The Houston Cougars play George Mason tonight in the second round of the CBI Tournament. The CBI is a third-rate tournament that takes the schools that aren't even good enough for the NIT. And the Cougars are, at this moment, one of those schools.
But mock the CBI all you want, mock the Cougars all you want, but there's one thing that the Cougars are doing tonight that the Texas Longhorns aren't doing. The Houston Cougars are playing basketball tonight. The Longhorns aren't playing tonight because they couldn't even win one game in this mediocre third-rate tournament.
The Longhorns aren't playing because they lost to the Houston Cougars last Wednesday night. Judging by the pained expressions on his face throughout the game, and his dickish attitude during the post-game press conference, Texas coach Rick Barnes couldn't believe that his clearly superior team lost to the Houston Cougars in the opening round of a third-rate tournament. A third-rate tournament that the slumming Longhorns should easily dominate.
How do we know that Barnes thinks his team was superior? He told that to us members of the assembled media dutifully listening to his postgame statements. Oh, he didn't exactly say his team was superior, but the meaning was pretty damn clear.
When asked after the game if the Longhorns would be willing to schedule the Cougars in the future, Barnes said no. His response was that the Longhorns play a "national schedule" then he rattled off some major schools the Horns will be playing next season. Then while going on about the Horns national schedule, Barnes further stated that he also had to deal with various television executives and had to make sure their programming needs were met.
But he offered, if the Cougars were willing to travel to Austin, he'd play them any time they wanted. As long as the Cougars didn't request a home-and-home series in which the Longhorns would be forced to play in Houston, because if the Longhorns were forced to play in Houston, then they wouldn't play the Cougars.
Now the reason the Horns were forced to play in Houston last week was simple. The Texas basketball team, coached awfully by Barnes, sucked this season, finishing with a losing record. That still should have been enough for the Longhorns to host a game in the tournament because they can actually deliver decent crowds for their mediocre product. Unfortunately for Barnes however, his home arena wasn't available because it was hosting games in the second round of the NCAA Tournament -- that tournament the Longhorns weren't good enough to get into. This meant that the great national powerhouse that is the Longhorns had to stoop to traveling to Houston and playing the lowly Cougars. And not only did the Horns have to come to Houston and play the Cougars; they came to Houston and lost to the Cougars. Just another black mark on the resume of a head coach quickly accumulating black marks in Austin.
Houston coach James Dickey acknowledged that he understood why Barnes didn't want to play the Cougars, but he made it clear that he wasn't willing to just play a game in Austin and get nothing in return. He also said that he was willing to play UT on a neutral court. Yet one got the feeling that no matter what Houston was to offer up, Texas wouldn't agree to a game because the Cougars aren't a national program.
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The problem for Barnes, and for Texas, is that if the Horns keep playing like they've been playing, they're not going to be a national program either. It's been a decade since a Barnes-coached team made the Final Four. The team's last four appearances in the tournament resulted in two first round defeats and two second round defeats. And the only reason the Horns' current conference is considered a national conference for basketball is the presence of Kansas, which means that, in reality, the Horns essentially play basketball in C-USA, they just get better PR.
So maybe the next time Rick Barnes loses a basketball game in the opening round of a third-rate postseason tournament to a team that he considers to be beneath him, he should take a deep breath and remember that he just lost to that team that's beneath him, and that while that team might not be a national program, the reason he wasn't playing a national opponent was that his team wasn't good enough to play a national opponent, and that, if the Horns play like this for another year or two, they won't be considered a national school either, and that he'll be looking at a school like Houston to give him his next chance to fail as a coach in the college ranks.
Then again, it's kind of fun watching the Longhorns suffer. So here's hoping that Barnes doesn't accept reality anytime soon.