May 2, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
While Rick Barnes has won nearly 70 percent of the games in which he’s coached at the University of Texas, there had been the feeling in recent years that the program had underachieved. Given the importance of the month of March in college basketball, not going deep into the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis can be an issue when running a program that has (in the eyes of many) the resources needed to be a power player in the sport.
With Texas having missed the NCAA tournament in 2013 and making just one Sweet 16 appearance since 2006 (2008), it wasn’t too difficult to find those critical of what Barnes was doing in Austin. And with four members of the 2012-13 team transferring and two others turning pro, the 2013-14 campaign didn’t look all that promising from the outside.
As a result practically any preseason “hot seat” list included Barnes’ names, with the veteran coach ranking among the top names most likely to be in search of a new position at season’s end. And within the program, Barnes and his staff focused on what they could do to get the program headed in the right direction.
“When players come in and leave your program, obviously it goes back to the evaluation part of it,” Barnes said in an interview conducted in May 2013. “That’s the one thing I think we did as a staff a year ago  with what will now be our sophomore class, we said we’re going to be really selective in terms of making sure we get the right kind of player to fit what we want at the University of Texas.
“The one thing was, we want guys who truly want to be at the University of Texas for all the right reasons,” Barnes continued. “We’ve never wanted someone not to pursue their dreams of playing in the NBA or whatever that may be. But while they’re here what we want is the University of Texas and our basketball program to be really important. And I feel like the energy in our program right now, this spring, is the best it had been in a couple years.”
Many scoffed at those words, seeing the fact that Texas’ top two returning scorers averaged 6.8 (Javan Felix) and 6.4 (Jonathan Holmes) points per game respectively. However Barnes’ words proved accurate in 2013-14, as the rejuvenated Longhorns won 24 games and returned to the NCAA tournament. Texas’ season may have ended in the Round of 32 at the hands of a talented Michigan squad, but the general feeling at the time was that this group chock full of rising sophomores and juniors was poised to take another step forward in 2014-15.
And then, earlier this week, five-star big man Myles Turner announced that he’ll be attending Texas next season. As a result expectations for Texas grew even more, with some even asking if the Longhorns have enough to not only contend with Kansas atop the Big 12 but possibly end the Jayhawks’ run of ten consecutive regular season conference titles.
To say the least, that’s quite the departure from where the Texas program was just a year ago. And while much of the credit will be bestowed upon Barnes and his staff (and rightfully so), those young players who weren’t expected to accomplish a whole lot in 2013-14 deserve praise as well.
Holmes (12.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who will be the team’s lone scholarship senior, doubled his scoring average and led the team in rebounding while also providing the veteran leadership the Longhorns needed throughout the season. And he had help in the front court, as Cameron Ridley took a significant step forward as a sophomore and both Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert solidified their spots in the rotation as well.
In the backcourt, the arrival of Isaiah Taylor and the improvement of Demarcus Holland alleviated some of the pressure that was on Felix’s shoulders in 2012-13. With Myck Kabongo suspended for most of that season Felix was asked to do a lot at the point, and the results were mixed. That changed this past season, resulting in both Felix and the team as a whole reaping the rewards. Texas hasn’t lost a single player from its rotation, and the addition of Turner gives the Longhorns a high-level talent who is expected to hit the ground running upon his arrival in Austin.
Whether it’s the people within the program or those on the outside, there’s a much better feeling regarding the state of Texas basketball this spring than there was in 2013. And for that Barnes can point to two important areas: he and his staff’s decision to pay closer attention to the commitment of those within the program, and the players’ willingness to push forward in the pursuit of a common goal.
With that being the case, Texas will move from being the “hunter” to the “hunted” in 2014-15. And in his comments following the season-ending loss to Michigan, it’s obvious that Barnes wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You go back, I can assure you this: We were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 this year. We won’t be picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 next year,” Barnes said. “I’m sure we’ll come out — I told them what’s going to be fun for you guys a year from now, you’re going to understand what it’s really like with the, what the Texas program has been built on, and the fact that next year we will be hunted. And that’s the way we’ve always liked it, and that’s why I really appreciate these guys.”
Nov 21, 2014, 11:55 PM EST
Here is everything you need to know from Friday night hoops.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:45 PM EST
Florida nearly coughed up another win on Friday.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:05 PM EST
Like the rest of the 2011 recruiting class, Jonathan Holmes could have left Texas. Instead he made the decision to stay, and he and the Longhorns are better because of it.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:17 PM EST
Justin Anderson led all scorers with 18.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:48 PM EST
Syracuse is in this position because Tyler Ennis turned out to be better than anyone expected.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
Isaiah Taylor injured his left wrist on a hard fall with just over two minutes remaining in Texas’ win over Iowa Thursday night.
Nov 21, 2014, 7:52 PM EST
The Mountaineers and Huskies will meet on Sunday.
Nov 21, 2014, 6:49 PM EST
Kansas hosts Rider on Monday night.
Clemson gets technical foul for calling a timeout it doesn’t have, coughs up game to Gardner Webb (VIDEO)
Nov 21, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
This has been a disastrous week for the Tigers.
Nov 21, 2014, 4:45 PM EST
UConn will play the winner of Boston College-West Virginia.
Nov 21, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Let’s just say that we aren’t too fond of the current shot clock or the rules regarding hanging on the rim.
Nov 21, 2014, 3:43 PM EST
Mississippi State’s taken steps forward when it comes to improving the depth and talent in their program.
CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Arizona’s interior depth, Oklahoma gets rolling, another Memphis recruit reclassifies
Nov 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
News and notes on the world of college basketball recruiting.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:53 PM EST
Two of the four writers picked Indiana as a team that can surprise people in the Big Ten.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:02 PM EST
Less than a week after TaShawn Thomas was cleared to play, Danuel House received the good news regarding his waiver request.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:13 PM EST
Cullen Neal leads the Lobos in scoring and is second in assists, so this is a big loss.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:10 AM EST
Also of note is George Washington’s trip to Charlottesville, and Dayton facing UConn in Puerto Rico.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:52 AM EST
Both Miami (2007) and Minnesota (2010) have won the event in the past.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:39 AM EST
There was also a double-overtime game in Charleston, and a buzzer-beating tip-in in Puerto Rico.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:36 AM EST
One impressive stretch of perimeter shooting may stand out, but Cal’s execution against the Syracuse zone was good for most of the night.
- The ‘Chaminade Crew’ and how Jonathan Holmes has changed the culture of Texas hoops 0
- Early struggles of Syracuse, Kaleb Joseph example of the downside of early entry 0
- UPDATE: Texas loses starting point guard to left wrist injury, out 4-6 weeks 0
- Burning Questions: Who’s poised to surprise (or disappoint) people in the Big Ten? 1
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb 29
- Burning Questions: Who will be this year’s surprise freshman standout? 0
- After getting embarrassed by No. 1 Kentucky, where does No. 5 Kansas go from here? 3
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb (29)
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? (5)
- No. 1 Kentucky survives Buffalo despite ugly effort offensively (4)
- Pregame Shootaround: No. 14 Iowa State needs to be on upset alert tonight (3)
- Miami upsets No. 8 Florida thanks to the Angel Rodriguez takeover (3)