Other than which player will line up under center for Charlie Strong’s football team in the season opener against Notre Dame on September 5th, there isn’t a hotter topic in Austin than the future of the Texas Longhorns’ basketball program – on multiple levels.
Texas (18-12), picked to finish second in the Big 12 Basketball Preseason Poll, has largely underperformed this season, and head coach Rick Barnes has taken plenty of criticism as a result. The Longhorns currently sit in eighth place in league standings, and will be forced to play on Day 1 of the Big 12 Tournament, which starts March 11 in Kansas City. It’s not the ideal spot for Texas to be in by any stretch of the imagination.
Considered by most bracketology gurus as being on the fringe of making the field of 68, the Longhorns have showed well as of late. Texas took Kansas to the brink in Lawrence last weekend and followed up the heartbreaking loss by beating then-No. 14-ranked Baylor in overtime on Monday, courtesy of Isaiah Taylor’s game-winning shot.
Without knowing for certain how much is “enough” to secure a spot in this year’s Big Dance, the Longhorns must keep winning. A win over Kansas State in the regular-season finale and a win in their opening game of the Big 12 Tournament should be enough to solidify a spot. It would give Texas, who has a current RPI of 39, a 20-win season, including victories over three teams in the RPI’s top 50 (Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa).
Conversely, if the Longhorns stumble and fail to make the NCAA Tournament, it would mark only the second time doing so in Rick Barnes’ 18-year tenure at Texas. While impressive in itself, expectations have not changed in Austin and the fact remains the Longhorns haven’t made it to the Final Four since 2003.
Texas seemingly needs its 11th hour winning streak to continue to ensure a spot on college basketball’s biggest stage, which would most likely settle down Barnes’ critics – at least temporarily.