January is the time of college basketball season when teams begin to jockey for a position within their conference and hopefully add the finishing touches to their NCAA Tournament resumes.
The best-case scenario would be for a team to have at least a couple marquee wins, and no losses that would be deemed harmful to the team’s tournament chances.
Unfortunately for Texas, it has a little more to show of the latter, which will no doubt hinder the Longhorns’ chances of making the 68-team soiree come March.
The Longhorns’ struggles started in Hawaii in just the third game of the season in a shocking 86-73 loss to Division II Chaminade, by far the worst loss by a Rick Barnes-coached Texas team. One early season loss usually doesn’t weigh so heavily, but it was the kind of loss that will weigh on the minds of the NCAA Selection Committee when they construct the NCAA tournament field in two months.
Texas isn’t dead in the water just yet, but losses to a mediocre USC squad and a shaky West Virginia team aren’t doing it any favors in terms of resume building. The Longhorns held a 13-point lead over the Mountaineers before falling in overtime and missed a chance for a quality victory when they blew an eight-point lead with less than three minutes left against UCLA last month. Texas must make a run in Big 12 play and fast. Three straight losses to open conference play are telling for a young team that is still figuring out how to win close games.
“It gets down to toughness,” Barnes said after the loss to the Mountaineers. “They made winning plays at the end. I’ve always said, ‘You get the lead with your defense, and the offense has to keep it.’ We are counting on our perimeter guys to score, and they didn’t do that at the end of the game.”
It’s hard to discount the Longhorns’ effort in their 85-67 win over a then ranked North Carolina team, but Texas has not been able to duplicate that performance. With 15 games remaining in the regular season, the Longhorns will need to win a majority of those, and perhaps even a couple more in the Big 12 Tournament for good measure in order to make a case for selection into the NCAA Tournament.
If Texas were to get snubbed by the Selection Committee and instead go to the NIT when March rolls around, it would be the first time since 1998 the Longhorns failed to make an appearance in the Big Dance.
Published on January 16, 2013 as "Toughness needed for team progress".