Texas is aiming to become the best rebounding team of college basketball's modern era, but it's not good enough for coach Rick Barnes. It's never good enough for Rick Barnes. This is why Texas is aiming to become the best rebounding team of college basketball's modern era.
The progression is as circular as the ball the Longhorns fanatically pursue. Texas rebounds well. Barnes wants more. Texas rebounds better. Barnes wants more.
|Texas may be the best rebounding team in 30 years, but that doesn't mean Rick Barnes is satisfied. (Getty Images)|
If Texas rebounds any better -- I mean, one-tenth of one rebound better -- the Longhorns will finish the 2003-04 season as the No. 1 rebounding team since 1973. That was the year freshmen became eligible, and the NCAA began separating team records from the previous era.
The schedule will get much tougher, but six games into the season, Texas has a plus-18.5 rebound margin. That would tie the modern record set in '73 by Manhattan. Since then, no Division I team has come within 2.1 of Manhattan's record.
Here comes Texas.
"They are the best rebounding team I have ever seen," said Centenary coach Kevin Johnson, whose team was outrebounded 44-34 in a 94-59 loss Nov. 29. "And that's on film, too."
The Longhorns are this good: Senior center James Thomas, who led the Big 12 in rebounding last season at 11.0 per game, is no longer the best rebounder on the team. He's barely No. 2. Texas' top rebounder has been freshman forward P.J. Tucker, who averages 8.5 boards per game. Thomas is next at 8.2, followed by sophomore forward Brad Buckman at 8.0. There's also senior forward Brian Boddicker (5.3), who led the team with 12 rebounds in Texas' 89-55 victory Sunday against New Orleans, and junior center Jason Klotz (4.3), who gets just 12.3 minutes per game. Over 30 minutes per game, Klotz's average translates to 10.5 rebounds.
Of course, Klotz will never play 30 minutes per game. None of these guys will, and that joins Barnes' rebounding fetish as another key to Texas' glass domination. None of the five above-mentioned players averages even 20 minutes per game, meaning they are fresh -- and hungry to produce -- when Barnes puts them into the game.
Assuming he does.
Klotz had seven rebounds in 13 minutes in the Longhorns' 122-71 victory Nov. 24 against Sam Houston State, then didn't play in the first half five days later against Centenary. Oops.
"I should have played Jason in the first half, but I didn't get around to it," Barnes said. "We have a lot of good players, and I told the team after the game that we need to get to the point where they understand how precious minutes are."
Opposing coaches understand.
Said New Orleans' Monte Towe, whose team was outrebounded 58-32: "When they make substitutions, they just keep getting stronger and stronger."
Said Wofford's Mike Young, whose team lost 103-72 on the scoreboard and 47-35 on the glass: "They are big, physical and they just wear you down."
To become the best rebounding team in 30 years, Texas will have to become the best rebounding team in the Big 12 -- and Missouri won't simply hand over that title. The Tigers are plus-13.4 on the boards this season, led by Linas Kleiza (11.8 per game), Arthur Johnson (8.5) and Travon Bryant (7.8).
Missouri can match Texas' top rebounding trio, but nobody in the country can duplicate the Longhorns' interior depth. Thomas, for example, had led the team in rebounding in 47 of Texas' past 57 games after grabbing 19 boards in the 2003-04 opener against Brown. Since then he has led the team just once in five games. In three games, he has been fourth or fifth on the team.
And Thomas is on pace to become Texas' all-time rebounding leader. With 935 boards, he is 92 short of LaSalle Thompson's school record.
"If I do get the record," Thomas said, "I'll have to watch my back because Brad Buckman still has (two-plus) more years here, and he's a great rebounder, too."
Behind Buckman is the 6-foot-5 Tucker, who has managed to surpass the 6-8 Thomas' combination of undersized body and supersized desire.
"People look at P.J., say he's undersized, too small to be a force inside," Barnes said. "I'm not sure height isn't one of the most overrated things in college basketball. Here's a guy who's 6-5, but with a 7-1 wingspan. Our players know every day he's going to lace them up and go at it."
The Longhorns also know they'll never rebound enough to satisfy their coach.
"They're getting better," Barnes said.