Julien Lewis (Getty Images)
For Texas fans to stop bemoaning their recent run of football mediocrity long enough to pay attention to basketball, the Longhorns either have to be contending for Final Fours or enduring uncharacteristic struggles.
Unfortunately for coach Rick Barnes, right now it's the latter.
On the heels of a disappointing season in which Texas missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barnes' 15-year tenure, the line of players leaving the program in search of a fresh start continues to grow more crowded. Starting guard Julien Lewis, the program's leading 3-point shooter last season, became the fourth underclassman to leave since March when Texas revealed Tuesday that he will transfer.
The departure of Lewis means a Texas team that already shot 29.7 percent from behind the arc a year ago and 41.3 percent overall now will have to replace its three leading scorers. Sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo entered the NBA draft despite missing the first 23 games of last season due to NCAA eligibility issues and promising sophomore wing Sheldon McClellan announced in late March he intends to transfer.
The responsibility of providing perimeter scoring punch likely would have fallen to Lewis with Kabongo and McClellan gone, but an increased role apparently wasn't enough to keep the rising junior in Austin. Already there are reports Lewis will likely join former Texas assistant Rodney Terry at Fresno State.
Texas appears to be floating the idea that some of the transfers were mutual and could be addition by subtraction, but it's difficult to get behind that concept considering the lack of proven players on next season's roster.
Point guard Javan Felix showed flashes of promise filling in for Kabongo as a freshman, but Demarcus Holland is the lone returning shooting guard, a bit of a misnomer for a defensive-minded player who sank only 8 of 46 threes last season. Young big men Jonathan Holmes, Connor Lammert and Cameron Ridley are also expected back, but each of them need to make major strides during the offseason.
Of greater longterm concern for the Longhorns is that the elite recruiting classes Barnes once annually landed haven't been as common recently. None of Barnes' four signees for next season ranked in the top 100 of the Rivals 150 and the Longhorns were non-factors in the recruitment of highly touted Kentucky-bound Texas products Julius Randle and Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
The pressure will be on Barnes to show progress either on the floor or the recruiting trail in the near future because an oft-apathetic Texas basketball fan base is starting to become frustrated with him.
Since a co-Big 12 title and an Elite Eight run in 2008, Texas hasn't advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and it has finished higher than a tie for fourth in the Big 12 only once. The Longhorns were fortunate to slip into the NCAA tournament in 2012 and they were all but out of contention by the start of conference play this past year.
There's a good chance next season will bring more of the same.
Whereas Big 12 rivals Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor have gotten stronger in recent weeks with the addition of impact recruits or the return of key underclassmen, Texas is losing players in droves and doesn't seem to be in position to compete.
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