The 2012 Texas Longhorns basketball team is the youngest in college basketball–yes, the youngest out of 314 NCAA Division I teams–and has limped along to an 8-6 start through 14 games, at times looking competent and even capable while sometimes looking like deer in headlights.
Sure, the controversy surrounding star point guard Myck Kabongo and his resultant 23-game suspension hasn’t helped matters, but we’ve known for a while now that he won’t be returning until mid-February.
The team’s youth continues to be the patent excuse pushed along by media types who cover the team and, in a way, is set in stone as the catch-all excuse for this team regardless of how the season finally shakes out.
But should it be?
Plenty of teams across the country–especially in our one-and-done age–have short-term mercenaries on their rosters who stick around campus just long enough to make a jump to the NBA. This Texas team just happens to have the “type” of youth that won’t make this a reality, and which apparently also earns them the “youth hall pass”.
By mid-January it’s assumed, especially on a team like Texas’ that plays freshmen massive minutes, that the maturing process has accelerated and we can no longer dismiss mistakes as being the result of youthful inexperience.
It’s my position that the same should be true in about, oh, week two of Big XII play if the Longhorns continue to struggle, and god forbid, even happen to fall below .500.
Backup point guard Javan Felix has proved valuable in replacement of Kabongo, and has done all he can to keep the Baby Horns in games through clutch shooting, nice court vision, solid on-ball defense and ability to limit turnovers for the most part.
Others will need to follow Felix’s lead–specifically scorers Shelden McClellan and Julien Lewis–if this Longhorns team has any shot at staying competitive in a solid Big XII and avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Rick Barnes‘ tenure.
Speaking of Barnes, if there ever was a time when the highly-scrutinized Longhorns head coach needs to find a way to get the most out of his talent and turn close losses into wins, now is that time.
The knock on Barnes is that the energy of the game is starting to pass him by and an inability to win some close games in January and February will do nothing to silence the critics.
Will Texas shed their youthful image and find a way to grow up fast in the next few months or will it all be too much and March Madness will be nothing but a pipe-dream?