...a lot has been made over the current basketball team's lack of an identity and/or lack of consistency. Both of these are undeniably true. However, before watching the team dominate OSU on Tuesday night, I wanted to watch the players during warm-ups and see if they were loose. Surprisingly, they were...
After the jump, I jump into a quick hypothesis over how the Missouri loss from LAST season--and its aftereffects--could have a positive impact on the current team...
When I wrote about attending the basketball banquet last season, one of the stories that stuck with me was Rick Barnes' reaction following the Missouri loss last season.
Barnes talked about how Damion James and Jerry Johnson might have saved the season. I'd never heard this before either, but Barnes said the Missouri loss was his worst loss in the last 10 years b/c he didn't think we competed as a team. He said the loss stuck with him for several weeks, and he felt he was losing confidence in his team due to their effort. He said he worked the team unmercifully after that--none of the other coaches disagreed--and he couldn't let the loss go. Finally, Jerry Johnson told him he had to take his foot off their throat or the team would never be able to get back onto their feet. Barnes said this really hit home with him and changed his approach.
While I dont think anyone will ever accuse Rick Barnes of being "mellow" with his teams, I think it's worth going back to the fallout from the 97-84 loss to the Tigers in Columbia. The next three games were a 69-67 win over Colorado, a 63-61 win over OSU, a 73-47 win against Tech, and the annual loss to the Aggies in College Station. While Rick stewed, the teams 3-2 conference record--which included two tight wins--didn't indicate their future dominance. As we all know, Texas finished the season by winning 15 out of their final 18 games and nearly made it to the Final Four. Whether or not it was the talk from Jerry Johnson, something definitely changed for Rick Barnes and the Longhorns.
Fast forward to this season. After the Missouri loss, Texas was officially starting to free-fall and the Longhorn fanbase became apathetic after the additional loss to Nebraska. But, assuming Rick Barnes learned his lesson from last season, this three-game skid might not cripple the team. Instead of being buried by their failures, the team came out and simply destroyed OSU, while unveiling a new starting line-up that paid immediate dividends. While Barnes may have lost certain players (Chapman, Hill), I don't think he's lost this TEAM--if that makes sense. The body language and demeanor from the team showed there is still some fight left in this dog, even if it's perhaps the most underwhelming Texas team in recent memory.
Furthermore, in looking at all the tight games this season, it's easy to start feeling a little better about this team outside of the W-L record. I don' think everyone realizes just how close the Texas losses--outside of OU--have been this season.
1) Notre Dame Loss: Down 81-80 when time expired.
2) Michigan State Loss: Down 65-63 with one second left
3) Arkansas Loss: Down 65-62 with seven seconds left
4) Kansas State Loss: Down 83-81 with seven seconds left in OT
5) Missouri Loss: Tied 65-65 with six seconds left
6) Nebraska: Down 58-55 when time expired
In these 6 non-OU losses, Texas has never been down by more than 3 points with seven seconds left in the game. In all of their 16 wins, Texas has only had one such instance.
1) Wisconsin Win: Ahead 72-69 with six seconds left
The poor shooting and miserable offensive sets have contributed to this futility in close games, but I think it makes a larger point. While Texas remains 16-7 and is largely being written off, they could (and perhaps should) have won two or three of the games listed above. However, if Texas was 18-5 or 19-4, they would still have the exact same problems, except these problems would be partially masked by the gaudy record.
In searching for a bright spot, the string of losses forced Rick Barnes to confront the realities of this team and search for a new solution. While it remains to be seen what this team can accomplish--even this Saturday--I hope the losses will ultimately be taking one step back to take two steps forward.
I don't know how Rick Barnes would have handled a three-game losing streak last season, but, thanks to his epiphany, I wont have to...