Kentucky left Michael Qualls alone on the baseline, and he made the Wildcats pay with a buzzer-beater putback dunk. This was the first of two overtime wins for Arkansas over Kentucky during the 2013-14 season. This play was listed as the third best dunk of 2014.
What made Tyler Ennis such an impactful freshman last season was how clutch he was late in the game for the Orange. With 3:14 left in the game at Pittsburgh, Ennis committed a turnover. Up until that point, he hadn’t turned the ball over in the last five minutes of any game. He made up for it with this shot to improve Syracuse to 24-0.
In the final 15 seconds of overtime involved two technical fouls, eight free throws and two 3-pointers. After Davion Berry tied the score for Weber State, Dylan Garrity hoisted this attempt a foot outside the 3-point line on the opposite side of the court.
Not much is expected from the Patriots in the Atlantic 10 this season, however, George Mason had one of the early highlights of the season when Jalen Jenkins stole a game from Manhattan with a 75-foot bomb to beat a pretty good Jaspers team, 64-63. George Mason had trailed by eight with 1:14 left.
Rasheed Sulaimon endured a sophomore slump last season, though, he did step up in crunch time in one of the most anticipated college basketball games of the 2013-14 season. In front of 35,446 fans inside the Carrier Dome, Sulaimon raced down the floor for this game-tying 3-pointer, forcing overtime. While Duke ended up losing in overtime, 91-89, we thank Sulaimon for extending it.
Southern Utah hadn’t won a road game since Feb. 7, 2013 and with 2.5 seconds left, trailing by two, it didn’t look like that streak would be snapped. That was until A.J. Hess connected on this 40-footer. The call really makes the clip. The announcers were in disbelief, as the same thing happened to the Roadrunners the previous season against Division II McMurry University.
A stepback game-winner in the Big East Tournament. Sounds familiar. In the quarterfinals, Sterling Gibbs did his best Kemba Walker impression with Villanova unfortunately playing the role of Gary McGhee. This turned out to be one of two early exits for the Wildcats in March.
This isn’t really the way the SEC wanted to begin the 2014-15 season. On opening night, the Rebels let Charleston Southern walk away with an upset win, as Cedric Bowen charged from the top of the key to throw down the game-winner right before time expired.
The Bonnies entered the Atlantic 10 Tournament as the No. 9 seed. St. Bonaventure extended its stay in Brooklyn with a buzzer-beater from Jordan Gathers over top-seeded Saint Louis. This upset was part of a late-season unraveling for the Billikens.
In a vacuum, the 2013-14 season — a 24-11 record, a third-place finish in the Big 12, an ouster in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament — was not a banner year for Texas.
This is a program that had made the NCAA tournament in the first 14 years of Rick Barnes’ tenure in Austin. They’ve been to a Final Four. They’ve been to two other Elite 8s. They’ve sent players like T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge to the NBA. They’ve won the Big 12 regular season title three times since 1999.
But what made that season so special, what earned Barnes the Big 12 Coach of the Year award and made Texas one of the nation’s feel-good stories, was the fact that the program had hit rock bottom the year before.
Players were transferring out. Elite, in-state recruits were going to Houston and Baylor, not to mention the ACC and the SEC, instead of playing for the ‘Horns. Barnes looked like he needed to start updating his resume.
Rick Barnes had just finished the worst season of his 15-year tenure at Texas, a campaign that culminated in a seventh-place finish in the Big 12, their 16-17 record bad enough that the Longhorns couldn’t even get invited to the NIT.
But instead of cutting his losses and getting on with figuring out how he was going to turn Texas back into a Final Four contender, Barnes made the decision to accept an invitation to the CBI, a third-tier postseason event that struggles to attract brand-name programs; Santa Clara beat George Mason in the finals the year Texas participated.
“I think every possible experience that we can put these guys in, whether it’s going on the road to play games, we need to do that,” Barnes said at the time. “And to be where we want to be, you have to be able to win anywhere.”
They didn’t win, and things got worse from there.
