31 May

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Big 12 Tourney Preview: What Does Texas Have To Do To Make NCAA Tournament?

The Longhorns are in unfamiliar territory heading into the Big 12 tournament.

Texas won 11 of its first 15 games in Big 12 play, extending its streak of consecutive series won against conference opponents to 12 after a 7-2 win over Kansas April 22. But the 'Horns dropped each of their next three series against Big 12 foes, losing two of three games to Texas A&M, Missouri, Baylor to close out the regular season. At 30-20, Texas has turned in its worst regular season since a 23-32-1 season in 1998, which also marks the last time the Longhorns were kept out of the NCAA Tournament.

Texas currently holds the No. 42 spot in college baseball's version of the RPI. By comparison, the Longhorns men's basketball team had a No. 48 RPI after falling to the Tigers in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship. With a 2-1 win over Baylor in the regular season finale, Texas avoided getting swept by the Bears and earned the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament that begins today. The 'Horns face Mizzou at 7:30 p.m. in Oklahoma City tonight. Depending on if they win or lose, they'll take on either Texas A&M or Kansas in their next game.

Even though Texas didn't have much success against  Missouri this year, there's a good chance the 'Horns will win their first game in this year's Big 12 tourney and that's because of a recent change in their rotation. Corey Knebel, who tied a school record with 19 saves as a freshman, made nine more this year before making the transition to the rotation. He threw a complete-game one-hit shutout in his first career start earlier this month against Texas Southern but allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings in a 4-0 loss to Baylor in his next start.

Still, Knebel proved that he can be a Friday starter by going 1-1 with a 1.98 ERA as a starter while holding opposing hitters to a .095 batting average during those two outings. But Texas will miss Parker French, who was recently awarded Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors, who had won a team-high six games before suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his right elbow. Freshman Dillon Peters, sophomore Nathan Thornhill, and freshman John Curtiss are among the leading candidates to round out the team's rotation this week.

Knebel was one of two Longhorns named to the All-Big 12 first team, along with sophomore Erich Weiss, who leads Texas with a .349 batting average. Weiss and the rest of the 'Horns lineup will have to be more productive than it was in the Baylor series, when it produced just seven runs in three games. But with Knebel on the mound, look for Texas to get past Missouri but to have trouble getting past anyone else, unless Kansas upsets Texas A&M this afternoon.

Even if the Longhorns lose their first two games at the Big 12 tournament, they should still have a spot in the NCAA Tournament, although they could use at least one victory so they don't leave any doubt.