Texas has problems.
That’s not exactly new information, but the Longhorns’ issue were laid bare Tuesday as they lost at home to Kent State, 63-58, in yet another display of missed free throws, absent 3-point shooting, an inability to clean the glass and bad late-game execution for coach Shaka Smart’s squad.
Before the season, Texas looked as though it could potentially stake a claim as the league’s second-best team – behind Kansas, obviously – with incoming McDonald’s All-American freshman Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones providing a major infusion of talent to go along with returnees like Kerwin Roach, Tevin Mack, Eric Davis and Shaquille Cleare. The loss of Isaiah Taylor was going to hurt, sure, but in what was supposed to be a down year in the Big 12, it wasn’t far-fetched to see this team contend.
Instead, just two days ahead of league play, it isn’t hard to make the argument Texas is the worst team in the Big 12.
The Longhorns’ resume up to this point had some built-in mitigating factors. Northwestern looks like it might actually get to an NCAA tournament and Colorado has been solid, so losses on a neutral floor in November aren’t major red flags. Nobody is going to feel good to a loss at home to UT-Arlington, but the Mavericks have currently won nine straight, including a victory over St. Mary’s. Setbacks to Michigan and Arkansas don’t seem to be any great sin, either.
Individually, you can reason those losses away. Taken together, though, it paints a pretty unflattering non-conference portrait of Texas. The latest brushstroke, Tuesday’s home loss to the Golden Flashes, brings all that into stark relief.
All of the Longhorns’ troubles were on full display.
Terrible 3-point shooting? Check. Texas, ranked outside the top-300 in 3-point percentage nationally, was 2 of 18 from deep, going nearly 27 minutes between makes.
Awful from the line? You bet. The Longhorns were 14 of 24 (58.3 percent) from the stripe in an effort that will drag down their already poor team mark of 67.2 percent.
Questionable rebounding ability? Rearing its head again. Texas gave up 22 offensive rebounds (over 50 percent of the Flashes’ misses) to give Kent State, which shot 37.7 percent, the leeway to spray and pray.
Late game miscues? Present and accounted for. Down by just one with 1 minute, 17 seconds left, Texas gave up an offensive rebound that led to a layup, missed inside, gave up a dunk, allowed an offensive board on a free throw and surrendered another dunk.
Texas did what Texas has done throughout much of this year, just in maybe more extreme fashion than normal.
The Longhorns appear to be primed to fall far short of preseason expectations which spells potential disaster for them in a Big 12 that looks as though it will far exceed preseason expectations. In what was supposed to be a down year, Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia all appear to be potential top-10 teams while Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU have combined for just eight losses.
That would be a major problem for most coaches at a school as resource-rich as Texas, but in Austin, it might not produce more than a few grumbles from the dedicated few bona fide basketball fans. The rest of the fanbase will be too fixated in getting around-the-clock updates on what Tom Herman and the football program are up to.
At many schools, fan passion and interest is often a selling point for administrators trying to lure coaches to run their programs. At Texas, the opposite may be true. Basketball mediocrity can be tolerated long enough for a coach to find his footing while football garners the bulk of the interest and ire.
Smart’s success on the recruiting trail and his track record at VCU strongly suggest he’ll get Texas moving in the right direction, even if it take a more roundabout detour than most were expecting. The great thing about the Texas job is that many might not really take notice until those wins start arriving in a year or two.