Rick Barnes isn't dead as Texas Basketball head coach just yet, but make no mistake about it: following last year's debacle and the mutiny of disgruntled sophomores, Barnes may well be coaching next year to keep his job.
By any measure, the 2012-13 Texas Longhorns basketball season was an utter debacle, start to finish. The tone for the abysmal season was set a week before the team's first game, when Texas learned it would have to hold out sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo indefinitely while the NCAA conducted an investigation of an improper benefit, robbing a young Longhorns squad already lacking in leaders of its best and most important player. Without Myck, Texas suffered a humiliating defeat to Chaminade in the Maui Invitational, was further embarrassed in a pitiful blowout to Georgetown on national TV, finished the non-conference season at 8-5 with just a single win over a quality opponent (UNC), and opened Big 12 play with just two wins against six losses. By the time Kabongo rejoined the team in mid-February, the season was already sunk.
Barnes can't be blamed for his point guard's suspension, but Kabongo's absence wound up illuminating how damaged the program's foundation has become. The combination of a disastrous dip into the Canadian pipeline, an incomplete and incoherent overall recruiting plan, and Barnes' grating coaching style culminated in a nightmare 2012-13 season across which Texas' head coach looked as though he had been thrust into a chaotic, no-win situation five minutes before the season began.
But of course he wasn't. That is perhaps true for Javan Felix, but Rick Barnes was around for the origins of the mess he found himself in this past season.
He largely created it.
What The Numbers Say
When it was all said and done, Texas really didn't do anything well last season. They didn't shoot well -- oh God did they not shoot well -- they didn't rebound well, they were unbelievably turnover-prone, and after a strong start on defense during non-conference play they struggled to stop anyone during conference play.
The across-the-board mediocrity (or worse) resulted in a No. 98 overall ranking in the KenPom ratings (with an offensive ranking of No. 161 that rated worse than such 2013 powerhouses as Yale, South Dakota, Loyola Chicago, Toledo, and Tennessee State, to name just a few), a final record of 16-18 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12, no NCAA Tournament bid -- no NIT bid, even -- and a sad loss to Houston in the CBI, which provided a sadly perfect bookend to an utterly forgettable season.
Broadly speaking, effectiveness on offense is the product of some combination of shooting the ball well, rebounding lots of missed shots, minimizing lost possessions, and/or scoring more points per shot (i.e. through 3-pointers and/or free throws). An offense that struggles in one regard needs to make up for the deficiency in another. You can make fewer of the shots you take if you rebound more of your misses. Or you can suffer lots of turnovers if you produce more points with each shot that you take (i.e. hit threes).
Texas shot the ball horribly, but didn't scoop up nearly enough of its own misses. It coughed up an ungodly number of possessions, and made up no ground from beyond the arc or at the line. In other words, the Longhorns weren't particularly good in any regard, and bad to horrible in most. It was ugly.
Whatever happens next year, if the Longhorns are as hard to watch on offense as they were this year, it will be an upset if Barnes is on the sidelines for the 2014-15 season opener.
Looking at the shot distribution data helps illuminate the inter-relatedness of Texas' problems on offense. The Longhorns struggled to create enough opportunities at the rim and were utterly pitiful shooting jump shots when they didn't. Shooting 30% from beyond the college three-point line is a special kind of suck, and an offense that shoots so poorly from beyond the arc has to make up the lost ground by getting to the rim and the free throw line, or by grabbing a lot of its own misses. Texas did neither, and on top of that was giving away possessions left and right. Things got better once Kabongo returned, but the first half of the season was a horror show.
Worse for Barnes, the 2012-13 debacle marked a fifth consecutive season without reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and for the second straight year the team moved further away from that mark, following up the 2012 season's one-and-done exit as a No. 11 seed with this year's no-bid season. That continues a troubling trend: since DJ Augustin led the No. 2 seeded Longhorns to the Elite Eight in 2007-08, Barnes' squads have earned a No. 7, 8, 4, and 11 seeds and an invitation to the CBI, and across these past five seasons Rick Barnes has just two NCAA Tournament, both against double-digit seeds (No. 10 Minnesota and No. 13 Oakland).
And on top of all that, perhaps the most troubling number of all is 5: as in, the five members of the six-member 2011 recruiting class who have declined to return to Texas. Sterling Gibbs bailed last year; Jalen Bond, Sheldon McClellan, and Julien Lewis all decided to transfer; and Myck Kabongo is rolling the dice on the NBA Draft. And while each of those players bears some responsibility for the circumstances leading to their departure, in the cases of Bond, Lewis, and McClellan a big share of the responsibility clearly lies with Barnes, who repeatedly failed to connect with or get the most out of the disgruntled transferees, subjecting them to erratic playing time that had the effect of restricting rather than developing the players.
Not since Tom Penders and Luke Axtell were taking a dump on the program on their way out has Texas basketball been anywhere remotely as painful to follow as it was this past season -- which featured a seemingly endless litany of embarrassing losses (Chaminade), ridiculous losses (West Virginia, twice), discouraging losses (Oklahoma State, twice), and thoroughly depressing losses (K-State's trifecta).
For two nights this season, however, Texas basketball was great. On February 13th, Iowa State traveled to Austin and Myck Kabongo finally made his season debut. Though the game did not mean much of anything, the Longhorns' thrilling double-overtime victory was one of the best and most memorable games played at the Erwin Center in a long while, and a great night for Rick Barnes, as well, who pushed all the right buttons, including a brilliant sequence that set up Papapetrou's game-tying three at the end of regulation.
