Since the disheartening loss in College Station three weeks ago, Texas has elevated its play to put together a seven game winning streak. And with Kansas State's stumble in Lincoln Wednesday night, Texas and Kansas now stand alone atop the Big 12 standings at 9-2.
For the third straight week, Texas now faces a Saturday-Monday two-step, this time with a home game against OU followed by a road tilt in Manhattan. With Kansas unlikely to lose the rest of the way, Texas' Big 12 title hopes likely will be decided by Tuesday morning. Win both and Texas enters the final three-game stretch of the season (at Tech, vs Nebraska, vs Oklahoma State) with a great shot at 14-2. A loss puts Kansas back in the driver's seat for the regular season title.
Whatever the outcome, the current seven-game winning streak has Texas back in the terrific position it was in the early going after picking up wins over Tennessee and UCLA. Disappointing losses to Missouri and Texas A&M seem a long time ago, as freshman Gary Johnson has found his groove, AJ Abrams has played with restraint and maturity, DJ Augustin has begun distributing the ball better, and the defense as a whole has tightened.
I was curious about Texas' Big 12 statistics this season and, upon looking, surprised a bit by what I saw. Take a look at Texas' conference only numbers this season, charted below.
[Note that these are not controlled for tempo, so do keep that in mind as we walk through these. (I've got a chart of Big 12 teams' pace this season for those who are curious.) One thing I hope Ken Pomeroy does in the coming seasons is allow for conference-only and conference-sortable stats. In the meantime, this'll do.]
What's Texas doing well so far in Big 12 play? For starters, they're taking care of the basketball exceptionally well. Of course, they've been doing that all season, and currently lead the nation in turnover rate. But the other stat that really jumped out at me is three-point field goal defense. What looked like a potentially fatal Achilles' heel of this team has taken a drastic turn for the better, with Texas now holding conference opponents to a Big 12 best 29.8% from beyond the arc. You have to credit Augustiin, Abrams, and Mason for their effort to get that fixed, and to our bigs as well, who are finally defending high screens authoritatively, flashing out high to cut off dribblers' passing angles.
A cynic might note that our overall field goal percentage defense isn't so hot at nearly 42%, but it's important to remember the relative importance of the three point shot in college basketball. As close as the three point line is in college, teams who can't defend the three are doomed. I'm enormously encouraged by our improvement in that regard.
Overall, the trend is excellent for Texas: the defense keeps improving, the youngsters keep developing, and the offense continues to score efficiently. Here's to hoping Texas protects home court Saturday to set up a huge Big Monday game with Kansas State.