Rick Barnes’ ability to take the positives out of a situation as turbulent as his team’s performance this season is amazing. Although his Longhorns just picked up conference win No. 1 and face 12 more conference games including six road tilts, he’s made it clear to his team and anyone else who cares to listen that they haven’t seen the last of Texas this year.
“Nothing drastic has to happen,” Barnes said. “We just have to win. There are enough games left to win. We are thinking about tomorrow and what we have to do to get better. We just saw the No. 1 team in the country get beat. You go through tough times, but we have a long way to go. It’s a day-to-day process.”
Barnes believes his team still has a shot at making the NCAA tournament, and he just might be right. The Longhorns currently own a 9-10 overall record and are 1-5 in the Big 12, but if they can win a majority of their remaining games and get somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 wins they have a good case to be selected for the tournament. If Texas wins one or two games in the Big 12 Tournament it would help strengthen its resume as well. A 20-win Texas team would be hard to snub, even if it did lose to Division II Chaminade in November.
To get to 18 wins Texas would have to win nine of its 12 remaining Big 12 games, meaning there is little room for error as the regular season winds down.
There are essentially three games the Longhorns could lose without harming their tournament chances, all coming on the road against the conference’s top tier. The Longhorns are currently 0-4 in road games. Wednesday Texas heads up to Manhattan, Kan., to face No. 18 (AP) Kansas State. Given Texas’ struggles on the road thus far this trip will most likely result in a loss. The same goes for road games against Kansas on Feb. 16 and Oklahoma State on March 2. The last time Texas won in the state of Kansas was Jan. 22, 2011, when it defeated Kansas State 74-63.
Texas has yet to face Kansas State this year, as well as Oklahoma State and TCU. The Longhorns only need to win one game apiece against the Wildcats and Cowboys, but they need to sweep the last-place Horned Frogs in order to avoid further embarrassment.
Every game should become a must-win for a team in Texas’ position, and while it sounds simple enough it isn’t quite that easy.
“When you get into conference play, teams get better and it is tough,” Barnes said. “I think all coaches really want to play fast, but it is hard as the year goes on because everybody continues to improve.”
A loss to TCU or in the regular season finale against Texas Tech won’t help Texas at all. Those are definitely must-win games, and a road win at West Virginia would look good on the Longhorns’ resume heading into March.
If Texas is at 17 or 18 wins as it enters the Big 12 Tournament, there is still a chance it could get passed over in favor of other bubble teams, especially if the Longhorns bow out in the first round of the conference tournament.
Texas controls its own destiny, but it has to kick things into high gear to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1997-1998 season.