AUSTIN — Big 12 basketball this season is marked by numerous rises and descents. The Texas Longhorns are among the Big 12 teams that have generated surprise and national attention with dramatic ups and downs. From an unranked start they soared to No. 15 nationally, then got ousted from the rankings. But they show enough promise to solidify the job of coach Rick Barnes.
The Texas coach since 1998, a year after Mack Brown’s arrival, Barnes needed to do some winning in order to stay.
The Longhorns got off to the start he needed: 11-2 entering conference play. Their success has come from unlikely places, such as freshman guard Isaiah Taylor. A scoring machine, he was key in several of Texas’ big conference wins such as the victory at home over the Kansas Jayhawks.
Some media observers were quick to declare Texas back on track, click here for link, but that has not quite been the case.
Now the Longhorns find themselves gasping for air. After winning nine out of ten conference games, they lost three of their next four. This slump dropped them to the middle of a four-way tie for second place, with a league record of 10-6.
This season is typical of Texas teams over the past few years. Showing promise at some points, but disappointing setbacks keep the Longhorns from breaking into basketball’s elite.
Speaking of elite, there is always Kansas, which has won its 10th straight Big 12 title. With two projected lottery picks in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Imbiid, the Jayhawks will represent the conference strongly in the NCAA tournament. They will be a 1 or 2 seed, with Iowa State, Oklahoma and likely Kansas State joining Texas somewhere in the field.
As for the future, it could be very bright for the burnt orange, with the entire starting lineup due to return next season. Texas, which hasn’t reached the Final Four in a decade, may have the perfect nucleus in Taylor and Cameron Ridley, 6-9, 280-pound center who as a sophomore is averaging 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
Taylor and Ridley are very talented – along with junior Jonathan Holmes, the team’s leading scorer. But fortunately for Texas fans, they’re probably not good enough for early graduation to the NBA.
Perhaps they can be something like this year’s Florida Gators, who lack NBA talent but may enter March Madness as the favorite to win the NCAA tournament.