I understand that I'm the leader of a minority of fans here, but I thought the season was, in one significant way, a disappointment. But before you scroll down and start flaming me in the comments, at least read what I have to say.
First the good stuff, as there were a lot of great moments this season. The victories over Memphis and Villanova were impressive. We throttled most of the Big 12. Rick Barnes assembled the most talented starting five this university has ever seen. He scheduled a number of high quality non-conference opponents. We set a school record in victories, with 30.
PJ Tucker got his act together in the classroom, which allowed him to develop - both as a person and as a basketball player. Lamarcus Aldridge made a huge leap to being the Big 12's most lethal player on his best nights. Daniel Gibson truly inspired me by bouncing back from such a subpar first ¾ of the season.
Mike Williams had a late season surge that was pleasing to see, his hustle and hard work paying off in crucial minutes during the tourney. Brad Buckman closed out his career with an inspiring performance against LSU. And Kenton Paulino deserved to have that moment in the spotlight after hitting a game winning three pointer in March.
Losing in the NCAA Tournament's Regional Final is nothing to get overly worked up about. LSU was a gritty, physical team with two talented players that turned it on in March. Taken as a whole, this season was successful, but I'm not completely satisfied. For one important reason.
All the post-December losses were a repeat of the same sad story. (I separate the early season losses for good reason. The Duke and Tennessee losses were a wake up call to our subpar defense.) The latter losses were a symptom of woeful half-court offense against teams that could match the Horns' athleticism. We continued to beat teams that didn't have the athletes to match the Horns. But the Big 12 teams that did have the athletes, and then, ultimately, LSU, had the size and athleticism to defend against us.
My father has complained in recent years that the defense, both in college and the NBA, has gotten so good that there is so little flow on the offensive end of the floor. A part of it is just that, the great defense, but a bigger part of it, in my mind, is that to compete at the highest levels these days you have to be ridiculously athletic, the result of which has been the arrival of far too many athletes, and far too few basketball players, on the hardwood.
This year's Final Four (George Mason excluded) just highlights how bad things have gotten. I watched Florida's last two games of the tourney. Painful. They're just a hurricane-sized force of pure athleticism and physicality. Very little enjoyable basketball for the viewer. LSU? Outright prison thug athletic. UCLA? The only team more athlete-not-ballplayer in their region was Memphis. And the Bruins out-slugged them for the regional championship. All three regional finals were terrible to watch. Sure, the closeness of the games made for some nice drama, but the quality of basketball was horrific.
Where am I going with this? There are two important lessons here. First, it should be very clear that you've got to have the athletic talent to bang with today's most physical and athletic teams. Duke ultimately fell because they couldn't match LSU's athleticism, and they're full of great basketball players.
The second, and now we get back to Texas, is that the Longhorns were the ideal team to thrive in the current basketball climate. We not only have the athletic talent to hang with the current crop of bangers, but we have legitimate basketball players. Lamarcus Aldridge is not just athletic. PJ Tucker is not just athletic. Daniel Gibson is a true basketball player. AJ Abrams is a pure point. Rick Barnes did a -terrific- job getting these guys to Texas. He deserves a lot of praise for putting together such a great group of talent and athleticism.
But he also deserves to be blamed for not getting the most out of it. If this were the first time that we'd seen the woeful half-court offense or the lack of a systematic plan for defeating opponents, then I'd be remiss to complain so vocally. But we're through year eight of the Rick Barnes era, and save a brief (and beautiful) interlude where TJ Ford was out there guiding the offense, it's been a repeat of the same problems every year. Not even average execution in the half court. Below average.
And this is my problem with Rick Barnes. And I will conclude by adding that my disappointment should be tempered by the legitimate credit I want Rick Barnes to get for putting these teams together. He's doing a -superb- job with the recruiting, and this program is in great, great shape. I do not want Rick Barnes to be fired. I do not want Rick Barnes to leave. I just want Rick Barnes to learn. I want Rick Barnes to adjust. Winning a national title is within reach for this program. For that, we should all be extraordinarily excited and proud. We should also be talking about what needs to happen to take the program to the next level. A better approach to the offense will allow Rick to do what Mack Brown did. Take the wonderfully assembled teams to the top. We can wait for a Vince Young to come and take us there, but in many ways, the team was already there this year. My disappointment, consequently, lies in the fact that this could have been our year.
In the end, the future is bright for hoops fans in Austin, and I'm already looking forward to next year's team. Whether Lamarcus, PJ, or Daniel - or all three - leave for the pros, there's a great team returning for Texas next year. With just a little bit more work on improving the offense, Texas, and Rick Barnes, can rise to the top.