Regardless of where you fall on the Shaka Spectrum, the last five games have to have been fun as hell. Watching a team drag itself from the edge of oblivion - carting an ever-growing number of near-dead with makeshift toboggans like a Revenant MMO - and onto the right side of the March Madness bubble has been as enjoyable as it has been stunning. Texas is currently sporting 8 healthy scholarship athletes, if you include Matt Coleman and his bruised heel as ‘healthy’. They should be mailing this season in, resting up and looking ahead to next year; I think I’ve said something to this effect for the last three games but I would totally understand them setting their own off-season travel plans starting the minute the Iowa State game ended. Instead, this is what’s happening:
I’ve watched a lot of college basketball over the last ~25 years. I’ve seen teams crater, I’ve seen teams reach the precipice of history. I’ve seen teams overwhelm others with talent, I’ve seen teams overwhelm others with execution. I’ve seen fluke endings and enough crushing buzzer beaters to fill Lake Travis. Some of these things become almost rote and expected, they’re the 90% confidence interval of sports, and I get a bit numb to the norm. So believe me when I tell you this: this is unique, and you should appreciate it. It may end on Saturday, it may end for good in the next three weeks. This is the sort of run, the sort of redemption arc that doesn’t happen a lot around here. Texas has had runs where they were supremely talented, they’ve had years when they failed to amount to anything. What they haven’t had a lot of is a team that came back from dead like this. This team is giving me 1990 vibes; they may not make it nearly that far, but this sort of ‘playing with house money/winning as an underdog’ aura abounds from this group. Fuck the consequences of the run, there will be plenty of time to deal with that later; lose yourself in the moment because it may be another 20 years before you see this again.
For a guy who scored 21 points, Coleman went from the goat to the hero in a really short period of time. Texas tried to keep Coleman on a relatively light load on both ends of the floor, keeping him largely off the ball in the first half and he didn’t spend a ton of time guarding either Austin Reaves or De’Vion Harmon. He had to start picking up the slack in the second half as Oklahoma was dealing with the PnR effectively* and Oklahoma was making a priority out of slowing down Andrew Jones & Courtney Ramey. In a way, Coleman got to play the role of Mariano Rivera closer; he was relatively rested - at least, as rested as somebody can be in an 8-man rotation where three players logged 17 minutes or less - and he still had some burst in a game where the refs let a lot of contact go*. The play prior to his J’Onions moment was less his fault than a tip of the cap to the Oklahoma defense, as they weren’t letting him kick out to anyone else. He tried to make chicken salad and failed, but got his moment soon enough. I’m pretty sure Shaka feels like recruiting him since 8th grade was worth it.
The Energy Brothers
I don’t know if this is a name for Royce Hamm Jr. and Brock Cunningham, but it should be. They both fought and bled* (literally) to keep this game in reach; whether it was Hamm’s monster block on a sure dunk, Cunningham’s pesky defense that kept Austin Reaves from getting going from the perimeter, or the two each having double-digit rebounds, they both continue to justify as many minutes as Shaka can give them. Speaking of...
Texas won the rebounding battle against a longer/taller/deeper Oklahoma squad, and the two players mentioned above were the primary reason for this. Lon Kruger tried to throw length at Hamm and he laughed like he just found a coupon for 30% off leg tattoos. He tried to throw athletic dudes at Cunningham and Brock laughed like I laughed when somebody told me Cunningham wasn’t a high-major rotation player. Okay, it was several somebodies. Okay, it was everybody. SUCK IT, I WAS RIGHT.
I Am A God
Since I wrote the “It’s Time” article, Texas is 5-0 and now in charge of its own destiny. Apparently I’m able to reverse-cancel seasons simply by writing. Did anybody else know I had this power? I’m taking suggestions on other things I can write abou-NO SORRY YOU HAVE TO FIGURE OUT FOOTBALL ON YOUR OWN. Maybe this power doesn’t regenerate, maybe it has finite uses. Nobody knows, and with great power comes great responsibility. It would be pretty sweet if I could harness this for some bitcoin or a press credential though. DAMMIT, no, that’s not responsible of me.
Fuck It, They Won
That’s not complicated, but tonight was a good night. We’ll pick this section up next game.
I have seen rugby matches with less contact than this game. I don’t know what the refs were thinking during this game, but it seems like they decided somebody wanted to watch a cross between an old Big East game and Shrove Football. If the refs from some earlier games called this one, Texas might have finished the game with three players; this had the sort of physicality usually reserved for a game I played in high school called ‘Aliens’. There were two teams, the Aliens and the Predators. 10% of the group were named Aliens and they got to go hide in a field at night - yes, I’m from the sticks - then the Predators would go hunt them down. For an Alien to turn a Predator, they just had to hold their head and count to three; for a Predator to turn an Alien they had to make the Alien submit, basically however they deemed necessary. Those are basically the rules, and it was played among 30-ish high school boys with barely-repressed anger issues.
There were injuries.
I was an Alien and hid in a tree; the group of 15-20 Predators walked underneath and past me. I waited for them to get about 50 yards past, dropped down, and sprinted towards them. When I was halfway between the tree and the group, I heard somebody say “hey don’t forget to watch your backs”, at which point approximately a dozen flashlights turned 180 degrees and spotted me with a full head of steam. I had about enough time to utter ‘shit’ before I was form-tackled by one of the linebackers on the varsity squad. I’m fairly certain there’s still a shoulder imprint on one of my ribs. When I was able to breathe again, I submitted.
There was another point where I was a Predator and I leaped over a shrub of some sort. About a week later I realized the reason my knee was still swollen is because there were thorns embedded in it from that hurdle. One of them came out easily; the other, uhh, not so much. But hey, I avoided the Alien tag.
I guess what I’m saying is high school boys are dumb and violent and we need to keep them occupied for the good of society. Also the refs were terrible.
Texas gets to see if they can snag 3rd in the Big 12 at home against Oklahoma State. If Texas Tech loses and Texas wins, this f*cking Longhorns squad will finished in 3rd place. It’s Senior Night where everyone should congratulate our sweet underappreciated prince, Drayton Whiteside. Tip time is 3 PM CT on ESPN2, and I will be on hand to watch. The recap will be delayed as a result, but hopefully that just gives us all more time to marinate in whatever the hell is happening right now.
BWG’s writing tunes provided by Metrik.