On Saturday, in a game that would determine whether Texas would have any chance at a Big 12 regular season championship, Rick Barnes brought an improving young team into Allen Fieldhouse. While Kansas was a big favorite, they had lost pretty decisively in Austin earlier in the season, so there was some reason for optimism. Instead, Bill Self's team gave the Longhorns a beating that could best be described as something out of the Old Testament.
The game was over by the 8:20 mark of the first half, when Kansas was up 24-10. At half-time, they were up 46-18. That's not how games between two ranked teams are supposed to go, to say the least. Texas could not execute in the half-court, either turning it over or taking a difficult shot, both of which resulted in Jayhawks run-outs the other way. Once Kansas started getting transition baskets, it was all downhill, very quickly.
If there's been a consistent criticism of Rick Barnes over the years, it's been his teams inability to get good looks out of their half-court offense. That was the knock on him when he had LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant and it's still the knock on him today, when the talent level in Austin isn't quite as high. That's what separates him from Bill Self and why Self has a 13-6 record against Barnes that goes back over a decade.
In that time span, Barnes has two regular-season Big 12 championships, both of which he shared with Self, and hasn't won the conference tournament once. Self, in contrast, has gotten at least a share of nine consecutive regular season titles and has seen his team win the Big 12 tournament 6 times. It's not because of any difference in talent, either - Self has 14 players in the NBA, Barnes has 13.
If there was a scrimmage between the Texas and Kansas players in the NBA, the ex-Longhorns would be a huge favorite. There isn't a school in the country who can boast a better pair than Durant and Aldridge, while Tristan Thompson, Avery Bradley, PJ Tucker, Jordan Hamilton and DJ Augustin form a solid supporting cast. The Kansas team, meanwhile, would be built around Paul Pierce, the Morris Twins, Mario Chalmers and Nick Collison.
If anything, Self's players have traditionally been overvalued by NBA teams, because he always puts them in the best position to succeed at the college level. While he gets his share of five-star recruits, he's equally adept at identifying three and four-star recruits who fit his system and putting them in positions where the flaws in their game won't be exposed. If Thomas Robinson played for Scott Drew, he would have been a second-round pick.
Instead, in Self's high-low offense, unskilled big men like Robinson look like the second coming of Blake Griffin. Unlike Barnes' teams, which depend on the 1-on-1 ability of their best players to create good looks, the Kansas players know how to run sets, play off of each other and get shots within the flow of the offense. As a result, the program doesn't have down years, because they have an identity they can fall back on when the flow of talent dries up.
With only one upperclassman (Jonathan Holmes) getting serious playing time this season and none of the underclassmen getting much NBA draft buzz, Texas should be a much better team next season. However, even without Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Kansas is likely to be better too. With the exception of Tarik Black, the Jayhawks don't have any seniors getting big minutes, so basically everyone but Wiggins and Embiid will likely be back in Lawrence.
Expect Wayne Selden, a 6'5 230 SG averaging 10/3/3 on 47% shooting as a freshman, to take a big step forward with Wiggins and Embiid gone. Perry Ellis, averaging 13/7 on 51% shooting as a junior, will likely be in the running for Big 12 POY. Self will also have two PG's - Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason - with a ton of experience in his back-court, as well as two talented big men - Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas - who have been patiently waiting their turn.
Traylor (6'8 220) and Lucas (6'10 240) are going to play in the NBA one day. They both have the athleticism and measurables to hold their own at the next level and you can bet they've been coached up in their two seasons in Lawrence. Self's big men know how to post-up and and play high-low and they have guards who know how to space the floor and enter the ball into the post. That puts them way ahead of most of their peers at the college level.
That doesn't even count Cliff Alexander, the No. 3 prospect in the Class of 2014, and Kelly Oubre, the No. 11 prospect, both of whom have already signed with Kansas. Self is also competing with Barnes and a host of other coaches for Myles Turner, the Duncanville big man whose the No. 2 prospect in the country. However, even if Turner signs with Texas (and I expect he will end up with Larry Brown at SMU), I'd still have the Jayhawks as Big 12 favorites.
With a 12-2 conference record this season, Kansas looks like a near certainty to win their 10th consecutive conference championship under Self. And if you look at the rest of the conference, you start to wonder if he can go on a John Wooden like streak over the next decade. While the number of quality coaches in the Big 12 is eye-popping, the vast majority of them will never be able to recruit the horses to run with Kansas.
Huggy Bear at West VA, Bruce Weber at Kansas State, Tubby Smith at Texas Tech, Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State - none of these guys are ever likely to be in the running for multiple McDonald's All-Americans. They have to pick through the scraps left behind by Kansas and the programs in the best position to recruit the DFW metroplex - Texas, OU, OSU and Baylor. Lon Kruger has never really played the AAU game and we know what Scott Drew and Travis Ford are about.
That leaves Texas, which is still the sleeping giant in the Big 12. Even with Wiggins and Embiid in Lawrence and Barnes' recruiting hitting an all-time low, it's hard to say there was an overwhelming talent disparity between the Longhorns and the Jayhawks this season. Isaiah Taylor is better than any of the Kansas PG's, Killa Cam Ridley and Prince Ibeh can bang with Embiid and Self doesn't have a combo forward who can man up Holmes.
This season has been one of Barnes' best coaching jobs in his long tenure at Texas. In that sense, it's the floor for what a good basketball coach can do in Austin - with the exception of Ridley, none of these guys were beating back offers from Top 10 programs. Regardless of who was coaching the Longhorns, the rest of them would have jumped at the chance to play for a school with UT's tradition, money, stadium, conference affiliation and location.
Over the last generation, the explosion of the basketball scene in Texas has changed the dynamic of the UT job completely. Before Barnes, there was no reason to expect a big-time recruit to play basketball in Austin. These days, with the state producing multiple McDonald's All-Americans every single year, there's no reason to expect that some of them wouldn't want to stay at home and get the chance to play Kansas twice a year.
At this point, you know what you are going to get with Barnes. You are going to get a reasonably well-coached team stocked with athletes that prides itself on its half-court D and does the best it can on offense. You are going to get a team in contention for a top seed in the Big 12 tournament every year that should put it in position for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. However, as long as Bill Self is at Kansas, don't expect any Big 12 championships.
From a national perspective, any talk of Barnes' job being in jeopardy seems foolish and I can certainly understand where the pundits are coming from. Texas is a football school whose fan base has never really embraced basketball at the level of a Top 10-15 program. Should we be happy with a coach who puts out a competitive product every season and doesn't bend the rules too far?
All I can tell you is this - if Barnes is let go, just about every coach in the country will have his agent put out some feelers to Steve Patterson. Of course, as the old saying goes, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. There's certainly no guarantee that Patterson finds a coach better than Barnes, who is probably (?) the best basketball coach in Texas history. The problem is Self has a chance to go down as the best coach in Kansas history.
If we are ever going to seriously compete with him, good but not great from our coach isn't going to cut it.