Longhorns face difficult stretch in Big 12 schedule

Sophomore Kendal Yancy guards the ball against California on Nov. 21. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber

 

When it comes to arguing which conference is the best in basketball, the clear consensus is that the Big 12 is at or near the top, along with the ACC.

Through a couple of weeks of conference play, the teams in the conference have proven that point with the majority of the games being fights to the very end.

The Longhorns already figured out that there will be no “gimme-games” in the conference this year. They survived a tough battle in Lubbock and then suffered tough back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, which stymied the early season momentum the team had built.

Now the Longhorns are in a difficult stretch of games. They faced off against Kansas at home and traveled to play Iowa State, and now face Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State. The Longhorns are going to have to find a way to survive this stretch. After a loss in Kansas and another against Oklahoma State, their shot at wrestling away the Big 12 regular season title from the Jayhawks has passed, and now their shot at a high seed for the NCAA tournament hangs in the balance.

Prior to the losses, the Longhorns sat in the identical situation they were in a year ago, with a 2-2 record and facing a rough stretch of games. Texas managed to pull off four straight wins over ranked opponents to become a virtual lock for the NCAA tournament and announce itself to the rest of the conference.

But while the situation may look the same for this year’s squad, there are a few key differences. First, the Longhorns are no longer unknowns in the conference. Last year, no one expected Texas to really compete as well as they did.

This year there’s more of a target on the team’s back. No one is overlooking the Longhorns, especially after returning nearly every player from last year’s team, adding freshman Myles Turner and putting up a strong showing in Lexington back in early December.

Also, scoring has been much more of an issue for the team in the early going of conference play. Through four conference games prior to this stretch, the Longhorns have averaged 64 points per game. In the game against Oklahoma on Jan. 5, Texas only mustered 14 points in the first half en route to a 70-49 loss. Some of this likely has to do with sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor trying to re-find his spot on the team after returning from a broken wrist, but a large part of it has to do with the fact that Texas has no threat on the perimeter. In order for the offense to turn it around, and with it the fortune of the team, the guards, like Taylor, junior Javan Felix and sophomore Demarcus Holland, are going to have to step up and keep opponents from packing it in the paint.

This tough stretch of the conference schedule will show if the Longhorns are going to be contenders in the Big 12 and NCAA tournament, like most experts thought before the season began, or fall away like many teams before them. There’s a saying around tournament time that it’s all about “survive and advance.”

But in order for the Longhorns to get to that spot, they must survive and advance through this stretch of Big 12.