Texas lost to Wake Forest in the first round last night. Trips Right somehow found the inner strength to do a final post-mortem where he also prescribes a month of defensive drills for baby 2010-11 Texas basketball in order to foster its development into a team that can at least dribble towards the basket.
PeterBean was reflective as well and deals with the future of Barnes at Texas. He concludes, with fairly strong reasoning and some good examination, that Barnes is still the answer at Texas. I think he overlooks the possibility of finding an up and coming coach rather than trying to steal a known commodity. However, and I'm pretty young if this wasn't already obvious, Rick Barnes is the only coach I've ever known at Texas and I deeply appreciate and respect him.
PB draws the obvious parallel to the 2007 team that sucked out loud most of the season and only took to overhauling the team's identity, philosophy, after a 2nd consecutive loss to Texas A&M. Mack, privately (and once publicly during the Ok. St. game) was seething about what the team had become and started taking names and kicking ass in the off-season to make things change.
Can Barnes do this in the off-season? One of PB's finest points was this; all coaches will have their weaknesses and if Barnes is here to stay than a more worthwhile pursuit is finding answers for those weaknesses rather than a new coach who may or may not be able to take the program to the next level. Like for Mack, one answer seems to be at the assistant level. If these guys are able to counterbalance Barnes and offer value it hasn't been apparent from the product. Excepting Todd Wright, of course, who has stepped up more on the basketball side, is like an HR rep for the players, and continues to build well-conditioned athletes.
Bradley and Hamilton both can make a lot of money for themselves just with another year of Todd Wright strength and conditioning, besides the likely opportunities to run the team and not having to focus on feeding Dexter Pittman or Damion James on certain parts of the floor, and the likely improvements on defense from angry-Barnes offseason. We'll get back to them tomorrow though.
When Wake Forest was up by nine in the 2nd half I was ready to answer the question I've been asking myself the last few months...is this my least favorite Texas basketball team of all time? The box score from this game tells a gruesome tale but it's not even close to as ugly as the actual game we witnessed. I became convinced with 2 minutes left that the real contest would be who could choke the game away. The answer being, of course, whoever held the lead.
The rebound deal, a solid 59-36 victory for Wake, was horrendous as Texas failed to defeat even the spectre of Tim Duncan on the boards. James was completely outclassed by someone named Faroug and the stoic Gary Johnson had both hands firmly around the throat in the final 7 minutes attempting to dunk a potential game winner from 5 feet out before missing 2 free throws badly in OT.
Dexter Pittman was always a great story at Texas but he never finished the book. He was content to draw impressed quotes from Jay Bilas about how he could palm the ball so effortlessly before bricking free throws and point-blank FG attempts. I wish him the best in the NBA where he'll have better offensive schemes to grow in but he needs to get tough mentally or it will never happen.
Now, for me the main competition for "worst Rick Barnes team" comes from 2 other seasons. The 2004-05 team that was bounced in the first round of the tournament by Nevada and some skinny white center they called Fazekas, and last year's 2007-08 team that ran an offense that consisted of setting screens for Abrams until he could jack up a three and hope he made a few of them in the last few minutes.
The case as worst team: They lost to Nick Fazekas in the first round of the NCAA tournament, last at Colorado despite a 20-20 by Brad Buckman, lost yet again to Colorado in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, defeated in the Erwin Center by Iowa State. By season's end barely had 6 players who could come into a game and contribute anything.
The case against: It started off as a dangerous team ruined by most of the guards playing with injuries, Daniel Gibson carrying the load as an unnatural Point Guard and wearing down, the loss of P.J. Tucker to academics and a season-ending injury to LaMarcus Aldridge at mid-season. Also, they won at then no. 8 Oklahoma State to secure their tournament bid 74-73.
Overall it was a team that gave a lot of effort. Brad Buckman came off a sophomore slump to provide a lot of heroic efforts and the late victory at OSU saved the season. Considering the injuries and how the team persevered to reach the tournament before collapsing immediately after that accomplishment it was still something that could be celebrated.
The case for: They started the current 4-game losing streak to Baylor, lost in the 2nd round of the tournament failing to reach the all-important Sweet Sixteen, couldn't win on the road, and had a brutal offense to try and watch.
The case against: Not a supremely talented team as it quickly became apparent that players like Atchley and Abrams had been carried by DJ Augustin so the failings were not totally inexcusable. They defeated good UCLA and OU teams at home and Wisconsin on the road. The 2nd round loss to Duke was hard-fought even if it fairly well encompassed the failings of the teams.
Overall: I often hated watching this team and couldn't wait for the departure of Abrams so the team could run real offense...but they showed some flashes of overcoming late including the improvement by Dexter Pittman that had everyone so excited and the arrival of Varez Ward to the field in the 2nd half of the Duke game. There was reason to hope afterwards that better personnel could result in a strong team the next year.
The case for: Lost in the first round of the tournament to a poor Wake Forest team on a last second overtime shot after holding an 8 point lead in that same overtime period, brutal to watch on offense, lost 3 times to Baylor, ended the home-winning streak against Kansas (the only thing Texas has had to cling to in that rivalry), loss to Baylor in the Erwin Center, finished as an 8-seed after once being considered a certain no. 1, dunked on like a Harlem Globetrotters opponent in virtually every contest.
The case against: They went 17-0 to begin the season, defeated Michigan State and Pittsburgh, featured 3 seniors in prominent roles and lots of talented young talent. Perhaps most talented team Barnes has had, lost 2 point guards to season ending knee injuries.
Overall: Obviously the fact that this team was so talented is part of what made this such a terrible season. It was hard to reach a point of acceptance where small victories could be enjoyed like in 2006 and 2009 because there was always the chance the team put it together. Instead they actively regressed on defense and submitted probably their worst game, from a fundamentals perspective, of the season in the final and most important game.
Perhaps the most damning element of this season was the feeling of relief I had after watching the squad lose to Wake Forest in such a terrible fashion. Did anyone feel as remotely bad as they did about the National Championship game? The stabbing was finally over, even though the last plunge was about as bad as might have been predicted. The other 2 seasons were followed by a lot of hope for the upcoming season, this team was the hoped-for squad that was going to take Texas at least back to the heights that had been enjoyed in the finer seasons of the decade.
It could be years before Texas rebuilds to another season of opportunity like this one unless Hamilton and Bradley return and Tristan Thompson is immediately a force. Barring that outcome, this season could be the one that keeps on giving...