The Curious Case of the 2015 Texas Longhorns
It's been another one of those seasons for Rick Barnes and his Texas Longhorns team -- and by those I mean disappointing.
This is the fourth year in a row that the Longhorns have finished the regular season with double-digit losses. This also makes three out of the last four years in which the Horns will be lucky to get a seed somewhere between 7 and 11 -- that is, if they do end up making the tournament.
After losing what was surely a tournament-clinching game to the Iowa State Cyclones a night ago, the Longhorns find themselves on the dreaded NCAA Tournament bubble. They're currently among Joe Lunardi's last four in and, if the Longhorns do in fact make the tournament, they're likely headed for a play-in game anyway.
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
It seems like it was just a month ago when Texas came into the season ranked 10th in the nation with promise of competing for an NCAA championship come March. It seems like it was a week ago Texas was ranked sixth in the nation and tied with number-one Kentucky at halftime of a hard fought game in Lexington. It seems like a day ago Texas was ranked ninth in the nation with a record of 10-1.
And then, on January 3rd, conference play started.
From that point on, Texas struggled to avoid a free fall from their place among the top-ranked teams in the country. After a win at Texas Tech, Texas went on to lose six of their next eight games against a brutal schedule. Of those six losses, three came on the road and four came by the hands of current top-25 teams -- Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor.
From there, Texas would embark on a roller coaster ride for the last 10 games of the season. After losing at home to Oklahoma State on February 4th, the Longhorns went on to win three in a row, and then lose four straight before winning their last two games of the regular season.
And after beating Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, Texas lost to Iowa State in what was a microcosm of the Longhorns' season.
Texas led 36-25 at the half after a near dominant first half of basketball. Two minutes and two seconds into the second half of play, the Longhorns found themselves up 46-31 -- but it was all downhill from there. Iowa State came within single digits with just over 13 minutes to go in the game, came within 6 points with under three minutes remaining and, with under two minutes left in the game, the Cyclones tied the game up at 67.
That score didn't change until the game was over.
With 46 seconds in the game, Texas took possession of the ball and took a timeout, after which Isaiah Taylor missed a jumper. Conner Lammert grabbed the offensive board with 19 seconds remaining, Isaiah Taylor kicked it to Javan Felix who took an ill-advised three with 10 seconds on the clock and the shot clock turned off.
That gave Iowa State the opportunity to secure the rebound, call timeout with over five seconds in the game and win the game, as time expired, on a Monte Morris jumper.
You might say that's life in the Big 12 today, and I'd agree -- but there's much more to it than that. It's yet another disappointment in a year full of them for the Longhorns.
After coming into the season with high hopes, things in Austin went south real fast. Who can really blame the Longhorns, though? They've had a lot of bad luck.
Point guard and leading scorer, Isaiah Taylor, missed 10 games near the beginning of the season with a broken wrist. In those games, Texas went 8-2 against an easy schedule (outside of Kentucky), but the Longhorns felt the aftermath. In his first four games back, Taylor scored just 8.2 points per game on 25% shooting from the field.
It's easy to see that Taylor wasn't himself. In the other 19 games he's played in, he's scored a hair over 14 points per game on 42.8% shooting from the field. The effects of injury don't end there though.
After suffering a concussion early in a loss to Oklahoma State on February 4th, senior forward Jonathan Holmes was forced to miss two games. The Longhorns did manage to win both games, but the damage was done. Holmes wasn't the same player until a night ago, when he scored 15 points and grabbed 9 rebounds against Iowa State.
In the eight games prior, Holmes played just 23.6 minutes per game, scoring 5.8 points per game on under 27% shooting. During that span, the Longhorns lost four straight games -- close games where even an average Holmes would've went a long way.
Here's some resume-relevant numbers for the Longhorns before and after last night's loss to Iowa State:
|Pre-Iowa State Game||13.12||21||24||36|
|Post-Iowa State Game||13.10||19||24||43|
If -- and I say if -- Texas manages to get in the Big Dance, they might be able to do some damage. The Longhorns are a top-20 team according to our power rankings, with a defense that ranks in the 86th percentile in the country.
So, after such a disappointing regular season, can the Longhorns turn a frown upside down in the NCAA tournament? Just like Texas and the rest of the world, we'll have to wait until Sunday to see.