Over the past decade, the overall
talent on Rick Barnes’ rosters has trended up while the on-court
performance of his teams has trended down. So why has better players
made for worse basketball teams?
The 2012 recruiting class was ranked
No. 4 in the nation by ESPN.com. The six-man group included four
players ranked in the top 100 in the country, with center Cameron
Ridley leading the way. It was Barnes’ fourth-straight top ten
recruiting class, with three of those classes ranked in the top five nationally.
The 2011-2012 season ended with a loss
in the first round to Cincinnati. In each of the last four seasons,
the Longhorns’ NCAA Tournament has ended in the first or second
[In an attempt to avoid confusion, I’m
still going to refer to the first round the Longhorns played in as
the “first round,” even though technically it is titled the
“second round” by the NCAA, as the play-in games are now called
the “first round.”]
Four consecutive years of top ten
recruiting classes and four consecutive years of early exits. The
contrast is gets even more stark when we look at the preceding years.
The four years previous to that saw two Elite Eight appearances. The
four years previous to that included three Sweet 16 appearances and a
On the whole, we’ve seen a steady
increase in the quality of players and a steady decrease in the
quality of teams. What is the cause of this apparent disparity?
The “one and dones” are obviously a
factor. The better the player, the more likely he is to declare for
the NBA early and the Longhorns have certainly produced more than
their fair share of high draft picks in recent years. But with Barnes’ recruiting classes being so consistently stellar, there are always
great players ready to replace the departed.
Back in April, Kentucky won a national
championship with three freshman and two sophomore starters on a team
that had lost four players to the NBA draft the season before. The
lack of development due to “one and done” hasn’t prevented
inexperienced teams from winning championships.
Much like Kentucky in 2012, the
Longhorns had a freshman-heavy team in 2007. But though the roster
included one of the greatest players on the planet, the team was
unable to make it past the second round. Kevin Durant’s
accomplishments the next season as a rookie showed that development
was not an issue for the star forward. Yet without him, the Longhorns
went to the Elite Eight the next season.
They did so because, though they lost
Durant, the Horns still had D.J. Augustin. It was a speedy,
tenacious, driving NBA point guard surrounded by a strong set of
experienced role players such as Damion James, A.J. Abrams, Connor
Atchley, Justin Mason, Gary Johnson and Dexter Pittman. It was
reminiscent of 2003, the Longhorns’ only trip to the Final Four. A
speedy, tenacious, driving NBA point guard – T.J. Ford – was surrounded by a strong set of experienced role players – Royal
Ivey, James Thomas, Brandon Mouton, Brian Boddicker, Brad Buckman and
Due to the nature of Rick Barnes’
offensive system, only this arrangement of players has resulted in
consistent success. But there is a disconnect between the players he
recruits and the system he runs. His recruiting classes are highly
ranked because he targets top overall talent from across the country. But if a team’s goal is simply to amass top talent, the coach must be flexible
with his system and run the most appropriate offense and defense
based on the players at hand, much like Kentucky or North Carolina or
Rick Barnes is not. As a result, his
teams were actually better when he wasn’t able to pull in the best
players. But now there is a disconnect between the players recruited
and the system they’re asked to execute.
With the disarray of the 2012-2013
Texas Longhorns, it is apparent that Myck Kabongo’s presence is
absolutely required. But Kabongo is still sitting out, waiting on the
NCAA to rule on whether he acquired an agent and was honest with
investigators back in May.
“I haven’t heard anything,” Barnes
said Monday. “…if we don’t hear something in the next couple days
it’s frustrating, disappointing, whatever word you want to put on
A couple days have passed. Still no
word on Kabongo.
If Kabongo is ruled ineligible, or if
the investigation continues to drag, then the adjustment is…shrug? More
I do not doubt of the talent of Ridley and his fellow highly-touted teammates. But, as we’ve seen in
the past, talent alone is not sufficient. In fact, under Rick Barnes,
the more talented the Horns have gotten, the worse they’ve played.