After his team dropped yet another frustrating and ugly game, Texas coach Rick Barnes gave a puzzled look when asked to explain what's going on with the Longhorns.
"Baffled,'' Barnes said. "I can't explain it.''
Barnes has seldom been in a situation like this. In 26 years as a head coach, he has had only one losing season, back in 1991-92 at Providence. His teams have set the bar for success at Texas with 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, five trips to the Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four in 2003. Former Longhorns players Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge are two of the best players in the NBA.
Yet none of that can help his current ragtag team that seems to be falling apart at the seams. The Longhorns are just 10-13 overall and 2-8 in the Big 12. They are desperately hoping the return of starting point guard Myck Kabongo from a 23-game NCAA suspension will give them a lift against Iowa State (16-7, 6-4) on Wednesday night.
Barnes has already promised that Kabongo will start instead of freshman Javan Felix, who has struggled to lead the team in Kabongo's absence. Texas also was hit with a key injury when top rebounder Jonathan Holmes broke a bone in his right hand and hasn't played since Jan. 22 in a loss at Oklahoma.
"We don't have rhythm,'' Barnes said. "We don't have anything going. I realize some of it is because Myck plays point differently than Javan.''
Felix had eight turnovers in Saturday's 72-59 loss to Oklahoma State, but he also can't be blamed for passes that bounce off teammates' hands, poor rebounding and defensive lapses, all of which happen all too often.
"More than frustrated, we are embarrassed,'' Texas freshman forward Ioannis Papapetrou said after the latest defeat.
Barnes has been known to take a "tough love'' approach when his teams struggled. He has implored the Longhorns to play hard, play fearless and hold each other accountable. But it's a mantra he has been repeating all season and it hasn't taken yet.
"I think that's where they are frustrated,'' Barnes said. "The same things we're talking about we've been talking about now for 23 games. That's probably why their frustration is at a high level. The things were asking really aren't that complicated.''
Barnes has directed a lot of criticism at forward Sheldon McClellan, who the coach identified as Texas' go-to scorer at the beginning of the season. McClellan averages a team-high 14.3 points, but had just four points against Oklahoma State and didn't score until late in the second half.
"He can't make one cut, not get the ball and stop or throw his hands up in the air like he's getting fouled. He needs to cut. He needs to play. With that said, that's why I've always said that when you're a guy that people count on, it's a lot of responsibility. You've got to be ready to play every single night,'' Barnes said.
Texas hopes Kabongo can make a big difference over the final eight games of the regular season.
Kabongo will be expected to move the Longhorns better through transition and use penetrating drives and passes to set up teammates for open shots. He had to sit out for accepting airfare and personal training instruction on a trip to Cleveland last year and then providing false and misleading information about the infractions when asked by university officials.
"When we get the rebound in transition, Myck is going to push the ball and get more transition points and more stops on defense,'' freshman guard Demarcus Holland said.
Texas hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since the 1997-98 season, the last one before Barnes arrived. Since then, the Longhorns have won an average of 24 games per season. But the Longhorns haven't won consecutive games this season since back-to-back wins over Texas State and North Carolina before Christmas.
"We are going to go everywhere and try to win every game,'' Papapetrou said.