Texas lost to Houston in the first round of the CBI, a result that was hard to ignore as a harbinger of the power shift in the state of Texas. At the time, the Longhorns weren’t landing much of the elite talent coming out of the state. Houston has just brought in a recruiting class that included in-state products Danuel House and Chicken Knowles, a five-star and four-star recruit, respectively.
The season had been an unmitigated disaster. Barnes was about to face an offseason chock full of scrutiny and rumors that Buzz Williams or Shaka Smart or whoever would be coming for his job. He wasn’t recruiting the way that he had as recently as two seasons earlier. There was never a more obvious pick for a ‘Coaches on the Hot Seat’ list.
But oddly enough, it was that loss, combined with some lucky scheduling, that turned the program around.
“We played in the CBI, which was tough to do and tough to get up for, but we played,” senior forward Johnathan Holmes told NBCSports.com last week. “We lost to Houston in the first round, and the very next day, we came back and we had to go to the football facilities because the NCAA tournament was at the Erwin Center.”
Think about that.
Instead of playing in the NCAA tournament, the Longhorns were getting kicked out of their own facility to allow Austin to host the second and third rounds of the event.
It left a bitter taste in the mouth of everyone left on the roster.
“We started working out and made it very clear from that day on, we were just going to have each other’s backs,” Holmes said. “We instilled that and we matured. We didn’t look to put all the blame on each other and on the coach. We looked ourselves in the mirror. We grew up.”
Barnes reiterated the same sentiment.
“There definitely was a different agenda. That was for certain,” Barnes told NBCSports.com. “Last year, we had a group of guys that made their minds up themselves that it wasn’t going to be about them. It was going to be about the program. They wanted to win. That, in itself, is the biggest difference.”
While Barnes made sure to note “there wasn’t anything wrong with the kids that we had in the program” the year before, it’s hard not to read between the lines of what the coach and his player are saying. Some of the players that Texas parted ways with after the Houston loss were addition by subtraction.
Myck Kabongo, the team’s star point guard, was suspended for the first 23 games of the season after the NCAA determined that Kabongo had lied during an investigation into how an offseason workout was paid for. Shelden McClellan was benched multiple times during his two seasons in Austin, eventually transferring to Miami once the season ended. Julien Lewis left for Fresno State after losing his spot in the starting lineup to Demarcus Holland. Ioannis Papapetrou went pro in Greece. Jaylen Bond transferred closer to his Philly home.
The players that were left were not as highly recruited or as intriguing to NBA teams, which played a major role in the speculation surrounding Barnes’ imminent firing. Holmes, Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland weren’t good enough. Cameron Ridley was too out of shape. Isaiah Taylor wasn’t going to have enough of an impact as freshmen.
And as much as the players — and the coaching staff — tried to ignore all the negativity, they couldn’t. The same people that predicted the program’s downfall grilled them with questions about those very predictions at every media availability.
“Anybody that is in that situation is aware of it because they’re asked about it, just like you’re talking about it now,” Barnes said, clearly still bitter about the way that his future was portrayed at this time last year. “I think it’s wrong when the media is putting out lists of guys on the hot seat. My thing is, what does that have to do with anything other than people want to speculate and make news?”
“A lot of times, the media’s writing things that aren’t always true,” he added. “I can only tell you that from within, not one time did my athletic director tell me [my job was in jeopardy]. Not one time.”
It was hard for the players not to take that speculation personally, as criticism of Barnes was an indirect shot at the ability of his players. He wasn’t expected to win because his players simply weren’t good enough.
“We heard all the noise,” Holmes said. “We heard everybody talking about it.”
The only thing they could do was to get to work.
As a visitor in the football team’s weight room.
“Definitely humbling, especially at a place like Texas,” Holmes said. “To be [Barnes’] first team not to make the tournament, it was a hard time for us.”
The expectations for this Texas team are back in full force.
They’re being projected as a potential Final Four team. They’re the trendy pick to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 standings. Taylor, Holmes and Ridley are all-Big 12 caliber players, while incoming freshman Myles Turner — a top ten prospect nationally that hails from Euless, Texas — may be the best prospect of them all, ensuring that Austin will once again be a mandatory stop for roving NBA scouts.
