The ghosts of disappointments past continue to haunt the Texas Longhorns in the present. We all know the story by now: Last year's Longhorns started 17-0, rose all the way to No. 1 in the nation, and appeared to be one of the three or four teams capable of winning the 2010 national title.
Then the wheels came off: The Longhorns lost 10 of their final 17 games, finished sixth in the Big 12 with a 9-7 record, and bowed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament with a loss to Wake Forest. It was a huge collapse -- from title contender to tourney also-ran -- and it forced the consistently successful Rick Barnes to answer questions about his ability to do more than merely assemble talent.
This year's Texas team has shown no signs of such collapse, but January is when Texas lost its mojo last year. In other words, those who follow Texas closely -- like Austin Statesman columnist Cedric Golden -- are still a little worried about this team's ability to follow through on its impressive start to the season. From Golden:
Are we witnessing the 2010 season all over again? Are the 15-3 Longhorns playing the role of title contender in this season's first half only to disappoint their fan base with another NCAA flameout at season's end?
If true, Texas is following the playbook nearly to a T, entering Saturday's showdown at No. 2-ranked Kansas. The Horns are playing with tremendous confidence and energy with an offense that's much friendlier on the eyes.
It's been a nice ride. So far. Forgive the journalistic skepticism, but last season provided proof that good starts are no guarantee to great finishes.
There's no telling what the future holds. The current batch of Longhorns looks great. They've offered no hints that anything resembling a collapse is imminent. But that was the thing that made last season's collapse so truly confusing: The Longhorns didn't offer any hints with their early play -- whether statistically or from the good old-fashioned eye test -- that they'd take so significant a dip by the time the season was out. You can see why this would cause some psychological damage. Like an abused dog, it's going to take time for Longhorns fans to trust the new entity to which they are so devoted.
There's no remedy for it. It just takes time. But Barnes' latest team is a group that features a thoroughly improved and thoroughly efficient Jordan Hamilton, a productive freshman big man in Tristan Thompson, and a host of guys (Cory Joseph, Dogus Balbay, and Gary Johnson) who appear to have excellent chemistry. This team plays truly excellent defense, and if it's clicking on offense -- as was the case in their blowout win over A&M Wednesday -- it's very, very tough to beat. Keep it up, and Longhorns types will have no choice but to buy in.