Rick Barnes enumerated reasons for accepting an invitation to the third-tier College Basketball Invitational, one of which is the opportunity to let point guard Myck Kabongo play catch-up.
The Longhorns’ game at Houston Wednesday night will be only Kabongo’s 11th of the season after a long NCAA-imposed suspension.
“We should want to play as long as we can for him,” Barnes said. “The kid worked his rear end off all year and he ended up playing 10 games.”
Considering the way things are going for the program — two NCAA tournament wins in the last four years before missing the tournament this season — a reporter this week asked Barnes if a successful run by Kabongo could actually be counterproductive.
Might Kabongo, a sophomore, boost his NBA draft stock enough to make leaving school this spring an easier decision?
Barnes brushed that one aside.
“I have no idea what Myck’s gonna do or is thinking,” he said. “Every kid has to do what he thinks is best.”
Barnes has better justification for playing in the CBI — all 10 of Texas’ recruited scholarship players are either freshmen and sophomores, and not one of them has become consistently productive.
So here’s one last chance to show some growth and provide fans with a glimmer of hope for the future.
“It may be different if we were a group of seniors and older guys,” Barnes said. “With a young group, you’ve gotta want to play. Every experience we could put these guys through, whether it’s going on the road to play games … we didn’t do as well on the road as we have in the past.”
Indeed, the Longhorns were 2-8 on the road, struggling to beat TCU and Texas Tech, the bottom two teams in the 10-team Big 12.
The Longhorns were 10-13 without Kabongo. They are 6-4 with him. During those 10 games, he has led the team in scoring (14.4 ppg.) assists (5.5) steals (1.8) and even rebounding (5.1).
Of course, having a 6-1 player lead your team in rebounding with a mere five boards a game says a lot about the other guys. Like, where are they?
Kabongo has made the Longhorns better, to a degree, but he also has failed to reach a desirable level of consistency. He has been outstanding at times, steering Texas to wins over Oklahoma (31 points, six assists) and Baylor (19 points, eight assists).
But in last week’s Big 12 tournament —which Texas had to win in order to make the NCAA tournament for a 15th straight year —Kabongo shot 0 for 5 against Kansas State. He also was 2 of 10 in a late-season loss at Kansas, and 0 for 12 at Texas Tech.
The other three sophomores who play regularly — Jonathan Holmes, Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan — have been less consistent.
“Every one of those guys has had their moments,” Barnes said. “We’re looking for consistency from everyone. We haven’t gotten it from anyone. That’s the reason we need to continue to play.”
The Longhorns are 3-12 against teams that reached the NCAA tournament, having beaten North Carolina, Iowa State and Oklahoma, all at the Erwin Center.
The Tar Heels are the highest seeded team of the three, a No. 8. Texas beat North Carolina by 18 points without Kabongo in December.
“That was the most baffling thing,” Barnes said. “After North Carolina, we knew our players were good enough to do it.”
TEXAS VS. HOUSTON
8 p.m. Wednesday, Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston, AXS, 1300, 98.1
About this game: The Cougars (19-12, 7-9 Conference USA) are a high scoring team, their 78.1 points a game ranking ninth in the country. They allow 72.9, which ranks 313th. … The Cougars’ non-conference strength of schedule is ranked 347th — last in the country — according to ESPN.com’s RPI. … Young, the Cougars’ leading scorer, is the son of Michael Young, a star for the Phi Slama Jama Cougars in the 1980s while playing with Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.