Rick Barnes didn’t identify himself Monday as “baffled,” as he has at other times this season, but he could have.
Barnes didn’t say he was beleaguered, either. That one fits as well.
Texas (11-14, 3-9 Big 12) is having its worst season under Barnes, in his 15th year coaching the Longhorns.
After offering encouragement for fans with a double-overtime win over Iowa State last Wednesday, when point guard Myck Kabongo returned after a season-long NCAA suspension, the Longhorns were crushed at Kansas on Saturday.
Texas will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time under Barnes unless it can win the Big 12 championship in Kansas City, an unlikely attainment.
But they do have the opportunity to make progress and display growth with a roster whose scholarship players are all freshmen or sophomores.
But is that realistic from a team that has baffled its coach — in his words — by failing to sustain practice habits during games?
“With Myck coming back, I think everybody thinks it’s going to get better and better. And it will,” Barnes said Monday during the Big 12 teleconference.
The Longhorns sent signals for that by shooting 51 percent against Iowa State, their second-best accuracy of the season. But for an encore, they hit 21.8 percent at Kansas, their worst of the season. They allowed the shot clock to expire on consecutive possessions in the first half.
Granted, Kansas leads the nation in field goal defense, and Iowa State is seventh in the Big 12. But the Longhorns have shown no consistency this season regardless of their opponents.
Speaking of the Kansas game, Barnes said, “We had open shots; they didn’t go in. If you are not making outside shots, you have to get the ball inside, find a way to get to the foul line.”
Barnes pointed out that the Longhorns did get the ball inside to Cam Ridley, their 6-foot-9-inch freshman. But Ridley missed all five of his free throws, no anomaly for a player who has hit 33 percent this season.
The Longhorns also missed shots they need to make near the basket, including Kabongo at least three times, and they were 2 of 21 on 3-pointers, neither deficiency uncommon for them.
Texas arguably has been in decline for five seasons. Between 2002 and 2008, the Horns reached the NCAA round of 16 or beyond five times, including one trip to the Final Four (2003) and two others to the Elite Eight (2006, 2008).
After this season, assuming no NCAA appearance, they will have won two tournament games in five years.
There is no way to determine how much is attributable to recruiting versus coaching and underachievement by some players.
Men’s Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds, in a recent interview with the American-Statesman, cited mitigating circumstances for Barnes this season. Having lost several players to the NBA in recent years after their freshman or sophomore season, Barnes is restructuring, trying to build a foundation with four-year players to supplement the superstars.
“He’s trying to change the culture,” Dodds said earlier this month.
During Monday’s teleconference, a reporter from outside the state asked Barnes about the supportive comments Dodds had made during that recent interview with the American-Statesman.
Barnes said that he had not read the comments but that questions about whether Dodds supports him are “somewhat idiotic. He doesn’t let outside people, people that don’t really matter, influence what he says.”
Texas at TCU, 7 p.m., KBVO, 1300, 98.1
21;Nate Butler Lind;G;6-6;Sr.;4.8;2.4
About this game: TCU (10-15, 1-11 Big 12) has not built any momentum since its stunning 62-55 upset over Kansas on Feb. 6. The Horned Frogs have lost three straight since. … Kansas shot only 29.5 percent at TCU, hitting 3 of 22 in the first half. The Jayhawks did not score their third point of the game until 6:05 remaining in the half. “We competed and we played extremely hard, about as hard as we’ve played all year,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “But they had a lot to do with it. It was probably one of those nights.” … Johnson said the Frogs did not play nearly as hard in subsequent losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State.