The Five Big 12 Players and Coaches Under the Most Pressure This SeasonPosted by Kory Carpenter on October 21st, 2013
With a new season comes new expectations across the Big 12. And pressure. Some coaches and players will be under more scrutiny than others as the season tips off next month, but more than a few will be dealing with it all season. Let’s take a look at the five people facing the most pressure in the Big 12 this year:
When you type ‘Rick Barnes’ into a Google search, the first suggestion is ‘hot seat.’ That’s not a good sign for the 15-year head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Barnes is an interesting case because he coaches at a school with the facilities and recruiting advantages of a top 15 program but the expectations of a Missouri Valley school, it seems. He has brought in plenty of talent to Austin, including Wooden Award winners T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant. Ford and Barnes led the Longhorns to the 2003 Final Four, but that was now over a decade ago. Since then, Barnes has been to two Elite Eights and advanced past the first weekend only one other time. In the last five seasons, he has won as many NCAA Tournament games (two) as Florida Gulf-Coast. That’s not a good look for someone with the advantages Barnes has at his disposal at Texas. And with the transfer of would-be returning scorer Shelden McClellan as well as the head-scratching departure of sophomore Myck Kabongo (who subsequently went undrafted over the summer), Barnes does not appear to have the roster capable of silencing any critics.
Last season Smart averaged 15.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 4.2 APG while earning Big 12 Player of the Year honors as a true freshman. He was also expected to be a top-five selection in the NBA Draft, so it shocked most of us when he decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. Earlier this week, however, he told John Helsley and Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman that re-fracturing his wrist in the NCAA Tournament loss to Oregon kept him from dribbling a ball until May, making him a bit uneasy about entering the NBA at less than 100 percent. With motives like that, it makes his decision to return less surprising and more logical, thus taking some pressure off the 6’4″ guard. But being expected to duplicate his fantastic freshman campaign won’t be easy.
When Oklahoma State — led by billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens – allegedly offered Bill Self $4 million per year to leave Kansas following the 2007-08 season, you knew the school was serious about basketball. Self of course stayed at Kansas, and Oklahoma State hired then UMass head coach Travis Ford instead. Ford won an NCAA Tournament game his first season, but has gone winless since, missing the Dance altogether in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Landing Marcus Smart, a five-star recruit in the class of 2012, was a high-water mark for Ford, who looked to be on his way to consistent postseason success. As mentioned, Smart was great last season, but the Cowboys finished third in the Big 12 race and lost to Oregon in their first NCAA Tournament game. After lucking out and getting another season with Smart in the starting lineup (as well as last season’s top four scorers), it’s time Ford survived long enough in March to unpack his bags.
Bill Self isn’t under pressure from fans or administrators. Bill Self is under pressure from John Calipari and Mike Krzyewski and Roy Williams and Sean Miller and any other coaches recruiting against him every year for the nation’s best recruits. Fair or not, many people blamed Self for the free fall of Josh Selby, the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2010 who spent a tough season at Kansas and fell to the late second round in the NBA Draft after his freshman year. Self has always been known for turning somewhat unknown recruits into NBA lottery picks. Thomas Robinson was the No. 31 recruit in the 2009 class before being drafted fifth overall in the draft three seasons later. Markieff Morris was the 49th best recruit in 2008′s recruiting class and was taken with the 13th pick in the 2011 draft. But Josh Selby was a sure-fire ane-and-done player, only Self’s second such recruit at Kansas (Xavier Henry being the other). When that situation ended on a sour note, coaches predictably pounced on the recruiting trail, and Self has had to wait three long years to prove them wrong. Andrew Wiggins (No. 1 overall), Wayne Selden (No. 12) and Joel Embiid (No. 25) are all projected top 10 picks according to NBADraft.net, giving Self more than enough opportunities to change the narrative that he can’t do the one-and-done thing.
I admit this is a stretch, but when you haven’t played a single second of college ball and Sports Illustrated is comparing you to Wilt Chamberlain, there is some pressure. From everything that’s been written about Wiggins recently, however, he doesn’t seem bothered by all the attention. He barely seems to notice it. Of course that could all change when people inevitably call him a bust for not scoring 40 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in his first game next month.