Beyond The Boxscore
How Taylor Swift fits into Texas coach Rick Barnes' chilled Final Four mission:It is what it is
Tulsa, Okla. — High seeds kept falling on the TV sets sprinkled all around him, but Rick Barnes paid it all no mind. It looked like a maniacal kid had turned the first full day of the NCAA Tournament into the most destructive game of dominoes ever.
Pitino goes down! Vanderbilt goes down! Texas goes ...
Barnes waves that one off before the thought is even completed. The University of Texas' coach knows that a few prominent names (including CBS analyst Greg Anthony) declared his team a likely upset victim as soon as the Longhorns were matched up against Oakland University, long before another 13th seed (Morehead State) stomped on Pitino's heart and another 13th seed (Princeton) came within a moment of sending John Calipari and Kentucky to the curb Thursday. But Barnes doesn't believe in bad omens.
Not this March.
Instead, Barrnes who admits he let far less slights and wary signs drive him batty in NCAA Tournaments past has turned into Mr. So What. Or, to put it in the preferred lexicon of today's athlete, Mr. It Is What It Is.
Yes, "It Is What It Is" has become such a tired, trite sports staple that there are probably 5-year-olds dropping it on their parents after a T-ball game. Still, few have employed it as well as Barnes is.
Don't look now, but the perturbed grump at the head of UT's other signature program is channeling Taylor Swift in that new Dr. Seuss movie. He may not know exactly why he's there, but damn if Barnes isn't going to be positive. OK, giddy is a relative term when it comes to Texas' basketball coach.
Number of smiles spotted on Barnes' face during his 20-minute news conference at the BOK Center: Zero.
But the man is relaxed. He even jokes around (or at least the Rick Barnes version of it) with Craig Sager, the sideline reporter known for his over-the-top suits at NBA games.
"I wish I could see how you were dressed," Barnes says, squinting into the lights after Sager asks a question from the very back of the room. "Are you dressed pretty good?"
"I'd like to say I was in all green, but I'm not," Sager shoots back on this sunny St. Patrick's Day. In truth, Sager's dressed in conservative dress pants and straight forward shirt. He only gets crazy for TV. It's show biz, Rick.
No matter. It was a cornucopia of amazing moments in Tulsa and Texas doesn't even tip off its tournament until 11:15 a.m. Friday. Hear Rick Barnes shrug off the idea that he is under pressure (the kind of thing that might have triggered a 20-minute self righteous rant ... oh, just last week). See Rick Barnes spend much of Texas' free open practice, happily chatting to TNT-turned-CBS commentators Steve Kerr and Marv Albert, at one point, lifting his shoe up onto the table.
Bill Self — coach of No. 1 seed Kansas, which also begins its march for Houston in Tulsa — admits that he green lighted leaving a bunch of clippings from Kansas' second-round loss to Northern Iowa last year, when the Jayhawks were the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament, in his players' lockers this week. Barnes probably ordered smiley faces to be posted everywhere around Austin.
He's certainly not bringing up last year's first-round loss to Wake Forest.
Don't worry, see happy.
It doesn't matter that Texas is playing a 13th seed too, one with a lovable lifer coach who spends much of his big tournament moment talking about his soft-haired Wheaten Terrier named G.
And that story that suggest Barnes is under pressure at Texas? Doesn't concern him.
Just like it's no big thing that UT's seed is worse than logic, RPIs and the eye test would all dictate.
"I do think this," Barnes says. "That it doesn't matter what line you come in on. People would say that's crazy to say that. The reason I say that is there is nothing you can do about it."
And you didn't think Barnes knew any Dr. Seuss?
Building Mr. Happy
The 56-year-old Barnes acknowledges that this is a new approach for him. It's akin to Charlie Sheen waking up one morning and deciding he wants to be sane.
"Years ago I might have voiced a little more displeasure in it," Barnes says of the seeding. "But again, there's no reason for it. It is what it is. The fact of the matter is you've just got to go out and play."
This new, relaxed approach might be a transparent coaching ploy. A team that relies on freshmen and sophomores doesn't need extra pressure. But Barnes insists it's more than that. It's a shift in his outlook that has more to do with his own comfort level.
"Years ago, I might have felt it, but I wouldn't say it," Barnes says. "But I'm telling you, do I feel pressure now? No. Do I want to do it? No question about it. But I don't feel the pressure."
In other words, Barnes no longer obsesses over what those sometimes wacky UT fans (even the ones with big checkbooks) expect.
Could this free Texas up to finally make the national title run that so many have anticipated for so long? In Houston no less? It's easy to make the hypothesis before the Longhorns' NCAA Tournament begins. Before March has had the chance to turn on Barnes again.
"Coach has been cool," freshman guard Cory Joseph says. "But he'll have us ready."
Dr. Seuss is loose in the BOK Center and no one knows quite what to make of it. Maybe, Barnes really has finally cracked by getting relaxed.
Or maybe, he finally knows exactly what he's doing.
"Why dwell on it?" Barnes shrugs.