The 2012-2013 Texas basketball season was shockingly bad. The term shocking fits, with many observers blind-sided by the poor play of Rick Barnes' squad. I was among those shocked; a year ago, GoHornsGo90 and I predicted that Texas would finish second in the Big 12. Boy were we off.
But it wasn't just the homers here at BON who thought Texas would do well. The basketball analytics community also had big expectations for the Longhorns. In College Basketball Prospectus, 2012-2013, Dan Hanner's tempo-free model predicted that Texas would finish the season as the 20th best team in Division I. Ken Pomeroy's preseason predictions rated Texas as the 13th best team in the nation. These predictions, like our more qualitative ones, weren't particularly accurate.
Even the non-pocket protector crowd expected a respectable season from the Longhorns. While Texas did not start the year ranked in the AP preseason poll, Texas sat near the top of the list of non-ranked teams receiving votes. The Longhorns were viewed by those polled to be as good or better than NCAA tournament teams like VCU, Butler, Marquette, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Georgetown, New Mexico, Saint Mary's, and Miami.
What happened last season?
When we start looking for reasons why the Texas Longhorns underperformed so much last year relative to pre-season expectations, three factors stand out:
1. Myck Kabongo's suspension.
When Myck Kabongo accepted a plane ticket to Cleveland, and then lied to Texas compliance about it, it was the first and most lethal blow for the Texas season. The mistake cost Kabongo dearly, wiping out most of his sophomore season. And it cost Texas as well; Kabongo was Texas' best player, and his replacement Javan Felix struggled. We will talk more about these struggles tomorrow.
2. The regression of Sheldon McClellan.
As a freshman, Sheldon McClellan had an exceptional season. As a sophomore, McClellan was asked to handle more of the load in the Texas offense, and his efficiency suffered.
Or at least that is one way of looking at the story. Perhaps the more concise version focuses on the total disappearance of McClellan's jump shot. As a freshman, McClellan connected on 44 percent of his two point jump shots and 31 percent of his threes (hoop-math.com). As a sophomore, McClellan made only 33 percent of his two point jump shots and shot a terrible 27 percent from beyond the arc. Shooting 44 percent on mid-range jump shots was probably an unsustainable total.
My hope going into the season was that, while we would likely see some regression in McClellan's two point shooting percentage, he would hopefully more than make it up with a modest improvement in his shooting percentage from three. But that didn't happen. McClellan had a difficult year, butted heads with his coach, and then transferred out of the program.
3. The poor play of McDonald's All-American Cameron Ridley.
In college hoops highly rated freshmen typically project to be impact players. The projections for Ridley were lofty a season ago. Using Dan Hanner's numbers, which I have handy, Ridley projected to have an offensive rating of 108.5. His actual offensive rating was 77. Even if you aren't immersed in the numbers to the degree that I am, you can tell that this is a substantial gap between expected and actual performance. Offensive rating estimates how many points a player is worth per 100 possessions that he "uses." 108.5 is good, particularly for a player who is also an impact defender. 77 is horrible.
But Ridley wasn't the only Longhorn to have a disappointing season. Felix also substantially underperformed, relative to Hanner's predictions, as did McClellan and Holmes. The result was a catastrophe. Texas' offense was mostly stuck in the mud until Kabongo returned, lacking impact players who could create easy baskets or make open shots, while the defense started out strong before slowly eroding as the season progressed.
After the season ended things only got worse
It was a difficult off-season for Texas hoops, with five players with remaining eligibility leaving the program.
1. Jaylen Bond, looking for more playing time, announced that he was transferring after the Big 12 tournament. He ended up at Temple.
2. Myck Kabongo declared for the NBA draft, went undrafted, and spent the summer trying to make a team. He was waived in mid-October by the San Antonio Spurs.
3. Sheldon McClellan transferred to Miami.
4. Julien Lewis transferred to Fresno State to play for long-time Rick Barnes assistant Rodney Terry.
5. And then there was the story of Ioannis Papapetrou. He spent the summer in Greece, playing with his national team. He so impressed the professional teams there that after a multi-week flirtation, he ended up signing a contract with reigning Euroleague champion Olympiacos. It was apparently a last minute reversal; or perhaps his repeated statements leading up to the signing that he was returning to Texas were just part of his negotiating strategy.
6. The final bit of bad news for the Longhorns was that returning point guard Javan Felix needed hip surgery a month ago. While there is relatively little information about his recovery, Felix did recently tweet this:
Still, all other things being equal, not having hip surgery a month before the start of the season is better than having hip surgery a month before the start of the season.
What others are saying about Texas basketball
Given this backdrop, Longhorn fans can be forgiven for being a bit negative about the coming season. They can take solace in the fact that many outsiders, such as CBSsports.com's Gary Parrish are also down on the Texas program.
I wanted to do something more than state the obvious -- that Texas basketball is in a bad place. I wanted to try to explain why and how this happened. So I asked some people who would know, and they collectively painted a picture of a changing landscape in the region that Barnes quite simply failed to change with. Instead, the sources said, Barnes at some point became disenchanted with the off-court grind it takes to maintain a certain level of success. That combined with some bad luck -- Texas has lost several underclassmen to professional contracts; others have transferred -- has led to a reality where the Longhorns will, barring a surprise, finish without a winning record in the Big 12 this season for the third straight time and miss the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year.
But the bottom line is the bottom line, and the bottom line is that Texas likely will finish outside of the top four in the Big 12 for the third straight year and without a single appearance on ESPN's Big Monday, the latter of which is another telling sign of the state of things in Austin.
C.J. Moore, among the more articulate defenders of Rick Barnes, recently wrote this about the Texas coach.
Winning is how coaches are judged, and Barnes deserves a kind jury. He made the NCAA tournament in his first 14 seasons at Texas, a streak that ended in 2013. He has won. Consistently.
The perception of Barnes as a coach has not always lined up with the results. I’ve written about that before.
But the defense is about to rest. It might be a lost cause at this point.
Since the Longhorns finished their 16-18 season, they have had three players transfer and another, Myck Kabongo, declare for the NBA draft. That’s the program’s three leading scorers and a rotation big man. Gone.
But it is not all ugly talk out there. Dan Hanner still holds out some hope for Texas.
Everything seems to be going wrong for Texas. Javan Felix is injured. Players continue to transfer left and right. Jonathan Holmes is the only upperclassman on the roster. Skepticism abounds.
But objectively, Texas doesn’t have to finish with a losing record in the Big 12. There are still five elite prospects on the roster in Holmes, Felix (when healthy), Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, and newcomer Kendal Yancy-Harris. Barnes got the team to buy in on defense last year. A turnaround isn’t out of the question.
And yet people keep having the same discussion.
“I kind of get the feeling this is Rick Barnes last year.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
What we are saying
On Friday, November 8, Texas tips off the start of the season at home against Mercer. Over the next few days, we will post several pieces looking at the 2013-2014 Texas Longhorns.
This has the potential to be a difficult year. Hell, a difficult year is clearly the likely outcome. This is a Texas team with problems.
With so much bad news, long-time head coach Rick Barnes' job is surely at risk. Another poor year -- and to be clear another poor year seems likely -- and he will probably be asked to move on.
But they still have to play the games. And when it comes to games played by 18-22 year old men, the results sometimes don't play out as you had expected. Exhibit A for this is the 2012-2013 Texas Longhorns.
So while it potentially will be a difficult year, it also has the potential to be an interesting year. Interesting, in the sense that we often learn more from autopsies than from coronations.
We promise to do the autopsy when required, because that is our job. And so the first corpse up on the table will be the difficult freshman season of Javan Felix, coming tomorrow.