The Texas Longhorns are in the midst of an apparent resurgence; they have won 3 straight against ranked teams for the first time in Rick Barnes' tenure, they're ranked in the top 25 for the first time in 2+ years, and they're in sole possession of 3rd place in a league where they were picked to finish 8th in a 10 team conference. With Baylor currently in a free-fall that seems endless(both in duration & in schadenfreude), Texas may be the best team in the state of Texas. Marinate on that for a minute; 3 months ago there was an argument being made that Texas might be the 5th best team in the state behind Baylor, SMU, Houston, and a knapsack full of feral cats...and it was a solid argument. (I hear those cats play a hell of a box & 1 defense, though they're under investigation from the NCAA for alleged improper catnip payments from fat cat boosters so they might be ineligible for post-season consideration.) There isn't a person outside of Rick Barnes' house that was seriously considering this situation in November and fans feel like they're playing with house money right now. As a Texas basketball fan, this season has turned me into Princess Kenny.
While I'm as happy as anybody else with how this season has gone and this Texas team deserves the respect it has worked hard to earn, there is something important that needs to be said.
It ain't over.
Now is arguably the most dangerous point in the season yet for two reasons. The first is the remaining schedule(RPI ranking as of 01/29):
@ Kansas State(#39)
@ Iowa State(#12)
@ Kansas (#1)
@ Texas Tech(#135)
That's an average RPI of ~67, and if you toss out TCU(Can we do that? Why are they in this league again?) the average RPI of the remaining 9 games is 40. For a point of reference, Texas is currently #32. The average KenPom rating ($) of these teams is 39 & Texas is #35. In other words, 7 of the last 11 games are against teams performing near or above the level Texas has played this season and 2 of the remaining 4 have the potential to be problematic as well. The Big 12 is a brutal conference this year by any quantifiable standard, and Texas' remaining schedule is one of the tougher schedules in the league. TCU is the closest thing to a gimme left on this schedule, though if Baylor has completely checked out - and watching the end of the WVU/Baylor game last night leads me to believe Baylor's going through a crisis of confidence similar to what Texas dealt with last year - the Bears could phone that game in as well. There aren't many chances to relax for a team that's still playing on a knife's edge of missing the NCAA tournament.
The second reason this point in time is dangerous is because for the first time, this group is getting lauded outside of a small group of friends & fans. If you think about it, there isn't a single scholarship player on this team who knows what it's like to be the favorite, what it's like to be the hunted instead of the hunter. The last time this program was ranked in the top 25, Jonathan Holmes was a San Antonio high school senior. Do they know how to handle the ever-growing spotlight? Do they know how to play in front of more than 4,000 fans? Can they keep working & producing at the level they've done so far? Can Rick Barnes stay loose or does he start to put a death grip on the team? We'll find out over the next 5-6 weeks.
I'm going to circle back to the schedule & update my guesses from earlier this season as there is more data & observations to work from.
@ TCU (W)
@ Kansas State (L)
Oklahoma State (W)
West Virginia (W)
@ Iowa State (L)
@ Kansas (L)
@ Oklahoma (L)
@ Texas Tech (W)
That's a 6-5 mark over the last 11 games, good for a 22-9 overall record and a 11-7 conference record(which is coincidentally the same as Pomeroy is predicting right now). The homer in me wants to put down a win against Kansas Saturday, but the rational fan in me sees the gap between Kansas & Texas at this point. Kansas is still king of this conference, and I don't see any real way their conference title streak ends this year outside of somebody discovering that Joel Embiid is actually Hakeem Olajuwon undergoing a full-body botox treatment. Texas could potentially snatch that Kansas State game, but they could just as easily lose the OSU game as well. If Texas can hold serve at home they'd be in prime contention for a 4-6 seed in the NCAAs, and if our fans are serious about this team they need to pack the Drum for all 5 home games left on the schedule. There hasn't been a Texas team this fun & likeable in years and they're giving the UT faithful plenty of reason to cheer them on.
SO GO CHEER ALREADY.
I could go on another tirade about the fan support for this Texas squad, instead I'm advocating anyone within 30 miles of campus go watch this team. Something special is happening at the Drum; this is Barnes' 2nd best coaching job since he set foot in Austin(taking 7 scholarship players to the NCAAs his first year on campus is still the high-water mark for me) and you could be a part of it. Barnes might be in the midst of the career revival Mack Brown was unable to manage, and the team he's coaching is full of guys that you want to root for anyway. So go buy a ticket to a game & see what they're doing, you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.