Prior to the start of the Texas Longhorns 2013-14 hoops season there was plenty of concern about the quality of product Rick Barnes and his coaching staff would be able to put on the floor following a disastrous 2012-13 season. The Longhorns missed the post-season earlier this year for the first time in Barnes’ tenure, and the rumblings he had lost the team, and his time on the Forty Acres was reaching its end, had become deafening.
All along, however, Barnes continued to insist he had a plan, and this year’s team would be different. No more me-first. No more diva attitudes and individuals who just happened to wear the same uniform. These words were more than just hot air, and have become a reality, as the 2013-14 version of Texas hoops is obviously a whole new team.
Led by freshman phenom point guard Isaiah Taylor, Texas has worked its way back into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2012 — entering into the Week 13 poll at No. 25 after consecutive wins over ranked teams in the Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State Wildcats and Baylor Bears.
These three consecutive victories over ranked teams, in fact, is a first in program history, and a tangible sign of how successful this team has been in spite of relatively low pre-season expectations. As is his nature, Barnes has made little of the fact Texas has been un-ranked prior to this week, instead emphasizing the team is taking baby steps in a Big 12 Conference treacherous and deep as it ever has been.
While none of Texas’ offensive numbers are particularly eye-popping (77.6 points per game, 44.6% from the field, 32.9% from three, 65.3% from the line), the offense has been solid enough, given a tenacious defense predicated by the impressive inside presence of constantly improving sophomore center Cam Ridley (this week’s Big 12 Player of the Week), and workmanlike effort from Taylor and his fellow guards, including Demarcus Holland and Javan Felix who have all played first-tier on-ball defense on the perimeter to compliment the big guys.
On the offensive side of the ball, Texas has been the definition of a balanced team with four players averaging in double-figures, led by junior Jonathan Holmes at 12.9 points per game. Holmes has been the spiritual leader on the floor so far this season for Texas, but this hardly means other guys can’t rise to the occasion. Felix, Ridley, Taylor and even Holland have led the team in scoring on different evenings, each bringing their own unique skill sets to the table.
While the Big 12 has been able to sleep on Texas to a degree in the conference’s first half, this definitely won’t be the case going forward. The Longhorns have made their mark on the conference — and are back on the radar nationally — with their biggest test yet coming this Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center against the league-leading Kansas Jayhawks.
If Rick Barnes’ squad can somehow pull an upset on Saturday afternoon and knock off the Jayhawks, the upside of a team once thought to be dead prior to arrival may be higher than anyone could have expected.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer and the Hiring Manager for Rant Sports.