Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.
— CS Lewis
Misery? Yes. The dude that wrote the Chronicles of Narnia must have been a Longhorn hoops fan. Lewis’ bailiwick is expectations, disappointment and rebirth -- all part and parcel to college basketball in general and Rick Barnes specifically. To further the comparison, Longhorn offensive sets and motion offense sap the spirit like the White Witch doling out empty possessions. On the other side of the coin, the Longhorns never quit and generally play with a ferocity worthy of Aslan the Lion regardless of opponent or score. The results vary from elation to misery depending on context or expectations from season to season but regardless, here we are again reflecting on Longhorn Hoops and what could have been. As Lewis declares, it’s not so much the misery itself, or in this case the early exit tournament that hurts, it’s the reflection of misery—in other words, how that exit went down is what is truly maddening.
Unlike other stories, I don’t want to make this about the Arizona game specifically, although it’s doubtful I’d be writing this had we knocked off the Wildcats and then lost a close one to the Devils. Instead let’s focus on where the staff may need to utilize some reflection and how they can continue to do what they do considering the incoming talent.
On the plus side of the ledger, you won’t find a more mentally tough team anywhere in the nation than the Rick Barnes coached Texas Longhorns. Kansas? Ha, talk about some front-runners. A Rick Barnes squad would have found a way back into the ball game after falling behind double digits to VCU. Don’t believe me? Ask, well, Kansas. Duke? Yes, Arizona took it to Texas for a half, but the Longhorns found a way to battle back with a great shot to close the deal before…well, you know what happened. The fact of the matter is that Barnes’ style of coaching galvanizes his squad to the point where they're fearless. It’s a lot like what Brad Stevens has done at Butler. Take on all comers. No excuses. Everyone else can go f themselves including Dean Smith.
Speaking of Arizona, you won’t find many coaches who can game plan a superstar out of a game more effectively than Barnes. Look at what Texas did to Derrick Williams. His decision to give perimeter wizard Gary Johnson the cover vs. Williams guaranteed the Arizona stud would have to play on the interior to get his cheese. If guards like UConn’s Shabazz Napier or Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn couldn’t work Johnson from beyond the arc, how could Williams? It was genius. That one-way go simplified help assignments for Texas, ensuring the Horns always knew where help was coming from. Compare and contrast that with the abortion that was Duke and later UConn’s defensive game plan against Williams, and you have to give it to Rick Barnes. Don’t believe me? Ask Coach Miller who had the better game plan for handling the future lottery pick.
As an aside to my point about Barnes' defensive prowess, after the 2010 season, did anyone think Hamilton or Brown could learn to stay in front of ball handlers? Well they did, and pretty solidly for the most part.
But as good as Texas was mentally and on the defensive end in this season they were as equally anemic on the offensive end. From the four minute winning time drought that almost cost us the Oakland game to the clusterfuck of a first half against Arizona that illustrated zero preparedness for a defense predicated on Tristan Thompson double teams, Texas was terrible. High school hoops terrible. And it’s that range between good and bad that is most frustrating. I’m not interested in beating that dead horse so I’ll say the following.
Coach Barnes needs to do a few things to ensure that doesn’t happen again on the offensive end next season. First he needs to go out and take a Steve Lavinesque leap by hiring a veteran who can implement some coherent offensive game-planning. Coach Gene Keady gave the St. John’s Red Storm some structure on offense which had been a hole for Lavin’s UCLA clubs, and the Johnnies responded. Pat Knight would work wonders for Barnes’ blind spot here in my opinion.
Second, with Kabongo coming in, Barnes needs to embrace the advantages that increased pace afford when you have a more talented club. Texas’ game against Nebraska is the case in point here. You don’t play an inferior opponent’s slower pace because it happens to be the pace you think your team is best suited to play from a defensive standpoint. And there’s no way in hell you do it with Myck Kabongo as your point guard. 75 to 65 wins count every bit as much as 65 to 55 victories. If you need more proof, research the Big East tournament. UConn struggled against zones all season and risked missing a good seed without a couple wins there. To counter the zone, Coach Calhoun forced a faster tempo to run teams out of the zone and emphasize superior guard play. Did it grate on him that Big East foes were getting easier looks? Sure. But the results are undeniable--five straight wins.
Finally, Rick needs to realize that offensive basketball can win just as many games as defensive basketball. Roy Williams, Bill Self, Shaka Smart, and Coach K are just some examples supporting this paradigm. It doesn’t hurt either if Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, Myck Kabongo, Cory Joseph, and J’Covan Brown are in the lineup. Teach defense but don’t reflect too much if these horses give up 70 a night. It’s likely they’re getting 90.
Even if a prude like CS Lewis doesn’t approve, Texas fans will.