After an extremely frustrating 2012-2013 season which ended with the Texas Longhorns missing the post-season for the first time in the tenure of Rick Barnes, many suggested the long-time head coach’s time may be up. There was a notion that Texas was no longer a first-tier destination not only for the top recruits in the state — guys like Julius Randle and others who had chosen to leave without giving the Longhorns much attention — but were in reality, no longer a national player, either.
With the arrival of new Athletic Director Steve Patterson and the changing culture of the Texas football program, it was a reasonable assumption that if Texas hoops struggled as well that Barnes could be the next casualty. What has happened, however, through the Longhorns’ first 18 games has been anything but a struggle. The Longhorns are 14-4 overall (2-2 in the Big 12) and fresh off a surprising 86-76 win yesterday at the Frank Erwin Center over the top 10 ranked Iowa State Cyclones.
Texas faces a huge three game stretch over the next 10 days with home games against the Kansas State Wildcats on Tuesday and the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, February 1st and a trip to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears in the middle of the two home contests. In short, if Texas earns a 2-1 split out of those three games, they will not only be ranked among the top 20 teams in the country — especially given the strong strength of schedule and RPI of the conference — but will also all but solidified a place for themselves in March Madness.
Coming into the 2013-2014 campaign, no one had the first idea what to expect from this Texas team. With the mass departure of last year’s core — albeit a shaky, and diva-centric core — there was uncertainty as to how a new influx of freshmen would handle the pressure associated with being at least in part responsible for the future of a long-time coach’s career. The answer to that question has been resounding as the newest version of the Baby Horns has risen to the occasion.
Led by the elder statesman, junior Jonathan Holmes, the Longhorns have played with a level of energy, defensive intensity, and offensive efficiency which was never present for any stretch of time last season. The 2013-14 Longhorns look like teams of the past who didn’t understand the notion of giving up on a game regardless of how unlikely victory seemed. In the process, Texas has pulled out some wins against teams they had no business beating — at least on paper — and gave others who will be making a run in March Madness some serious fits.
Texas should make the tournament, and in fact, may even make some noise once they get there. It’s a surprise, but a nice one, for a fanbase that is reeling after all of the turmoil in Belmont Hall.
I’ll say something now, that I would have never said on September 1st:
Consider Rick Barnes safe.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer and the Hiring Manager for Rant Sports.