A frustrating season comes to a fitting end for the Texas Longhorns.
The Longhorns, through a stupefying combination of incompetence and bad luck, scored 2 points in the first 12 1/2 minutes. They went into halftime down 31-17. They let the Bearcats extend the lead to 19. And they stormed back to tie the game at 52 with 3 minutes left to go before letting yet another close game slip through their fingers.
Stop me if you've heard this before.
Ultimately, the slow start created too high a mountain to scale all the way up. The Cincinnati Bearcats weren't particularly good, but they were more experienced. And while young talent allowed the Longhorns to claw their way back, inexperience ultimately doomed them.
- First, a hand for fifth-year senior Clint Chapman. He, like the team, overcame a slow start to put up one of the best games of his career against the formidable Yancy Gates. Chapman put up 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks. It was his second double-double of the season, and the first game since January 4 in which he notched double-digit rebounds. Ultimately though, Chapman was unable to stop Gates' final two buckets, a nice power post move and a perimeter jumper, that pushed the game out of reach.
- J'Covan Brown once again led the Longhorns, scoring a team-high 19 points to go along with 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Unfortunately, he shot only 6-15 and had 5 turnovers, including a very costly one with the score knotted at 52.
- Needing an offensive spark, the Longhorns turned to Sheldon McClellan. The freshman drained two 3's in the 19-point comeback, but also missed two gimme fast breaks and hoisted a head-scratching 3 in one of Texas' last-minute futile possessions. McClellan and fellow freshman Julien Lewis combined to chip in 24 points, which, in the theme of the season, was good but not good enough.
- Both Jaylen Bond and Jonathan Holmes had rough nights against Cincinnati's four-guard lineup. The two were active on the offensive glass (the box score lists 2 offensive rebounds each, but likely doesn't account for a few missed tips). However, they continually missed bunnies and were constantly out of position on the defensive end.
- Ultimately, though, the biggest reason for the loss (and for the season-long frustration) was another uneven performance by Texas' point guard, Myck Kabongo. Kabongo finished with just 2 points and 2 assists, against 0-6 shooting and 2 turnovers. In a game where Texas needed its precocious young freshman to shine, he laid an egg instead. Cincinnati's junior point guard, Cashmere Wright, wasn't world-beating, but put up a very solid stat-line of 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. Oh, and only one turnover.
There's plenty of off-season to dissect the past season and the future of the program. But for now, the outlook for next season rests in the decisions of three people: Brown, Kabongo, and Cameron Ridley. Both Brown and Kabongo have a decision to make about their future.
Brown has one more year of eligibility left, but he's a fourth-year junior who has just about maxed out his draft stock. He has an outside shot of getting selected in the second-round, but he could go overseas and start earning a paycheck. On the other hand, he has a chance to come back and earn his degree while leading a Longhorns team full of potential.
Kabongo isn't NBA-ready. That's been painfully evident to anyone following Texas basketball this year. However, the NBA Draft is not about readiness, but about potential. With a weak crop of point guards, Kabongo is a borderline first-round draft pick who sees his Canadian friends Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph pulling down NBA paychecks. While he has a chance to play himself up to lottery status, the allure of getting drafted may be too entrancing.
Finally, Ridley is Texas' centerpiece in the 2012 recruiting class. He is not only the lone five-star prospect, and also the lone commitment that remains unsigned. With Chapman and Alexis Wangmene graduating, and Bond and Holmes clearly more 4's than a true 5, landing the 6'10" Ridley is imperative for immediate success next year.
In my eyes, the Longhorns played about as well as could possibly be expected this season, and they are to be commended for making a 14th straight NCAA Tournament. But Scipio says it bluntly, and best: "[Barnes] has created the success he’s now a victim of, but themz the breaks. Keep meeting a raised bar or we seek out someone who can."