It's hard to pick a starting point of conversation in regards to Texas Longhorn basketball. The fall of the presumed giant isn't just a hot topic in the Lone Star state, it's a buzz that spans nationwide; in every office and at every water cooler.
Which raises the question: What the heck happened?
The 'Horns were endowed a preseason No. 4 ranking and looked unstoppable in December. Coach Rick Barnes' boys rolled over defending national champion North Carolina (103-90), and runner-up Michigan State (79-68) within a span of just three days.
The first chink in Texas' (No. 21, 8-6, 22-7) armor came by way of Big 12 foe Kansas State on Jan. 18. The then-No. 1 'Horns fell (17-0 at the time) 71-62, and then ninth-ranked K-State's Jamar Samuels ran wild in Manhattan scoring 15 of his 20 points in the first frame—it's been nothing but rough sailing for the burnt orange since.
It's hard for any team to remain on top when its whole back-court has caught the injury bug at one time or another. Most recently, Dogus Balbay (ACL) and J'Covan Brown (neck, day to day) have bitten the proverbial dust, adding insult to injury to Texas' guard situation.
Thought to be a National Player of the Year candidate; Dexter Pittman has failed to live up to his high expectations in 2010. Pittman, the 6'10" 290-pound wide-body junior, has not played up to his abilities, especially in Texas' seven losses.
Pittman has averaged just six points per contest in those seven games—a virtual non-factor when Barnes needed him most. He's on pace with numbers from a year ago (10 ppg, 5.5/5.9 rpg), but you wouldn't know it by his recent showings.
Damion James, the 6'7" Longhorn G/F, has been the only model of reliability and consistency for Barnes' bunch. James is scoring 17.5 points per game, but finished with just 12 in Saturday's 74-58 blow-out loss to its in-state rival; No. 23 Texas A&M.
Losing seven of its last 12 games is reason to hit the panic button in Austin. The chances of a Big 12 title are long gone, the focus must now be on making a valiant run come March. With the year-long problem of its guards dropping like flies, Texas has to reevaluate its tournament strategy.
The inside presence of Pittman has disappeared, but it's not lost—he's still the key to Texas' run in March, whether he knows it or not.