Myck Kabongo is not walking through that door. Not until February 13, at least. His Texas team must play eight more games before he returns from his NCAA-mandated suspension, and by that time there’s a very real possibility the Longhorns could have an overall losing record. Without their star point guard, they’ve managed to reach the midway point of the season with an 8-7 record, fresh off two straight conference losses to open the Big 12 schedule. The hard-fought, overtime loss at Baylor this weekend was excusable.
Last night was not. Texas blew a 10-point lead over West Virginia with less than four minutes to play in regulation, needed a miracle shot by Jonathan Holmes to simply force overtime and then scored three points in the extra period. The Longhorns shot 44 percent from the free throw line, 35 percent from the floor, and had almost twice as many turnovers (14) as assists (8). It’s a good road win for Bob Huggins, whose team needed a boost after its own nightmarish non-conference performance, but let’s not pretend as though Texas’ collapse had nothing to do with this. Without Kabongo, Rick Barnes’ team cannot score. Period. We knew J’Covan Brown wouldn’t be here this year. But Kabongo? He figured to be the heart and soul of this team, the one guy who could create for others and change the dynamic of the offense. Barnes was counting on him to open opportunities for leading returning scorer Sheldon McClellan, blue-chip freshman center Cameron Ridley and the rest of this young squad.
Had Kabongo played last night, there’s no chance Texas would have lost this game on its home floor. There’s no chance it would have blown such a significant lead in the final minutes, and there’s no chance it would have scored three points in an overtime period. When he returns against Iowa State on February 13, this Texas team will transform itself. Kabongo certainly wasn’t perfect a year ago, but this guy changes the game when he steps on the court. His blend of pure athleticism, pure speed and play-making ability is rare for a point guard. Kabongo will have eight games to prove that when his suspension ends in about a month.