So, Why Isn't Rick Barnes Smiling?

Undefeated and ranked No. 4 (coaches poll), Texas basketball is in danger of going winless in the Big 12 Conference, coach Rick Barnes said Monday. Say what?

The Longhorns are coming off a lackluster 96-81 win against Texas State and now tune-up for Saturday's contest at No. 9 Michigan State with Tuesday's affair against Oral Roberts. But does Texas stand a chance against ORU, given Barnes' assessment of his team?

"If we think we're good enough right now and if we stay at this level," Barnes said, "we won't win a conference game. We've got to get better. Our guys know that I'm going to tell them the truth. They knew I was very upset after the (Texas State) game. When they saw the game tape, they were very upset."

Barnes' dire prediction that Texas could drop every conference game is an obvious exaggeration, yet the tale of the tape following Saturday's 96-81 win against the Bobcats has left a sour taste in his mouth. Texas nursed a two-point half-time lead and it was still a two-possession game with 11:20 remaining. Texas' 12 unanswered points was virtually mitigated by TSU's 10-2 run before the Horns gradually pulled away at the end. Texas committed 13 turnovers and allowed 20 points above its average.

On top of that, Barnes detected enough mistakes in Texas' 63-61 win at top-ranked UCLA that "you would have thought we'd lost by 20. I look at it from the standpoint of what we didn't do well. If you don't fix it, it snowballs…There are things you have to fix as the season goes on. We gave up a bunch of points the other night. I'm brutally honest with the guys. I'm not going to sugarcoat things."

As much as anything else, Barnes is guarding against complacency given the fact that Texas is off to its best start in a quarter-century.

"They're kids and it's natural that they start feeling pretty good about themselves," Barnes said. "There's a fine line there. You've got to have a degree of confidence and expect to win every game. But you can't have false confidence. You can't think you're somewhere that you're not."

While Horn fans await uber-recruit Gary Johnson's clearance to play, the freshman will still have a difficult time working his way into a front court that boasts Damion James and Connor Atchley, arguably the most improved player in the Big 12 Conference.

Atchley leads the Horns in blocked shots (18), ranks second in rebounding (5.7 rpg) and third in scoring (12.6 ppg). He had a career-best 26 points -- including 4-of-5 from three-point range -- to go along with 10 rebounds against Texas State.

Johnson, of course, will give Texas the option of going big as Texas has raced to an 11-0 record with a three-guard starting lineup. Johnson's immediate impact, Barnes surmised, would be to give his backcourt a breather.

Barnes' first win at Texas came against Oral Roberts with an 87-77 victory in Tulsa on December 2, 1998. Barnes inherited a divided program following Tom Penders dismissal and, after a slow start, the Horns rebounded to claim the Big 12 Conference title that season. Texas owns an 8-2 series lead, but Tuesday's game marks just the second time the schools have faced during Barnes' tenure.

Scott Sutton, son of legendary hoops coach Eddie Sutton, has guided ORU to a 6-3 mark this season. The Golden Eagles are averaging right at 70 ppg while limiting opponents to 62.4 ppg and 39.9 percent from the floor.

"They are very solid on defense," Barnes noted. "I told our team that they are solid on defense in the way that we're not. They really defend. They're smart. They stay in front. They'll be as solid of a defensive team that we'll play all year."

Tuesday's game is set for a 5:30 p.m. (Central) tip and will be televised in the state of Texas by Fox Sports Southwest.

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