Can the Longhorns make enough of a case to punch their ticket to the big dance? Head inside for the details.
March Madness is on our doorstep, but as always, conference tournaments command the headlines as we approach Selection Sunday on March 11.
The Kansas Jayhawks and the Missouri Tigers claim the no. 1 and no. 2 seeds respectively, picking up first-round byes before their opening matchups Thursday. Though these two teams appear to be the heavy favorites to meet in the finals in Kansas City, Mo., fourth-seeded Baylor is well equipped to make a legitimate run at a championship. The Bears are set to face no. 5 Kansas State Thursday morning.
No. 10 Texas Tech, no. 9 Texas A&M, no. 8 Oklahoma and no. 7 Oklahoma State—teams that typically finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12—fell well short of their standards this season. The Aggies and the Sooners will square off before the Red Raiders and Cowboys do battle Wednesday. Kansas will play the winner of Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
For what seems to be the first time in the Rick Barnes Era, the Texas Longhorns (19-12, 9-9) will go into the conference tournament with some much needed help before Sunday’s Selection Show. With a less-than-impressive resume under its belt this season, minus a Big 12 Tournament Title (something that the Longhorns have yet to achieve), Texas will need a deep run in Kansas City to impress the committee just days before the brackets are set in stone.
The sixth-seeded Longhorns will play Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. against the no. 3 seed Iowa State. The Horns and Cyclones split the season series, with the home team triumphing in both contests. Texas dropped its Big 12 opener in Ames, but responded with a win over the Cyclones in Austin three weeks later.
Barnes and his incredibly young squad have a tough road ahead, but it is not an impossible task. Should the Longhorns pick up a win Thursday night, they will draw the winner of Missouri/(Oklahoma State/Texas Tech) for a Friday night face-off. Assuming the no. 5-ranked Tigers come out unscathed, Texas will have a tremendous task ahead of them. The Horns were dealt an 11-point defeat on the road in Columbia in mid-January and suffered a disappointing one-point loss just 16 days later in Austin.
Yet, us homers at the Horn are prepared for the best. If the Longhorns can claw past the Tigers, they will make a championship appearance for the sixth time in nine years, likely drawing Kansas, Baylor or Kansas State for a Saturday night clash for the Big 12 Championship.
As we come back down to Earth, let us summon an ounce of realism. The Longhorns have done very little to suggest that they are capable of making a serious run at the program’s first Big 12 Tournament Title in what would be seven attempts. Outside of senior J’Covan Brown, the Longhorns lack that consistent scoring threat to take control when it counts. And with the loss of Alexis Wangmene to an apparent wrist injury—coupled with Clint Chapman’s lingering ankle problems—the frontcourt is in deep trouble. Unless we witness a remarkable shooting clinic from Texas’ backcourt, the Longhorns look to fall short once again in the 2011-2012 season.
If the Longhorns catch a hot streak, it can definitely carry them past the Cyclones and at least into the semifinals. Even if the ‘Horns prevail against the Cyclones, they are likely to draw a Missouri team that shoots the rock at a .499 clip – good for third in Division I. Texas will have to find some other catalyst to overcome Frank Haith’s Tigers.
The bigger question is this: if Texas squiggles by Iowa State, will that be enough to get the Longhorns into the NCAA Tournament, or is a win over Missouri a must for Barnes’ 14th-straight appearance in the Big Dance? Tune in later this week to find out.
Here is the complete schedule of the Big 12 Tournament: