After big turnaround, big expectations at Texas
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) A year ago, Texas coach Rick Barnes was hearing a lot of speculation that his job was on the line. Now, he's got a team that's expected to compete for the Big 12 title.
Talk about a turnaround.
It was easy to see why Barnes was supposed to be on the hot seat. Fans were already frustrated by Texas' recent lack of post-season success, the Longhorns were coming off their first losing season in 15 years and Barnes rolled out a lineup that had lost most of its scoring punch.
And Barnes had just watched Texas push out football coach Mack Brown after 16 years.
So Barnes and the basketball team responded by going 24-11 with a return to the NCAA tournament.
Texas returns five starters, including point guard Isaiah Taylor, who was the surprise catalyst for last season's turnaround. And they add top recruit Myles Turner, a 6-foot-11 forward, to a team that Barnes is now confident enough to welcome comparisons to the Texas team that made the 2003 Final Four or the one that came within one game in 2008.
''We've got the most depth that we've had in a long time. There's not going to be one guy on the team who's not going to be a big factor at some point,'' Barnes said. ''I think is a team and coaching staff I'd like to see compared to those teams.''
Yet Taylor hardly sounded impressed with Texas' turnaround last year. All those wins in the regular season still didn't deliver a Big 12 trophy or a deep run into the NCAA tournament.
''We really didn't accomplish anything,'' Taylor said. We'd didn't win the Big 12. We lost in the round of 32.''
Some things to watch for with the Longhorns in 2014-2015:
TANTALIZING TAYLOR: Taylor was one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12 last season, but now that he's been around the league for a season he'll have to improve his shooting and leading the Longhorns in halfcourt possessions. He led Texas in scoring and assists but shot just 39 percent.
''He's improved in the halfcourt,'' Barnes said. ''I think he's got the kind of swagger you want. He's a confident player. There's nothing he hasn't gotten better at.''
TANTALYZING TURNER: The freshman is the sort of big-time recruit Barnes landed in the past when he signed the likes of T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant. Turner was one of the top prospects in the country and chose Texas over Duke and Big 12 rivals Kansas and Oklahoma State. Turner is considered an elite shot-blocker and can even step out for 3-pointers. He'll be expected to have an immediate impact in an experienced lineup.
GOING BIG: The Big 12 is a rough-and-tumble league and Texas will bring plenty of muscle with Turner, 6-foot-10 center Prince Ibeh and 6-9, 285-pound forward Cam Ridley. Barnes has said he's tinkered in practice with lineups that used Taylor and four forwards, all 6-8 or taller.
SHOOTING: The Longhorns need to find a go-to shooter in crunch time. Too often last season it was guard Javan Felix, who was just 36 percent on the season, prompting teammate Demarcus Holland to joke, ''He's a points guard. All he does is shoot.''
Barnes insists the Longhorns can knock down shots when they need to.
''People question our shooting,'' Barnes said. ''I do think we've got some guys on this team who can shoot the ball better than people think.''
ROAD WOES: Texas turned things around last season by being great at home, but a 5-6 road mark in the Big 12, with several blowouts, kept the Longhorns from competing for the league title.