Fresh off an 86-76 victory over No. 8 Iowa State — its first win against a top-10 opponent in three years — and an upset victory over Kansas State on Tuesday night, the Texas men’s basketball team is relevant again. To appreciate this team’s suprisingly hot start to the 2013-2014 season doesn’t require a lot of searching; Last year’s team was the worst in Rick Barnes’ tenure at Texas. What a difference a year can make.
At this point last January, Texas was 9-10 and 1-5 in conference play. Its offense was anemic — topping 80 points just once — largely a product of having seven freshman on the roster.
Fast forward to this season. The Longhorns own a 15-4 record, including a 4-2 record in conference play. Much of this can be attributed to a short uptick offensively, which has flourished thanks to strong play by junior forward Jonathan Holmes and sophomore guard Javan Felix. Already, the team has scored 80 points or more nine times this season, a clear sign the team that has moved past last year’s growing pains.
In addition, the current Longhorns have accomplished things in 19 games that last year’s didn’t in 34. The 2014 Longhorns have won four of their five away games, including an 86-83 victory over No. 14 North Carolina. Road games were a challenge for last year’s team, as they won just two all year — neither of which were against a ranked opponent.
What has spurred this turnaround? One factor has been offensive balance. Last year’s team struggled to find an offensive rhythm, which led to poor shot selection and ball distribution. As a result, only three players averaged double-digit points per game and no player who attempted more than 60 shots had a shooting percentage more than 50 percent. This year’s team is far more balanced, resulting in more scoring across the board. The Longhorns currently have four players averaging more than 10 points per game and a whopping five who are shooting over 50 percent from the field having attempted more than 60 shots.
Another factor is toughness. Last season, no Texas player averaged more than six rebounds a game. Led by Holmes and Ridley, who both pull down more than seven rebounds per game, the Longhorns are averaging nearly 42 a game, good for 8th in the country.
What all this boils down to is a revived men’s basketball program, something that no one saw coming entering a season that many believed could be Barnes’ last. With 12 conference games remaining, including two against AP’s eighth-ranked Kansas, we’ll see what these guys have up their sleeves next.