Stat Guy: Underachievement in the NCAA Tournament characterize Rick Barnes’ coaching career

Drew Lieberman

Over the course of 17 seasons, Texas men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes has amassed an extensive list of accomplishments — but that list could be longer.

Barnes has guided the Longhorns to 20 or more victories in a single season 15 times. His 402 wins nearly doubles the previous high, 208, held by former head coach Tom Penders.

But when it comes tournament time, Barnes has underachieved, especially recently.

In Barnes’ first 10 seasons, the Longhorns won three conference crowns, failing to win more than 10 conference games just once. They received 10 bids to the NCAA Tournament, averaging a 4.4 seed by the selection committee. 

In that span, Texas won 16 tournament games and made it past the first weekend five times. A vast majority of those wins and all five of Barnes’ Sweet 16 appearances occurred in a seven-season span from 2002—2008. This includes 2005’s anomalous eight seed drawing, a result of an injury to freshman forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge and sophomore forward P.J. Tucker’s academic suspension.

During those six seasons in which the Longhorns were in full force, they won 15 NCAA Tournament games, 2.34 games better than the average amount won by their seeds in the past 30 NCAA Tournaments. The team’s most successful campaigns were in 2003, 2006 and 2008, when Texas received a No. 1 seed followed by two No. 2 seeds.

However, in their other 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, the Longhorns won just four games — 4.98 wins below average based on the team’s seeding.

Those struggles are particularly evident when Texas faces “better” teams.

Barnes’ record at Texas is only 1–7 against higher seeds in the tournament, compared to 18–9 when facing lower seeded teams. 

This means a Barnes-coached squad is more likely to make a deep postseason run if they receive a top-four seed.

However, over the past seven seasons, the Longhorns have fallen short of that plateau six times, including missing the tournament entirely in 2013. Texas’ average seed over this span was an eight seed, nearly doubling the 4.4 averaged in Barnes’ first 10 seasons.

Not surprisingly, Texas underperformed to its seed, winning only three games to the 5.13 expected by its seeding. In total, Barnes has won just 21 games in 22 tournament appearances, 5.74 wins below the team’s expected wins based on seeding.

He is the most decorated coach in program history — but his pattern of consistent struggles when it mattered most could be his ultimate downfall.