A defeated Jaxson Hayes sat at the media podium following Texas’ 69-56 loss to TCU with his head buried into his chest. The weight of disappointment hung on his shoulders not just because of the loss, but also knowing his team’s tournament chances had taken a drastic hit.
On Saturday, the Longhorns were not only outclassed by the Horned Frogs but also just outhustled. The effort begged an important question: How could Texas turn in such a flat effort in a game that would have likely clinched its NCAA Tournament bid?
“I don’t know,” Hayes said.
Of course, the Longhorns aren’t totally out of the tournament picture. Despite their 16–15 record and a slate of bad losses on their resume, analysts still figure they can slide in thanks to a few quality wins and a lackluster field across college basketball overall.
But with the defeat to TCU, all of a sudden the task to reach the tournament has become more difficult. Many college basketball analysts feel that the Longhorns need to win their first game of the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday to secure a spot.
Why? Because never in the history of March Madness has a team ever earned an at-large bid with a record at .500.
Texas knows the situation it has put itself in. The Longhorns must now figure out a way to put together a win against Kansas, a team who will be playing in front of a largely pro-Jayhawk crowd at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“I think the team has it in them (to make a run),” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “We have to come together around some core components of who we need to be and who we have not been the last couple of games. If we do, we certainly have a shot.”
Coming off its first season in 14 years where it hasn’t won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title, Kansas will be motivated to impress in the conference tournament and show it can still control the conference.
But in the team’s two matchups this season, Texas held its own, splitting the series. And on point differential, the Longhorns claimed an eight-point advantage. Add in the fact that Thursday night essentially marks a do-or-die game, Texas should come in playing with its own edge too.
Although the Longhorns feel their season ended in a disappointing way, they still feel they have plenty of postseason in front of them. They don’t think Thursday will mark the end of their season altogether.
“(That was) definitely not the way we wanted to finish out our season,” Dylan Osetkowski said following the loss to TCU. “We feel like we have a lot basketball left to play, so we have to decide how we want to finish out.”
To ensure that, a win against Kansas is the only answer. Unlike against Kansas State, Texas will have to play with intensity and focus on each possession. If they don’t, the Longhorns will watch their season evaporate in front of their own eyes.