One of the biggest stories around the Big 12 this season has been the revitalization of Texas basketball. The Longhorns came into this season with their coach on the hot seat, but now they’re 16-4 with wins over North Carolina, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor, and are currently on a five-game winning streak. That stretch includes consecutive victories over three ranked teams, but even if you discount that qualification with a more realistic evaluation of the then-overrated Bears, there’s still no doubt that Texas has played better than pretty much everyone predicted coming into the season. They were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 back in October, so naturally, their performance has led some to consider throwing Rick Barnes’ name into the hat when it comes to Big 12 Coach Of The Year honors. But the more interesting debate here is what Barnes’ case says about what we believe the award should be about.
The discussion has raised two camps. One contends that Barnes has done a fantastic job so far, given his limitations, and as such he should definitely be given consideration for the end-of-year honor. The Longhorns, along with Oklahoma, lead the pack trailing Kansas despite losing their top four scorers from last season. Barnes has rebuilt Texas in a style that emphasizes chemistry and is having success without the services of one-and-done talents like Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. After a disappointing freshman season, Cameron Ridley is on the short list of the most improved players in the conference; Jonathan Holmes has turned the corner when Texas desperately needed him to do so; and Isaiah Taylor is third in scoring among Big 12 freshmen despite some ups and downs.