The other great night for Barnes and the Longhorns, of course, came just two weeks later, in the only other game from the 2012-13 season that any UT fan will remember: The Comeback. The only thing that could have made the victory more amazing was if it had actually meant something.
Some may tab the loss to Chaminade as Barnes' lowest moment of the year, but as a fan who made the voyage to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, I will repeat what I said at the time: if you're going to suffer an epic loss, there's nowhere else in the world you'd rather be. When the game ended and Chaminade started dancing with Jay Bilas at midcourt, Wiggins and I walked out of the gym, strolled the 400 yards to the beach, ordered a couple cocktails, and were already over the loss as we took in a ridiculously beautiful sunset, as if it had happened 15 years ago instead of 15 minutes. There are no bad losses in Maui. There are only basketball games. The outcome is beside the point.
Actually, for me the season lowlight came at the very end. First of all, because Texas had performed so poorly that it didn't even qualify to receive an NIT bid, let alone an invitation to the Dance, the Longhorns were relegated to the CBI, a tournament most people have never even heard of and which was deemed so meaningless that UT's first round match up against Houston wasn't even televised. This is how I wound up driving around the Balcones Hills aimlessly at 9 pm on a Wednesday night, listening to Craig Way breathlessly call the worst season consolation prize imaginable: a road game against the University of Houston in the opening round of the CBI. I would have liked to have seen Ibeh's strong performance, but the rest of it was best not televised, and when Houston knocked down a 15 footer to secure a 1-point win at the buzzer, I pulled over to the side of the road, took out my iPhone, and sent Jeff Haley a quick and to-the-point email: "Mercy kill, IMO."
Against all odds, the end of the game wasn't even the lowest point. Things actually got worse ten minutes after the game, when Rick Barnes arrived for his post-game conversation with Craig Way. I make a point to listen to these after just about every game, so (a) I've heard hundreds of them and (b) at this point I'm pretty well able to discern the meaning of whatever Barnes is discussing.1
I don't know how many others heard or remember Barnes' post-game remarks with Craig Way after the loss to Houston, but it was disconcerting. I've never heard Barnes sound even remotely flustered before, but after the season-ending loss he was yammering incoherently, lurching from one unrelated point to the next as he tried to explain the entire shipwreck of a season. His remarks sounded like those of a man who has been defeated, desperately casting blame every which way, putting down players, and announcing his intention to ratchet up the intensity of his demands. I've never heard anything like it from Barnes, and it only served to amplify my already sizable concerns.
1 I also know all of Barnes' speaking tics, the most amusing of which is his propensity to begin every answer with "Again...", even if he's not repeating himself -- such as, you know, when answering the first question of an interview.
Craig Way: "Alright, it's time for our post-game conversation with head coach Rick Barnes. Rick, as hard as the guys played tonight, this must have been a tough one to lose on such a questionable call there at the end. What did you tell the players in the locker room just now?"
Rick Barnes: "Again, I didn't have a good look at the play from where I was standing in the coach's box so I don't know if it was the right call. But you know, again, we've got to get tougher mentally..."
I don't know why I find it so amusing, but I do.
Season Grade: F
There is no way to sugarcoat it: Barnes' 2012-13 season was a disaster in virtually every regard. Mistakes in years past contributed to a challenging roster situation, with Texas sporting the youngest roster in the entire country. Much more troubling, however, was the ineptitude Barnes displayed in managing it. The Kabongo suspension a week before the season began was a tough break, but doesn't absolve Barnes of the way he handled the team in response.
The veteran head coach simply failed to communicate effectively with this group, hammering on the players he needed to step up without regard to whether his tactics were actually working. McClellan and Lewis were both yo-yo'd in and out of the line up all season long, with no adjustment from Barnes when his approach was very clearly having the opposite of the intended effect. Likewise, I was confused by his handling of Jaylen Bond's playing time, which seemed to indicate that Barnes had given up on Bond's potential, notwithstanding encouraging signs from Bond's play.
Tasked with helping the youngest group in the country learn how to win, Barnes rode his players like a veteran-laden squad that was underachieving and knew better than they were showing. Instead of helping an offensively challenged team learn to relax and develop a flow within the game, he created a group of players who were all terrified to make a mistake. Where this group needed to have fun so they could start believing in themselves, Barnes unleashed a torrent of negative reinforcement.
Even assuming for the sake of argument that Barnes' style would have worked with some groups of young players, it didn't take long to see that it wasn't working with this group. Instead of making adjustments, however, Barnes doubled down.
And now he's on the hot seat, with each of his top three scorers leaving the program.
As we head into the 2013-14 season, a few things are clear: the program is heading in the wrong direction, we're in an increasingly worrisome position with respect to in-state recruiting, and in a season where Barnes is going to be facing greater scrutiny than ever before, he's going to be working with another very young roster, and he'll be without each of last season's top three scorers.
Barnes has been successful in similar circumstances before -- most notably in 2010-11, one of his best seasons of coaching at Texas but one that , ironically, he doesn't get much credit for because of the way the season ended and the relative disappointments in surrounding seasons. If he's to do it again, he'll need his freshmen to be as good as Thompson and Joseph were in their lone seasons in Austin, and hope that one of his sophomores takes a leap similar to the one Jordan Hamilton made between his first and second seasons.
The biggest difference this time around is that he may not have room to fail.