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.”
Feb 27, 2015, 11:01 AM EST
While the Wildcats continue to roll along, other one-seeds are up for discussion as the season moves into the month of March.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:55 AM EST
Leading by six with 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Michigan State looked to be on their way to a home win over Minnesota. Then they fouled three-point shooters on two separate occasions.
Feb 27, 2015, 8:07 AM EST
I hope you’re ready for a thrilling day of hoops.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:31 AM EST
Michigan State fouled three-point shooters on two separate occasions late in regulation, and it set the stage for an overtime loss at home.
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings apologizes for postgame outburst directed at freshman guard Wade Baldwin IV
Feb 26, 2015, 11:47 PM EST
The Vandy freshman taunted a Tennessee player as time expired in the Commodores’ win, and his head coach read him the riot act in the handshake line.
Feb 26, 2015, 10:29 PM EST
Who were the winners and the losers on the bubble on Thursday?
Feb 26, 2015, 9:17 PM EST
Tate scored a career-high 22 points Thursday night, and his move into the starting lineup has helped Ohio State.
Feb 26, 2015, 8:35 PM EST
Five year-old Nicholas Wince spent the entire day with West Virginia prior to their win over Texas, signing a National Letter of Intent as well.
Feb 26, 2015, 5:54 PM EST
Without Jordan McLaughlin, USC will have to rely on Julian Jacobs at the point in their final two regular season games.
Feb 26, 2015, 4:50 PM EST
In addition to a ruptured plantar fascia suffered in a loss to Florida in late-January, Ricky Tarrant also needs to undergo a procedure on his left knee.
Feb 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Boeheim doesn’t seem pleased about the ruling.
Feb 26, 2015, 2:45 PM EST
This borders on criminal.
Feb 26, 2015, 1:37 PM EST
There aren’t many surprises here.
Feb 26, 2015, 12:54 PM EST
SMU will also be making a trip to visit Memphis.
Feb 26, 2015, 11:58 AM EST
This is incredible.
Feb 26, 2015, 11:19 AM EST
These are more understated than recent adidas uniforms.
Feb 26, 2015, 9:43 AM EST
Feb 26, 2015, 8:26 AM EST
Chris Jones was dismissed from the team on Sunday.
Feb 26, 2015, 12:38 AM EST
And No. 2 Virginia limited Wake Forest to 21.8% shooting without two starters.
Feb 26, 2015, 12:07 AM EST
The Duke defense is the biggest red flag on any true contender.
- Bracketology: Kentucky reigns and March arrives 0
- Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the season’s best day of games 0
- Bubble Banter: Just how safe is Michigan State, and did Ohio State punch a ticket? 2
- Report: Former Louisville guard Chris Jones charged with rape, sodomy 13
- Wednesday’s Snacks: No. 1 Kentucky moves to 28-0, Northwestern knocks off Indiana 0
- Duke’s defense once again an issue as they get taken to overtime by Virginia Tech 4
- Bubble Banter: Wild night in the Atlantic 10, Indiana in trouble? 0
- Report: Former Louisville guard Chris Jones charged with rape, sodomy (13)
- Bill Self crushed, Jamari Traylor targeted during Kansas State court storm (VIDEO) (12)
- Roy Williams calls out North Carolina fans following win over Georgia Tech (11)
- Dez Wells, Melo Trimble lead No. 14 Maryland to upset of No. 5 Wisconsin (9)
- Is Ohio State asking too much of freshman sensation D’Angelo Russell? (8)