A string of conference losses, a shaky national reputation, a prolific player in a scoring slump — any of this sound familiar?
The Longhorns are a long way off from their meltdown in 2010, when they didn’t make it past the second round of the Big 12 tournament and lost to Wake Forest in the first game of the NCAAs. But it is a reminder of the other side of success.
At 12-3, Texas is second in the Big 12, a distant second behind Kansas, which pulled away from Texas A&M on Wednesday to remain in sole possession of the top spot. The only remaining game for the league leaders is versus Missouri, which the Jayhawks are 8-1 against since February 2006.
That means for Texas, the road to a high NCAA tournament seed runs through Waco and Kansas City.
The Big 12 tournament begins in Kansas City next week, but first, the Longhorns travel to face Baylor in the Ferrell Center. They haven’t won there since the beginning of the 2009 season.
Even if it loses, Texas is in no danger of dropping its No. 2 ranking in the Big 12 and its first-round conference tournament bye. But a defeat versus Baylor, which dropped out of the national rankings in week eight, would seriously damage the Longhorns’ national tournament resume.
Of course, not everyone is convinced it’s a do-or-die scenario this weekend.
“I don’t care what anybody thinks in terms of trusting Texas,” said Texas swingman Jordan Hamilton on Monday night.
Trusting Texas may be the least of concerns for Hamilton, who’s averaged 17.6 points in the past five games. Not a bad average, but off his clip from earlier in the year.
Tristan Thompson has been on the upswing, scoring 16 against Colorado and a season-high 26 versus K-State. That’s a good sign in preparation for the tall, long frontcourt of the Bears.
Baylor also has the conference’s No. 2 scorer, LaceDarius Dunn. Dunn is known as a jump shooter and put up 26 against Texas the last time around on Feb. 12.
That game, a 69-60 win for Texas, was the Longhorns’ closest game of the Big 12 season up to that point. Since then, they’ve gone 2-3 and slipped out of the top five in The Associated Press poll. A loss on Saturday, which would mean a winless final week of the regular season, could see them drop even further.
“I’m concerned about the way we are playing basketball,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes on Monday. “We are better than what we are playing.”
Texas has fallen from the best scoring defense in the Big 12 to third while remaining outside the top two in scoring offense. Baylor is fourth in scoring defense.
“Some of the breakdowns are baffling, to be honest with you,” Barnes said.