There is a reason Texas has made the NCAA Tournament 13 straight times under Rick Barnes.
He is a good a basketball coach.
Sure, plenty of credit goes to a bunch of talented Longhorns, such as T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin and LaMarcus Aldridge. But Barnes has proven his worth on the sideline countless times — especially this season.
After losing most of the talent on last year’s team, which won 28 games and finished ranked eighth, he faced a major rebuilding effort. Outside of J’Covan Brown, a junior who leads the Big 12 in scoring, he didn’t have much to work with when practices started in November.
Six freshmen play for Texas, and it hasn’t always been easy to get Brown to share the ball with unproven teammates. During a loss to Kansas State last month, he needed 28 shots to score 22 points. Those types of games led to nine losses in 22 games.
Plenty of experts saw that and picked the Longhorns to miss out on the NCAA Tournament. But now that Myck Kabongo and Julien Lewis are complementing Brown’s offense and Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene are contributing inside, Texas appears headed for a 14th straight trip to March Madness.
Outside of a home game against Baylor and the finale at Kansas, Texas faces teams with losing conference records the rest of the way.
The Horns have a great chance to finish strong, something they haven’t been able to do since the 2008 Elite Eight.
Barnes came under fire for March swoons, including failing to win the Big 12 last year after an 11-0 start, and he deserved the criticism. His teams peaked early and regressed as March approached. But this Texas team is surging at the right time.
During the second half of a come-from-behind win over Kansas State on Saturday, Barnes took a moment to appreciate that fact.
“I have been doing this for a long time, and I sat there in the second half and enjoyed it,” Barnes said. “I love teams that get after people on the defensive end. I love teams that attack on the offensive end. They are in a constant attack mode.”
K-State coach Frank Martin noticed it, too.
“That’s Rick Barnes basketball right there,” he said.
Right now, Rick Barnes basketball looks pretty good. The improvements Texas has made this season are proof.
Winners at last
After 11 straight losses, Texas Tech finally won its first Big 12 game under Billy Gillispie on Saturday by crushing Oklahoma 65-47.
It was a big victory for the Red Raiders, who were running out of winnable home games in a frustrating season. Texas Tech will not go down as the first team in Big 12 history to lose 18 regular-season conference games.
“I still wasn’t perfect,” said forward Robert Lewandowski afterward, before breathing a sigh of relief. “A win is a win and I’m going to take it.”
Gillispie was happy to end the losing streak. But he was happiest for his players.
“When you think about being young people and not have things go your way for a while, and you hang in there and keep on fighting like they have, it says a lot about the character of those players,” Gillispie said.
One tough week
Baylor’s hopes of contending for a Big 12 championship all but vanished last week, when it failed to compete in games against Kansas and Missouri. Though the Bears remain in the top 10 nationally, they are in danger of falling out of the top three in their own conference. Both Baylor and Iowa State have four league losses and will face each other twice down the stretch. The Cyclones are capable of sweeping the Bears, especially if Baylor continues to play as soft inside as it has lately.
Before Monday’s game
1. Missouri (23-2, 10-2): Escaped OU, then thumped Baylor
2. Kansas (20-5, 10-2): Jeff Withey is with it right now
3. Baylor (21-4, 8-4): Could Bears have looked any worse last week?
4. Iowa State (18-7, 8-4): Might finish ahead of Baylor
5. Texas (16-9, 6-6): Longhorns are only going to get better
6. Kansas State (17-7, 6-6): It’s gut-check time for the Wildcats
7. Oklahoma State (12-13, 5-7): Good at home, bad on the road
8. Texas A&M (12-12, 3-9): Khris Middleton will help Aggies late
9. Texas Tech (8-16, 1-11): Still enjoying the sweet taste of victory
10. Oklahoma (13-11, 3-9): Any team that loses by 18 to Texas Tech deserves to rank last