And Barnes’ job security?
It’s as solid as it has ever been, Barnes says.
And while he’s happy that he has this program back to where it should be — nationally relevant both in-season and on the recruiting trail — that’s not what he is most excited about with this team.
“These guys really energized us as a coaching staff, the kind of people they are and the attitude they bring,” Barnes said. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
“There’s nothing better, as a coach, than to have a group of guys that care about each other and that want to win.”
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 8 Texas.
– G: Isaiah Taylor, So.
– G: Demarcus Holland, Jr.
– F: Jonathan Holmes, Sr.
– F: Connor Lammert, Jr.
– C: Cameron Ridley, Jr.
– Bench: Myles Turner, Fr.; Javan Felix, Jr.; Kendal Yancy, So.; Demarcus Croaker, So.; Jordan Barnett, Fr.; Prince Ibeh
They’ll be good because … : The Longhorns will pair one of the country’s most underrated point guards with a big, powerful, deep front line. Let’s start in the back court with sophomore Isaiah Taylor, who you may not realize is coming off of a season where he averaged 12.7 points and 4.0 assists. He’s quick with the ball in his hands and he’s got the best floater in college basketball. If he can find a way to extend his range this season — he shot just 26.3% from three — and cut down a bit on the 2.4 turnovers he averaged, there’s a chance he ends up being the best point guard in the Big 12.
And that would be huge considering that he’ll be playing on quite possibly the only team in the country that can go big-for-big with Kentucky. Junior Cameron Ridley finally looked like a top ten recruit during his sophomore season while Jonathan Holmes somewhat surprisingly developed into a dangerous combo-forward that can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot. Connor Lammert reportedly got a start at the four during a secret scrimmage with Davidson, while Prince Ibeh blocked 1.7 shots per game despite playing just over 13 minutes last season as well.
The x-factor is going to be top ten recruit Myles Turner. Turner is a really bright kid with size, length and athleticism, but he’s still raw at this point in his development. His back to the basket game leaves something to be desired, and he has a tendency to float out on the perimeter, looking for catch-and-shoot threes. He’s got the talent to be a lottery pick, however, and if he plays like it, Texas will be scary.
But they might disappoint because … : There are two concerns that I have with this Texas group. First and foremost, the defensive end of the floor. When the Longhorns put their best five players on the floor, they will have a lineup where Holmes is playing the three. The 6-foot-7 senior has some perimeter skills and is a threat at the three-point line, but he’s still more of a college four than anything else. Can he defend someone like Kelly Oubre or Bryce Dejean-Jones? Those are the types of players that will be playing the three in the Big 12. And if he can’t, can Texas effectively play a 2-3 zone with their three bigs across the baseline?
The other concern is three-point shooting. When you have a lineup that is loaded with big men, it is imperative that there are players that can knock down perimeter jumpers to keep the floor spread. If there aren’t, than defenses can collapse on anyone that is posting up knowing that they aren’t going to consistently get hurt leaving shooters wide open at the three point line. Taylor shot 26.3% from three last season. Javan Felix shot 34.3%. Kendal Yancy shot 35.3%, but only took 17 threes. Damarcus Croaker shot 29.7%. Demarcus Holland shot 29.2%. Even Holmes shot a measly 33.3% from three. Who stretches the floor for Texas?
Outlook: Texas has the talent to once again play like the Texas teams that we grew accustomed to under head coach Rick Barnes. It was one of the best stories of the 2013-2014 season, as Barnes had all-but been fired by … well … everyone. Instead, this team built itself around defense and rebounding and got just enough offense from guys like Taylor and Holmes to finish third in the Big 12 and make the NCAA tournament.
The question now is whether or not the Longhorns will be able to grow this season. They essentially return the exact same team this season, only with the addition of a top five recruit and future lottery pick in Turner. Will Barnes find a way to take advantage of this team’s strengths while minimizing some of their (glaring?) weaknesses? That remains to be seen.
The Big 12 is tough this season, particularly at the top of the conference. I like the Longhorns’ chances of making a run at a regular season title.