With a 22-6 record, a No. 5 national ranking and arguably college basketballs deepest bench, its hard to nit-pick. Yet, a closer look indicates Texas has a couple of Achilles Heels. In four of those six setbacks, Texas either failed to win the battle of the boards or was shot out of the water from three-point range.
The Horns were outrebounded in losses to Colorado, Arizona and Texas Tech. Of course, the Red Raiders also doomed Texas from the start with its three-pointing shooting (10-of-14), as did Oklahoma State (at Stillwater). In the 98-92 December loss to Notre Dame, the Irish connected on more free throws (19) than Texas even attempted (10).
Last year, the X Factor in the Tournament was Deginald Erskin, who doubled his regular season scoring average (to 12.8 ppg) during the final five games of post-season play.
Besides Ford being Ford, who needs to step up the next three weeks to ensure Texas doesnt stumble?
Granted, but the argument here is that Texas needs C James Thomas to be the difference-maker. Texas needs his tenacious rebounding and formidable inside presence. Thomas led the team in double-doubles and led the Big 12 in rebounding. However, he scored zero points in the loss to Tech and registered just single-digits in three of the past four contests.
"He has been such a model of consistency," Barnes said, "that when he doesnt do as well as hes capable of, it obviously stands out. This past weekend showed we need him. We need him to be playing the best he can play."
There is a world of difference in this years team compared to the one-and-done squad that fell in the First Round to Temple two years ago.
"They know what its about," Barnes said. "They know how quickly it can be over with. Theyve witnessed it. Theyve been tough-minded. Theyve bounced back from setbacks this year. Theyll be eager to play Friday."
Its not Friday that concerns us. At 15-16, UNC-Asheville is the only club in the Tournament with a losing record. The Bulldogs ended the regular season on a four-game skid before claiming the Big South tournament title and knocking off Texas Southern, 92-84, in overtime Tuesday.
Already several hoops pundits predict Texas wont make it past the anticipated Second Round contest against LSU, one of the hottest teams in the country.
"Well go down with the understanding that we can only look at what's in front of you, and then worry about the next one," Barnes said.
Little need to worry, I think, if Texas controls the boards and guards against the treys.