Following two straight losses to ranked opponents, Texas now sits in seventh place in the Big 12 with a 17-10 record. Granted, it’s seventh place in what is, top to bottom, the best conference in college basketball, boasting an unmatched six ranked teams. Despite the stiff competition, if Texas fails to boost its resume with a strong finish, the Longhorns could be on the outside looking in come March.
Relegation to the NIT Tournament would be an enormous fall from grace for a team that ranked in the top 10 through much of November and December. Even receiving a supposed preseason first place vote from Kansas head coach Bill Self.
If Texas fails to win the Big 12 Tournament, one in which Texas is in danger of not getting a bye in the first round, they have effectively left its NCAA Tournament hopes in the hands of the tournament selection committee. And though one would assume the committee might be hesitant to select seven teams from the same conference, such large representation from the Big 12 is not unprecedented.
Last year, seven teams from the Big 12 made it to the field of 68, and four of them, including Texas, boasted double digit losing records. In 2013, five teams from the Big 12 made it to the tournament, with two tallying double digit losing records. Neither being in seventh in the Big 12 nor having a double digit losing record is a big strike against a team in a difficult conference. However, Texas’ resume takes a hit when assessing their level of play against ranked opponents.
Early in the year, Texas’ best victory came on a last second shot against defending NCAA champions Connecticut. Connecticut, ranked 24 at the time, had already displayed their championship hangover with a loss to Texas’ Big 12 rival West Virginia by 10. Three months later, and Texas’ one point victory could easily be a notch against them. Connecticut is 14-11 and have faced a mere three ranked opponents all year. Likewise, Texas is an abysmal 2-7 against ranked teams.
Last year, when we were having a similar conversation about Texas’ tournament chances, the Longhorns had amassed five victories over ranked opponents, including a big non-conference victory over eventual tournament invitee North Carolina. Midway through the conference schedule, Texas defeated four straight ranked opponents by an average of 10 points per game.
Another strike against Texas is their current losing conference record. At 6-8, Texas must win three of its final four games to avoid finishing the season with a losing conference record; a feat made particularly daunting by the competition. Three of Texas’ final four opponents (West Virginia, Kansas and Baylor) are ranked in the top 25, and the Longhorns are an unflattering 1-2 against those opponents this year.
However, the Longhorns’ difficult remaining schedule could also be their saving grace. With Texas teetering on the NIT bubble, impressive victories over their ranked conference rivals could give them the boost they need to impress the selection committee.