In light of the current state of political news around the country, allow me to extend this metaphor. The Texas basketball team is the Jon Huntsman of the Big 12 this year. Everyone wanted him to win, but in the end we all knew the cards were stacked against him, and the same holds true for Texas this season.
After losing prize players like Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton to the NBA last year, the vaunted team the Longhorns thought they’d have entering the 2011-2012 season, which would have included the aforementioned former Texas standouts alongside J’Covan Brown, Myck Kabongo and Jonathan Holmes, never came to fruition. Let’s call this goal-that-never-was Texas’ “New Hampshire.”
Despite the string of losses to superior teams, the Longhorns seemed to have the poise, patience and ever-increasing intelligence to make a strong statement in the conference in their early victories. But then the problems with a young, undersized team became more apparent. Texas is employing six freshmen all contributing significant minutes out of necessity. They’ve risen to the occasion numerous times, but the growing pains are still a factor. The Longhorns’ young guards have shown flashes of inexperience — keeping up with the speed of the college game was difficult to overcome in their early losses — and the mental errors of their later losses piled on.
After being handled by No. 9 Missouri, freshman guard Kabongo cited errors that occurred in that game that have popped up multiple times throughout season.
“It was just silly turnovers, and not capitalizing off our turnovers,” Kabongo said about the loss. “We’ve just got to be smarter than what we were [Saturday].”
That intelligence will continue to be honed, but it is a process.
Head coach Rick Barnes was frustrated after Saturday that his offense hasn’t learned its proper flow yet. Without it, the team lacks an attack that top teams in the Big 12 don’t. Missouri averages almost 84 points a contest and the No. 3 Baylor “Mitt Romney” Bears — because they are obvious front-runner this year — put up about 78 to go along with leading the league in 3-point shooting. Texas has been able to post big numbers every now and again, but it can’t rely on high-scoring efforts often, as notching easy points in the paint against bigger conference teams will prove too big a challenge in the immediate future against previously ranked Kansas State and No. 7 Kansas.
There are obvious bright spots and they are the parts that make people really want to root for this team. Brown, despite playing with a hurt ankle, is the conference’s leading scorer, and the freshmen on the team are receptive to the upper classmen’s in-game lessons. They are also a very tight-knit unit that, once mature, can control the Big 12 for a while (assuming the NBA doesn’t come knocking too early). Each one of them has had standout individual games this year. Veterans like Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene are also fan favorites that post productive games in spurts.
Like Huntsman though, Texas may need to accept its place hovering in the middle-bottom of the conference. Through about half the season we’ve learned it is a team with a lot of heart that can grind out wins when things are going really well. But few are predicting Texas makes it into the NCAA tournament with ease. ESPN analyst and former college player Doug Gottlieb even hinted the Longhorns may be more fit for the National Invitational Tournament.
The beauty here is that, unlike the ex-governor from Utah, Texas doesn’t have to bow out. It has the emotional support backing them and the potential talent and organization to take that next step, but it remains to be seen if that is what it will do.