With no games scheduled until a talented West Virginia team comes to Austin on Jan. 17, this may end up being the most critical week of the Texas season. After back-to-back, Big 12 losses, this needs to be the week the Longhorns re-establish their identity.

I'm getting more and more questions about what kind of leash Rick Barnes is on with Steve Patterson for this basketball season.

Personally, I think we are still too early in the season to be talking about this. But I get that after five straight poor defensive performances from a veteran team (including three losses - to Stanford, OU and Ok State) with a defensive-minded coach, including a 70-49 loss at home to the rival Sooners, there would be frustration.

It's clear sophomore PG Isaiah Taylor is not all the way back from his left wrist injury three games into his return, because he's not penetrating the way he usually does, which sets up most of UT's offense.

But let's talk about it.

We've never been in these waters with Steve Patterson in terms of what his breaking point is for firing a coach. (Barnes would walk away before that happens, I believe.) 

Patterson has raised ticket prices for both men's and women's basketball (already in effect). So I'm sure Patterson was planning on return on investment sooner rather than later.

At the same time, Patterson extended Barnes' contract in August by two years  - through the 2018-19 season (without increasing the base salary of $2.5 million or the small, Texas-friendly buyout). So, Patterson is going to give Barnes every benefit of the doubt to get things going, I would imagine.

Right now, Texas is 1-2 in Big 12 play and is three games into the return of Taylor, who missed 10 games with a broken left wrist. Adjustments made to Taylor's absence and then return are not insignificant. Taylor's calling card is being able to break down opposing defenses: drive and dish; drive and score; or drive and get fouled. 

That's still not happening with regularity, which indicates Taylor is still not all the way back from his injury. 

The loss at Oklahoma State was tough because everyone was probably expecting a bounce-back game for Texas after the humiliating loss at home to OU.

Texas led early in the second half in Stillwater behind solid games from Myles Turner and Damarcus Holland. It was a 3-point game with 6:05 left, and then the Horns just got left behind. Poor shot selection and turnovers played a role. But OSU has the league's two leading scorers in veterans Phil Forte and Le'Bryan Nash and could develop into an NCAA Tournament team.

But there are clearly some issues internally with Texas that need to get cleared up. This week is HUGE because the Horns have an entire week to figure things out before a talented WVU team shows up on Saturday.

This is the week things need to turn around for UT with roles getting defined, guys getting used to having Taylor back and Taylor and Holmes getting back into an offensive groove.

If Taylor and Holmes get it going again offensively, this is a totally different team.

Right now, UT's two most important players just aren't making shots, and it seems to be affecting the team's overall confidence in a way it shouldn't. 

Texas and Taylor's offensive identity is to penetrate defenses by attacking the basket. That leads to opportunities inside for UT's big men - either by getting the ball when their defender helps out on Taylor or on put-back attempts.

Without Taylor breaking down defenses, Texas has lost its identity as an inside-out team. Barnes has seemed disconcerted with Ridley and Prince Ibeh, at times, during the last few games (Ridley didn't start vs OU; and Ibeh played only 8 minutes vs Oklahoma State after early foul trouble).

Both Ridley and Ibeh are instrumental for Texas defensively and from an offensive rebound-standpoint when UT is playing well.

Connor Lammert seems like a forgotten man on this team, and he's too versatile to be that.

The veterans on this team need to stick together and pick each other up right now. And everyone has to hope Taylor gets back to attacking the basket soon.

And then it's up to Barnes to coach this team up and find different ways to score if Taylor and Holmes' struggles continue.

This is a big week for Texas to reclaim its identity, because it won't get any easier after West Virginia with three road games (at TCU, Iowa State and Baylor) and a home game vs Kansas (Jan. 24) sandwiched in the middle.

Without a single game on the schedule until next Saturday, these could be the most important days of the season.




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