The Texas Longhorns’ postseason chances don’t rest on the shoulders of any individual player. Instead they rest on the right knee of one.
In order for the Longhorns to have an extended postseason run, UT fans must hope that Jonathan Holmes’ nagging right knee injury has run its course.
Holmes is an all-conference second-team selection and enters the Big 12 tournament as UT’s leading scorer with 13 points per contest to go with 7.3 rebounds per game.
UT’s lone scholarship junior first injured his knee in a road loss to Kansas State on Feb. 8 and missed UT’s next home game against Oklahoma State. He had issues in UT’s road loss to Oklahoma on March 1 and missed last week’s regular season home finale against TCU.
Prior to missing the TCU game, Holmes averaged 13.4 points and seven rebounds, around the same as his regular- season numbers. Holmes came off the bench to score seven points in 21 minutes during Saturday’s loss at Texas Tech.
But beyond the numbers, the Longhorns look like a different team offensively without Holmes in the game.
Without him, teams will double-team center Cameron Ridley anytime he touches the ball in the paint and force him to pass to another player or go to the free-throw line, where he shoots 62 percent.
Without Holmes, Ridley will likely look for outside shots from guard Javan Felix, whose 3-point shooting chart has its fair share of peaks and valleys. Over the last month, Felix has had games where’s he’s hit 75 and 77 percent from beyond the arc, but is shooting 11 percent (1 of 17) his last three games.
Holmes is versatile enough to beat forwards off the dribble, is tall enough at 6-foot-8 to hit 35 percent of his 3-point attempts over shorter guards and helps clear the lane for Isaiah Taylor to drive or hit his trademark running jumpers.
But beyond the box score, Holmes plays defense, attacks the paint and shows the hard work and hustle that was missing from the team last year.
No play was more emblematic than one that came during the fourth game of the season in November at the Erwin Center against Houston Baptist.
With the Longhorns leading by double-digits in the second half, the junior forward dove for a loose ball at midcourt when Texas had a nonconference win in hand.
The play left Holmes with a pair of chipped teeth to show for the effort.
One of the reasons why the Longhorns are on their way to the NCAA Tournament and Rick Barnes won a Big 12 Coach of the Year award is because their best player is also their hardest worker, and that has rubbed off on the rest of the team.
Texas opens the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. against West Virginia. The Longhorns swept the Mountaineers this season.