There's a school of thought that Rick Barnes has the best job in college basketball because Texas is a big-time program that's easy to recruit to, yet football comes first so fans aren't quick to criticize if the hoops program falls shy of expectations.
Can we all agree that the next few days should be a great litmus test for that theory?
An 80-71 loss at rival Oklahoma on Saturday marked Texas' fourth loss in six games since a 17-0 start catapulted the Longhorns to the top spot in the polls for the first time in program history. It certainly won't get any easier either for Texas, with top-ranked Kansas looming on Monday.
What's most shocking about the Longhorns' recent struggles is how suddenly they've seemingly fallen off the cliff. A month ago we were hailing Texas (19-4, 5-3) as a Final Four favorite after convincing wins over Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Michigan State, and now we're wondering if the Longhorns are even one of the four best teams in their own league
It's easy to diagnose the problems that have haunted Texas the past few weeks:
1. Thinning center Dexter Pittman's production has been shrinking faster than his waistline, from 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in the non-conference season to half those numbers in conference play.
2. Touted freshman Avery Bradley showed flashes of being in the same class as John Wall in the early season, but he'd been unspectacular in recent weeks before scoring 21 against the Sooners.
Texas did whittle a 19-point deficit to two against Oklahoma, but free throws and missed layups were the primary culprits again for the loss.
The Longhorns shot just 10 of 27 from the foul line, highlighted by an anemic 4 of 13 performance from star Damion James, who was serenaded with chants of "traitor" from Sooners fans still bitter that he backed out of a commitment to Oklahoma four years ago and chose Texas instead.
"I have to truly believe that there are junior high school teams that can do better than that. And you know what? I'm not so sure there's not some other teams at a lower level than that," Barnes told reporters after the game. "Is it frustrating? It's frustrating because it's been the same every game this year that we've lost. Missed rim shots and free throws. That's been the common theme in our losses."
Barnes clearly took the loss hard, but he can take solace that Texas fans can be cheered up with five simple words: At least it wasn't football.
- Rick Barnes
- the Longhorns