Texas is in unfamiliar territory entering the Big 12 Tournament.
Since Rick Barnes arrived in 1998, the Longhorns have locked up a bid to the NCAA Tournament prior to playing in the conference tourney. That’s not the case this time around.
While Texas (19-12, 9-9 Big 12) could sneak into the Big Dance without a win against Iowa State tonight, those chances are slim. If the Longhorns want to assure a place in March Madness for the 14th straight year, they need to beat the Cyclones (22-9, 12-4).
The biggest task for the UT coaching staff will be keeping a young team focused on the task at hand, instead of looking ahead toward possible postseason destinations.
“You have to put your focus where you can control it,” Barnes said. “If the guys are so focused on the NCAA tournament, we haven’t done our job as coaches. If they get caught up in the tournament, that means we’re not ready to win a basketball game.”
The Longhorns can’t lose sight of ISU’s Royce White, either.
He’s as difficult a player to guard as there is in the Big 12. White is a rare breed of power forward and point guard and creates matchup problems for any team.
“He’s really a point guard,” Barnes said. “It seems like they’re giving him the ball more and more. He’s a hard guy to guard because if you back off him, he gets a running start and can run by most post players. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”
The 6-foot-8, 270-pound sophomore is surrounded by 3-point shooters. He can see over most defenders and will pass out of a double team to find an open man on the perimeter.
Iowa State led the Big 12 with 164 3-pointers and shot a league-best 38.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“It’s hard to give a lot of help because those shooters are confident enough to raise up and take their shots,” Barnes said.
“He really creates a lot of problems for you.”
White averaged 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in two games against UT this season. The home team won each game.
The best way to defend White, though, may be to put him on the free throw line. The transfer from Minnesota is 91 of 189 from the line this year (48 percent).
Texas is down to three healthy forwards. The Longhorns will be without senior Alexis Wangmene, who is out for the year with a dislocated left wrist. That means fewer fouls to give on White. Wangmene was also UT’s best interior defender.
“You hope you’ve done enough by now where we can adjust,” Barnes said. “Other guys have to be able to play and do their job.”
Meanwhile, the Cyclones also understand the precarious situation that Texas is in.
“We need to do a good job of coming out with a lot of urgency. We know it’s a very important game for Texas,” said Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. “They’re going to come ready to play. Rick Barnes has this long streak right now of NCAA appearances and I know those players aren’t going to want to let him down. There’s a very good chance they’re in anyway, but I know they’d like to solidify it.”
No team from Texas has ever won the Big 12 Tournament since it’s inception in 1997. ISU won in 2000. UT has lost in the finals six times since 2001.
Printed on Thursday, March 8, 2012 as: Cyclones pose challenge for short-handed Horns