Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Oh, No! Not Again!

"Some of the breakdowns are baffling to be honest with you.  I can't tell you why because we've proven we can be really good defensively and offensively."

--Rick Barnes, head coach of the Texas Longhorns men's basketball team.

Kansas State sent the Longhorns to their second straight loss and third in four games on Monday night.  This is the second straight year that the Longhorns have nose-dived after an impressive start to the regular season.  

An 11-0 start in conference play had the Longhorns among the top contenders for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They were, at one time, ranked #1 in the country.  Now they're trying to understand what has gone wrong.  They have to make sure that they don't worry about how far they may fall.

Last year, the Texas Longhorns' basketball team was ranked #1 in January with a 17-0 record. After that they slumped to a 7-9 finish down the stretch and lost to Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Here is what Rick Barnes had to say last year during that swoon when asked about the team's mindset:  

"I'd really be guessing if I did. Going into every game, I think that they've have the right mindset and when I watch some of the things happen I'm surprised where it comes from. I don't understand it, because I think we've got a group of guys, you would think with the way they have prepared that they would have things down. But when we do some things during the game it makes me wonder, and I don't know how I can answer that."

Prior to his arrival in at the University of Texas , Barnes' teams had undersachieved twice before. The first time was with Providence during the 1988-89 season when the Friars began 13-0 but ended the season losing seven of their last eight including a first round NCAA Tournament exit. 

The second time was with Clemson during the 1994-95 season when his Tigers began the year 10-0 – including a win at Duke – but lost seven of its last nine games, including a first round exit in the NIT.

Barnes' first disappointing swoon in Texas wasn't until year #3 in Austin, the 2000-01 season.  

This time, Texas was on a red-hot streak coming into the NCAA Tournament.  The Longhorns had ended the regular season with eight straight wins. As it so happened, No. 11 seed Temple was also on a hot streak, winning ten of its last 12 games. The Owls hit their first four three-pointers and the Longhorns were soon down 19 in another season-ending loss.  

Disappointment struck again in the 2004-05 season. After a promising start to the year, star player P.J. Tucker became academically ineligible and LaMarcus Aldridge suffered a hip injury. From mid-January on, Brad Buckman and Daniel Gibson carried the team.

By the time the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament rolled around, the Longhorns appeared to be spent and overworked. They fell to Colorado in their opening game of the Big 12 Tournament and then lost to Nevada in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Once again, I advise Coach Barnes that recruiting and teaching basketball is only part of the job.  It's not just about the X's and O's.  Coach Barnes also needs to learn about how to handle the psychological aspect of his team and get them emotionally ready to play a tough conference schedule, a tougher Big-12 tournament and an even tougher NCAA tournament.  The Longhorns need to understand mental conditioning and learn skills for emotional resilience.  

If he doesn't, he may never get another chance at a Final Four appearance, much less an NCAA title.  

Excerpts from ESPN.com, Dallas Observer, and LostLettermen.com (February, 28, 2011 and March 1, 2011).


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