The best thing Texas has going for it is the strength and depth of the Big 12. The Longhorns play in one of the top conferences in the nation and held their own with a 9-9 record in league play.
The Big 12 is the only conference with three teams with a .800 win percentage or higher (Kansas, Missouri, Baylor). It is also the only league with half of its teams having fewer than 10 losses (KU, MU, BU, Iowa State, Kansas State).
“I believe it’s one of the best leagues in the country,” said head coach Rick Barnes, who thinks the Big 12 should get six teams in the NCAA tournament. “We’ve played one of the best schedules in the country.”
Besides one of the nation’s toughest conference schedules, the Longhorns challenged themselves in non-conference play with games at UCLA and North Carolina. Texas beat UCLA but lost to UNC.
The Longhorns boast one of the country’s top offensive threats in J’Covan Brown. If he gets hot from the field in a tournament game, Texas could spring an upset. Of course, UT must be invited to the Big Dance first.
Texas is a team with a lot of potential, but that can only get it so far. The Longhorns have heavily relied on their group of six freshmen to help them wade the rough waters of the Big 12, and the results have been mixed. Each of the youngsters have had their moments, but they have yet to put together a complete unit performance. Barnes said inexperience has hurt them on the court.
“I’ve never seen a group of players practice as hard as they do,” Barnes said after his team came from behind to beat Oklahoma last week. “Sometimes it’s been hard getting that to translate onto the court.”
Nowhere has that youth been more evident than in close games. Texas is 2-6 in games decided by less than six points. In most of those, they fumbled down the stretch even with chances to close out a win.
The Longhorns beat visiting Temple, 77-65, during non-conference play on Dec. 17. The Owls are currently ranked No. 21 and have been in and out of the polls for much of the season. It is Texas’ only win versus a ranked opponent (1-7) and the victory has looked better with time now that Temple is a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament. Still, the Owls are from a non-power conference (Atlantic 10) and one signature win likely won’t get the Longhorns into the field of 68.
UT also beat Iowa State and Kansas State at home, two teams that will likely earn at-large bids. But those victories aren’t anything spectacular when compared to other teams on the bubble.
Texas shot itself in the foot back in November when the Longhorns blew a pair of games in New Jersey at the TicketCity Legends Classic. Texas lost in overtime to Oregon State, 100-95, after turning the ball over 23 times and sending the Beavers to the free throw line 43 times.
Two days later, the Longhorns coughed up an 18-point lead in the second half and lost to North Carolina State, 77-74.
J’Covan Brown picked up his fourth foul with 8:35 to play and Texas ahead, 65-52. Brown said something to the referee as he walked to the bench and received a technical foul. It was his fifth foul, meaning he had fouled out of the game with a team-high 17 points.
UT struggled to regroup without its leading scorer and Rick Barnes called Brown out after the loss.
“We have a fairly young team and when your older players do that, it’s just wrong. He has to grow up,” Barnes told reporters after the game. “He’s been in the program for three years. He should know he just can’t do that. Sooner or later, he has to figure out that it’s a team game and he has to realize that it’s not about him. He has come a long way, but he should have had it all figured out by now.”
Texas has its scorer and its point guard in J’Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo, but now that their junior defensive specialist Alexis Wangmene is out for the remainder of the season, Texas will need its big men now more than ever.
Enter Clint Chapman.
Chapman has had his best year as a Longhorn, but he hasn’t been consistent. He’s only averaging seven points and five boards on the season, but has shined on the big stage before. He notched 15 points and nine boards in Texas’ first contest against Kansas and had a string of impressive games afterward. But in his last five, he has been in foul trouble and seen less floor time.
Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond will have to help him out. Holmes is averaging seven points and five boards in 20 minutes, while Bond averages three points and almost five boards in 15 minutes. The two will be up against some of the best big men in the country in the Big 12 tournament, so the pair of freshmen need to be prepared for their expanded roles
Numbers to Note:
Texas is ranked 51st in RPI rankings with 0.574 and have the 22nd-toughest schedule.
Rick Barnes has made the NCAA tournament all 12 years as Texas’ head coach.
This is the first year since 1998 Texas failed to win 20 games.
Published on Tuesday March, 6, 2012 as: Will the bubble burt? Strength of Big 12 Boost Horns'tourney hopes