAA tournament? Will Patterson continue to clean house, bringing in his guy and pushing Barnes out the door?
These next three months could decide the fate of Rick Barnes.