Story by Caden Kinard
Photos by Joshua Guerra
Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” is a cross-generational karaoke classic. Every millennial knows the song by heart. At its peak, even parents of the new generation hesitatingly sang the song when it surfaced on the radio in 2004. It was just so damn catchy. You know a song has reached supreme cultural relevancy when Weird Al does whatever he does with a song. Kelly is the original “American Idol,” and nobody is as memorable as the first. Since the release of the song, it has gone from overrated, to underated, to properly rated, fluctuating like a Brian Williams story.
Last season was Texas Men's Basketball’s audition, coming from nowhere and ending up on the national scene, remarkably making it to the third-round of the NCAA tournament. The last time ORANGE caught up with basketball, we featured the high expectations of the 2014-15 Texas basketball season. Since we’ve been gone, a lot has happened in the Texas basketball season, and the stanzas of “Since U Been Gone” uncannily encapsulate the fan’s perspective on the Longhorns’ season narrative.
Here's the thing we started out friends
It was cool but it was all pretend
Since U Been Gone
Two of the premier sports programs at Texas, football and women’s volleyball, had just ended their respective seasons disappointingly. Yes, not much should really have been asked of football, and volleyball ran into a freight train known as Brigham Young. But this is Texas. We demand winners. Fans’ serotonin levels were low, and the basketball team was Hector of Troy — it was going to save us. This was the year for Texas to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Almost the whole team returned from last season: Coach Rick Barnes returned, DJ Mel came back and the new squad included two of the best recruits it’s had since Kevin Durant. Clarkson sings, “We started out friends,” and attendance was high early in the season compared to years past. It was the first time Texas basketball had been ranked in the Preseason Top 25 since 2009. Texas basketball and its fans have been in the friend zone forever, but this was the program’s chance to prove they were relationship material.
You dedicated, you took the time
Wasn't long till I called you mine
Since U Been Gone
The season started off with deceptive optimism. The team charged out of the blocks with a non-conference record of 11-2 and constantly ranked in the Top 10 of every poll. Clarkson sings, “You dedicated, you took the time.” Texas took the time. The Longhorns earned its way into our burnt-orange hearts with a hot start, but what was once hot must eventually cool.
Texas is currently 6-9 in conference play and unranked in every poll. For a team that was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the start of the year, this is not where it expected to be at this point in the season. The Longhorns’s overall record, 17-11, isn’t as averagely-impressive as it looks on the surface. Against Power Five conferences, or the conferences from which you have actually heard of the opponent school, the Longhorns own a 9-11 record. Out of those nine wins, only one has come against a team rated in the top 50 RPI, West Virginia. The Longhorns have lost all 11 of their other games against top-50 rated teams. Texas took the time, long-conned the fans and disappointed again.
For a team that seemed like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, its resume is not very strong. Fortunately, its resume is not very weak either. The Longhorns have not lost to any team outside of the Top 50, which is the benchmark for a quality win or quality loss. In other words, the Longhorns haven’t really beaten any good teams, but they haven’t lost to any bad teams. This begs the question: Why is this team so average?
The Longhorns routinely play five guys 6-foot-8 or taller, and they are not just tall, but athletically big men. The combination of height and athleticism fosters a team that has blocked the most shots in the entire nation, turning away shots at a whopping rate of 7.4 per game. But sometimes rejection leads to something fortuitous. Myles Turner leads this dismissive bunch with 2.7 blocks per game, and when the freshman is on the floor, the Longhorns allow only 85 points per 100 possessions, which is good for 12th best in the nation. It hasn’t been just him though; the team as a whole has been great on defense. The team has the 32nd best defense out of 351 teams and is great at limiting teams to only one scoring opportunity, grabbing rebounds at the fifth best rate in the nation. However, a basketball court has two sides, and on the offensive end, Texas really struggles.
With Kendal Yancy’s recent scoring bonanza, the Longhorns have now had seven different leading scorers this year, which seems like a good thing but actually points to a larger issue — inconsistency. Every player that has led the team in scoring at one point during the season has also had multiple games of two points or less, except for Isaiah Taylor, who missed over a month because of injuries. There really hasn’t been a player Texas can count on throughout the course of the season. Team shooting has not been a strength, as Texas ranks in the middle of the pack of 351 teams in two-point and three-point shooting percentage. The free throw percentage as a team is an efficient 72.4 percent, but the team rarely attacks the basket to draw fouls and get to the line. If you’ve ever watched this team play, you know the ball will just stay in a player’s hands for excessive amounts of time, making them boring to watch and easy to guard. BurntOrangeNation created a drinking game that breaks down a lot of Texas problems, and yes, you will get very drunk at the end of it if Texas plays the way it has been playing.
And all you'd ever hear me say
Is how I pictured me with you
That's all you'd ever hear me say
The prodigious Clarkson only saw herself with “you,” the destined one. Everybody else was irrelevant, and all other goals were meaningless as long as Clarkson and her lover were together. Kelly takes us back to Texas basketball’s lover of its own, with whom it hopelessly had fallen for — a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis, deeming all other results of the season disappointing. In the past 10 years, only three times has Texas basketball ended the season exceeding its preseason rankings. For a program that currently has nine NBA players (ninth in the nation), expectations have not been met.
Is this program being marginalized? Coach Barnes has finished only one season with less than 20 wins, and that team had star point guard Myck Kabongo suspended for 23 games. This team, though, is in danger of failing to make the NCAA Tournament. The odds to make the tournament with 18 total wins is 1 percent; with 19 wins, it’s 11.6 percent; and with 20 wins, it’s 52.9 percent. Currently Texas has 17 wins with four regular-season games and the Big 12 conference tournament remaining. Three of the four regular season games are against teams that are nationally ranked. Despite all of this, if the Longhorns steal a win in its remaining games, experts predict the Longhorns will be included in the final tournament bracket.
Is it fair to expect a deep run from the Longhorns should they make the postseason? The Longhorns have the 14th hardest schedule in the nation this year, according to ESPN, and nobody will be better than Kentucky, whom they played close for 38 of 40 minutes. The Longhorns protect the rim better than anybody in college basketball, allow the lowest field-goal percentage and match-up well with any team. The defense is capable of keeping them in every game. The offense is the limiting factor. It will dictate how far the team goes in March.
Rolling Stone ranked “Since U Been Gone” as the 482nd best song of the 2000’s, which coincidentally is close to Texas’s ranking in assists this year. Okay, maybe not that close. The Longhorns do not pass the ball well, and 36 of 40 teams to make the Final Four in the past 10 years have ranked in the top 30 in assists.
But Since U Been Gone
I can breathe for the first time
I'm so moving on
Thanks to you
Now I get
What I want
Since U Been Gone
Clarkson’s coming out of a relationship and finally feels like she can breathe and be herself for the first time. She's happy a weight has been lifted. She's not sad or bitter but glad to have been through the experience that has made her stronger. With that said, will basketball move on and make the final four? The team has the talent, and Coach Barnes has done it before. It is anything but a far-fetched idea. The Longhorns essentially have two options: use Clarkson’s prophetic song as a road map to Indianapolis or ignore her invaluable insight and putter out, allowing fans room to breathe and forcing us to wait six months for the start of football season.