Can Rick Barnes Dig Out Before It’s Too Late?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 22nd, 2013

A laundry list of in-state recruiting misses, early departures (both by transfer and NBA Draft declaration), eligibility issues, injuries and, whether you believe it to be a function of bad luck or not, a 5-12 record in games decided by five points or less over the last two seasons, have pushed Texas head coach Rick Barnes to a crossroads in his career. None of this is breaking news, of course; If the lack of depth, continuity and results leave the Longhorns’ brass no choice but to move on from Barnes, the writing will have been on the wall for months, if not years. But after recounting where things have gone off track for the Big 12’s longest-tenured coach, it’s time to look at the immediate future and see if there are enough opportunities on Texas’ 2013-14 schedule for Barnes to buy himself another season in Austin.

A lack of personnel may be too much for Texas head coach Rick Barnes to overcome, but the Longhorns' schedule certainly isn't lacking for opportunities. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

A lack of personnel may be too much for Texas head coach Rick Barnes to overcome, but the Longhorns’ schedule certainly isn’t lacking for opportunities. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

For the purpose of this experiment, we aren’t nearly as concerned with predicting exact wins and losses and breaking down the specific match-ups as we are with taking a bird’s-eye view of the schedule and looking at the dates Barnes will be circling in varying shades of red. Let’s get going.

November

  • 11/8 vs. Mercer
  • 11/12 vs. South Alabama
  • 11/15 vs. Stephen F. Austin
  • 11/18 vs. Houston Baptist
  • 11/25 vs. BYU (CBE Classic)
  • 11/26 vs. DePaul/Wichita State (CBE Classic)
  • 11/29 vs. Texas-Arlington

First things first: Wins against South Alabama, Stephen F. Austin, Houston Baptist and Texas-Arlington are absolutely essential, and everyone can agree. The Longhorns open against Atlantic Sun favorites Mercer, and while a loss to the Bears would be a thorn in Barnes’ side, it wouldn’t be the embarrassment that more casual fans may believe. A victory over BYU on a neutral court in Kansas City, while also not earth-shattering, would be a highlight on a prospective NCAA tournament resume. If the Longhorns match up against DePaul the following evening, a win there will be a necessity – not just because the Blue Demons won’t be a factor in the Big East race, but because the meeting will have likely been foretold by a loss to the Cougars the previous night. Longhorn fans would be wise to pull for the Shockers, as a Wichita State win, coupled with a Texas win, would give UT a crack at a 2013 Final Four participant.

December

  • 12/2 vs. Vanderbilt (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
  • 12/7 at Temple
  • 12/14 vs. Texas State
  • 12/18 at North Carolina
  • 12/21 vs. Michigan State
  • 12/30 vs. Rice

The conference schedule may seal Texas’ fate, but considering the Longhorns’ non-conference match-ups, we may have a decent idea of whether Barnes survives the season before the calendar even turns to 2014. Texas kicks off December with a showdown against Vanderbilt which might as well be a look in the mirror when you remember that Vanderbilt had a nightmarish offseason of its own. Next comes a road bout with Temple, which will look to exact revenge from a 2011 loss at the Frank Erwin Center. A breather against WAC afterthought Texas State leads into the biggest games on the non-conference slate. Beating UNC at the Dean Dome is no easy task, but the Longhorns have managed to beat the Tar Heels in four of the last five seasons. They would do well to capitalize with a big road victory here, especially since UNC’s students will be on winter break during the game. A potential third game against a ranked team in Michigan State might be the toughest test of the season just three days later, before Conference USA bottom-feeder Rice closes out 2013.

January

  • 1/4 vs. Oklahoma
  • 1/8 at Oklahoma State
  • 1/11 vs. Texas Tech
  • 1/13 at West Virginia
  • 1/18 vs. Iowa State
  • 1/21 vs. Kansas State
  • 1/25 at Baylor

The Longhorns won’t have to worry about facing Big 12 favorite Kansas until February, but there’s also only one gimme in January (Texas Tech). Three games in six days with two of those on the road including a trip to Stillwater, isn’t exactly a dream setup, so Texas will have no choice but to be ready. A trio of tough but winnable games against the Cyclones, Wildcats and Bears wrap up the February docket. Of Texas’ seven January opponents, five were picked by the Big 12 coaches to finish in the top half of the league standings. Additionally, while West Virginia may not be as intimidating as they used to be, they swept the Longhorns in 2013 despite finishing lower in the standings and won’t be an easy out at home in 2014.

February

  • 2/1 vs. Kansas
  • 2/4 at TCU
  • 2/8 at Kansas State
  • 2/11 vs. Oklahoma State
  • 2/15 vs. West Virginia
  • 2/18 at Iowa State
  • 2/22 at Kansas
  • 2/26 vs. Baylor

A pair of shots against Kansas, home games against Baylor and Oklahoma State, and a roadie in Ames present the biggest opportunities for Texas to make some noise as Bubble Watch 2014 begins to heat up. If our outlook of Texas on February 1 is still blurry, things should shake out more cleanly by the end of the month. One of the great things about the Big 12 is its true round-robin schedule, but for the Longhorns, it isn’t exactly an even distribution as far as the calendar is concerned. Simply take a look at March and you’ll see what that means.

March

  • 3/1 at Oklahoma
  • 3/5 vs. TCU
  • 3/8 at Texas Tech
  • 3/12-15: Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City

If the Longhorns are still in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid come March 1, the last three regular season games make for a no-win scenario: A sweep of two bad teams plus a road win over Oklahoma probably won’t move the needle all that much, but any combination of losses could be the death knell for Barnes’ time in Austin, making for one awkward trip to Kansas City. If you believe in the idea of momentum, early March provides as good a chance as any for Texas to pick up some steam before the Big 12 Tournament, but it may instead just prolong the inevitable for a beleaguered coach.

Despite his flaws, Barnes has never shied away from laying out a tough road for his teams in November and December. The 2013-14 campaign is no different, which is especially important since we don’t know if the Big 12 will be good enough to snag more than four bids. Still one can’t help but wonder if the non-conference slate will be too much for the inexperienced Longhorns to handle; In order for Barnes to survive, Texas will have to gel even faster than usual, but even that may not be enough. There are other variables as well – Texas’ new athletic director may want to start fresh even if the Longhorns overperform this season, and the allure of someone like Buzz Williams could be too heavy to pass up. One thing is certain, though – If Texas falls hard, it won’t be due to a lack of opportunities.

Brian Goodman (748 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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One Response to “Can Rick Barnes Dig Out Before It’s Too Late?”

  1. […] Rick Barnes is done, isn’t he? (Rush the Court) […]

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