Assessing the Season: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Nate Kotisso on April 11th, 2013

As the season winds down and Big 12 teams continue to find themselves eliminated from the post-season, we’re taking a look back on a team-by-team basis at the 2012-13 season. Next up: the Texas Longhorns.

Final Record: 16-18 (7-11)

The Expectations: All Texas fans have ever known under Rick Barnes is that they’re eventual shoe-ins for the NCAA Tournament. But even the most optimistic of fans realized that this year would be the toughest he’s ever had in Austin. Gone was their 20 PPG scorer from 2011-12, J’Covan Brown, who decided to pursue a professional career after his junior year. What remained was a rotation that was talented and highly-recruited but was also consisted of a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. Heading into the start of team practice, fans were cautiously optimistic with both Myck Kabongo and Sheldon McClellan pegged for breakout sophomore campaigns.

This season was a surprise to Longhorns fans and head coach Rick Barnes. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

This season was a surprise to Longhorns fans and head coach Rick Barnes. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

The Actual Result: When teams started practicing in early October, that’s when news broke that the NCAA was investigating Kabongo. The allegations were that Kabongo had received impermissible benefits from Rich Paul, the agent to former Longhorns Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph as well as LeBron James. Kabongo attended an offseason workout in Cleveland and his travel considerations were (allegedly) paid for by Paul. While Kabongo was investigated, Texas didn’t take any chances in playing a possibly ineligible player. The season commenced and Texas’ offensive struggles were noticeable from the get-go. The Horns suffered an embarrassing loss to Division II Chaminade and struggling USC at the Maui Invitational. There was also the 41-point effort against Georgetown, but after that game it seemed like Rick Barnes’ team was turning the corner. It lost a two-point decision to über-talented UCLA down in Houston and beat Texas State seven days later by double digits.

Meanwhile, weeks and eventually more than two months passed before the NCAA wrapped up its inquiry into Kabongo. It wasn’t until December 19, just as the Horns were putting the finishing touches on a blowout of North Carolina, that the NCAA brought down the hammer. The organization ruled Kabongo ineligible for the first 23 games of the season, meaning he could make his return to the floor versus Iowa State. In February. In the middle of conference play. That decision all but sunk UT’s tourney hopes for this season. Backup freshman point guard Javan Felix was doing an adequate job in Kabongo’s place but he wasn’t able to run the offense with the same skill. While all of that was going on, Sheldon McClellan struggled to find his shot, causing Barnes to bench him. Upon his return, the Longhorns won their first game against Iowa State in double overtime and ended the regular season by winning five of their last eight, including victories against teams like Oklahoma and eventual NIT champion Baylor. UT took one of two games at the Big 12 Tournament and even earned a bid to the College Basketball Invitational. The school learned it would face the Houston Cougars, an old foe from the now defunct Southwest Conference. You’d like to think a game played near the hometowns of McClellan, Cameron Ridley, and Julien Lewis would get the juices flowing enough to find a win. That wasn’t the case, and so ended the most forgettable Texas season in 15 years.

Highlight of the Year: February 27. It could have easily been the double-overtime win against Iowa State in Kabongo’s first game, but the Oklahoma game on February 27 felt like it carried more weight. No matter what the records say, Texas-Oklahoma is still a big deal. It appeared that the Sooners were well on their way to drubbing Texas with a 22-point lead in the second half but the Horns slowly chipped away. On Texas’ final possession of regulation, Kabongo made a desperation jumper at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. The Horns went on to win the game 92-86 in extra time thanks to their point guard, who had perhaps his best individual performance at the college level with 31 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Player of the Year: Myck Kabongo. If you’ve read this article from the beginning, it could only be Kabongo. We got a sense of not only how important he was to the team in his absence but how vital he also is in its victory. When he was out of the lineup, Texas’ scoring hovered around the 50s and 60s. When he came back, we started to see more 70-point outputs from UT. He averaged 14.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in only 11 outings this season.

Surprise of the Year: Sheldon McClellan. McClellan was a surprise for all the wrong reasons. He’s a good but too streaky of a shooter for my liking. He lost his starting spot in conference play. Having seen him play at Bellaire High School in Houston, McClellan had a tendency to go through the motions on the floor, even in practice. The same has happened at Texas and now he’s looking for a new team. He has all that talent in the world, but he  needs to develop an attitude of playing with the edginess and grit of a walk-on if he wants to be successful at this level.

Overall Season Grade: C-minus. If you’re Rick Barnes, you had to sense a season like this was coming eventually. The way that Texas churns out draft picks, it was only a matter of time before he’d have a young, inexperienced team with no impact upperclassmen. He’s moved away from recruiting multiple-year guys like Brandon Mouton, Brad Buckman or Kenton Paulino. I’ll cut him some slack for losing Kabongo for a large part of the season, as that was completely out of his control. Had Barnes had Kabongo in the lineup all year, maybe the Longhorns would have won 20 games and landed on a weak bubble for the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t to be, but at least he’s made a lot of Houston fans happy.

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