The Texas Longhorns put on a nice little show in the first half tonight on the road against the most unpredictable North Carolina Tar Heels. You might even be able to make a convincing argument that their ability to hold onto the lead throughout the second half is the sign of a mature, well-rounded team.
I’m not buying it. Anyone can trap lightning in a bottle on any given night — just ask the Tar Heels, who have seen UAB and Belmont electrocute them already this season. Tonight was just that type of night for Texas. They played very well, and North Carolina struggled shooting inside the arc.
Show me one other good team that Texas has beaten this season. Don’t waste your time formulating an argument for the Vanderbilt Commodores, Temple Owls or Mercer Bears. None of those teams are going to be anywhere close an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The only decent squad that Texas faced all season before tonight, BYU, defeated Texas in Austin.
A school like Texas, with gobs of money and institutional resources flowing out of its ears, should never be content with making the NCAA Tournament or finishing with 20 wins. Yes, Texas is and always will be a football school, but Billy Donovan has proven that basketball programs can win national titles at football schools.
Texas will never win a national title under Rick Barnes. I’m still mystified at how Texas made the Final Four in 2003 — methinks it had much, much more to do with T.J. Ford’s stellar play than Barnes’ coaching — and the ten years since that Final Four berth seem to support my feelings, since they have been full of March Madness letdowns.
Fortunately for all seven Longhorns basketball aficionados, there will be one last chance for a resume-boosting win before conference play begins when Michigan State comes to town on Saturday. Don’t count on a Texas victory, though. Tom Izzo’s team is going to run circles around poor Rick Barnes because Izzo knows how to come up with a solid game plan, and his teams actually run an offense.
Barnes is a capable defensive coach, but on offense Texas is a clogged toilet. Adding Michigan State’s defensive tenacity to the toilet will create a truly disgusting scene for the Longhorns and their fans.
Rick Barnes has had a lot of success at Texas. There’s no doubting that. However, from an outsider’s perspective it seems that the majority of his success has come from his recruiting prowess, as his players are almost always better pure basketball players than their counterparts. Their on-court skills can usually cover up his shortcomings in play design and game management, but the talent level in Austin has fallen considerably in recent years. Texas has won more than nine conference games only one time in the past five seasons, and the Longhorns will be hard-pressed to win more than nine games in the rugged Big 12 Conference this year.
There are at least four teams in the Big 12 that are better than Texas right now. That reality, coupled with the fact that Barnes is only 18-14 in the NCAA Tournament as Texas’ head coach — the Longhorns have lost to a lower seed in nine of his fourteen years — suggests that Texas won’t be advancing past the first round of March Madness this season.
Honestly, the season should be considered a success if Texas finishes 9-9 in the Big 12 and makes the NCAA Tournament. However, for a school with Texas’ size, resources, and potential, mediocrity simply should not be an option. This so-called resurrection is an aberration.