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.