Coach's Corner

Like Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day, the UTmen's basketball team is doomed to repeat its failures anew each year, and it seems to come as a total shock each time.

To toss a bouquet to you optimists, I'll grant the theoretical supposition that anything can, and occasionally does, happen. In 1985, a .500 Villanova basketball team inexplicably caught fire and won the NCAA tournament. 2,300 years ago, an obscure African general crossed the Alps with a small army and proceeded to thump the greatest military power of all time. These things do, from time to time, happen. We remember them because they stand as exceptions to solid rules. Ninety-nine times out of 100, basketball teams with 16-14 records are early NIT casualities. Roman armies hardly ever lost a battle in 500 years of constant warfare.

So it's possible that UT's victory over Oklahoma State last Saturday is the start of something memorable. And it's possible I'll shoot a 75 this weekend. But a 110 is far more likely. And Texas will be -- as has become customary -- an early NCAA loser.

Longhorn fans don't need Hubie Brown to explain what's wrong this year: Texas can't shoot the ball. Not from 25 feet. Not from 10 feet. Not from three feet. The Horns aren't discriminating. They miss from everywhere. This isn't being negative. It's simply what is. A .406 shooting percentage makes Texas the worst shooting team -- by far -- in a league of 12. Worse than A&M. Worse than Kansas State. Way worse than Baylor. All those missed shots create excellent rebounding opportunities, exposing another gaping wound. Texas is (by a wide margin) the worst rebounding team in the league. They're next to last in free-throw shooting. These dry stats all came luridly to life in the most inept home performance I can remember in 20 years, when all the wheels fell off at once against Oklahoma a few weeks ago. It's a miracle this team has won 19 games.

A close look at the numbers dispels a common notion. Rick Barnes has a reputation as a no-nonsense defensive coach who wants to play a controlled half-court game. Offensively, it's a lie. Barnes will complain about the atrocious shot selection of his trigger-happy Horns. He'll scowl at Maurice Evans, or Brian Boddicker, or any of the five guys on the floor who fervently believe that this three really will go in … but he tolerates it. For proof, I offer a stunning statistic: What team do you think leads the Big 12 in shots taken and is second in three-point attempts? Amazingly, it's Texas. Barnes is Tom Penders with defense.

How does a bad rebounding, awful shooting team get off so many shots? Well, the few rebounds the team does garner are mostly offensive, resulting in another missed shot, another offensive rebound, and so on until, at last, the other team mercifully rebounds the ball.

Pity, please, the longtime Texas basketball fan. The players (with their highly touted skills) and the coaches (with their rosy glasses) come and go, but the fans remain behind: doomed to a basketball version of the movie Groundhog Day, where every season repeats the last. The winning percentages of Abe Lemons, Tom Penders, and Rick Barnes are remarkably similar. They win their 20-23 games. They get an invitation to a not-so-selective tournament that admits 64 teams. They lose early -- for the same reasons -- every year. Then we wait for next season, when the cycle repeats itself.

Take the chronic problem of the point guard, a guy who can distribute, shoot, and penetrate at an All-Conference level. Johnny Moore and Joey Wright have been gone 21 and 13 years respectively. The shooting guard position has been a relative strength, but not since Reggie Freeman departed. Texas' best team ever featured three excellent guards: Travis Mays, Lance Blanks, and Wright. That was almost 15 years ago. UT hasn't put two good guards on the court at the same time since Terrence Rencher and B.J. Tyler. Forwards? The only first team All-Conference guys since '78 are the forgotton Locksley Collie and Dexter Cambridge, and the overrated Gabe Muoneke. Good big men? It's a small class of two: LaSalle Thompson and Chris Mihm.

And so it goes. Year in, year out. The basketball program is stuck in 1978: not bad … but not too good either. Lemons won his 22 with good players who played hard for him. Penders won his 22 with flashy, style-over-substance teams. Barnes wins his 22 by hoping his team can score 60 and hold the other guys to 59.

Over this long haul the fans have been the one constant, in their role as whipping boy. Kaiser Bob Weltlich whined about the funeral hall he had to play in, but many fans decided going to the dentist wasn't so bad; at least they had good magazines. Penders pounded us when we grew weary of "up-tempo" teams who lost 20-point leads before you got the stale Erwin Center popcorn to your mouth. Barnes (bless his optimistic heart) wants to "create a loud college atmosphere," with a miserable offensive team, where even wins are painful to watch, let alone enjoy.

Feel sorry for Bill Murray? I think not. He got to play with Andie McDowell every day. The Longhorn fan gets bad hot dogs, stale (when you can find them at all) pretzels, two yogurt stands, bricked free throws, appalling service, and Marlon Drakes.

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