The high degree of our frustration the past two months has been rooted in the high aspirations we had for this team in the post-season. So it was perhaps fitting that one of Texas' most encouraging performances of 2010 came on the first day of the calendar's turn to March. Do-or-die time is upon us, so let's set the stage with a Q&A on the team's situation heading in.
Q: What are the big takeaways from Monday night's win over Oklahoma?
The most important one was that Texas won, which would be too obvious to state but for the implications of a loss. Think about it for a second. Imagine that Texas lost, at home, on senior night, to a young, mediocre Oklahoma team lacking a single quality player beyond their top four. Texas would have dropped to 8-7 in conference play, needing to beat Baylor or hope for an OSU loss to Nebraska to avoid finishing in 7th place in the conference. Though with a weak bubble this year, an 8-8 Texas team likely gets in to the NCAAs, we're suddenly a bubble team, and first-round loss in the Big XII Championship from a very nerve-wracking Selection Sunday.
Meanwhile Rick Barnes, entering the game in the doghouse for the team's recent struggles, exits the game on... the hot seat? It's hard to fathom (and virtually impossible to imagine him being on the actual hot seat with Deloss Dodds), but there's no question that between Monday night and Saturday's tip with Baylor, the bulk of the commentary among Texas fans would have been about their loss of faith in Rick Barnes.
So, yeah. Beating OU isn't anything to go wild about, but given how many fans have been talking about Barnes of late, losing to OU would have been.
Looking beyond that, the biggest takeaway is probably that we're starting to see the kind of guard play from Brown and Hamilton that we desperately need to get the most out of our front court strengths. Both players stretch the defense with their range, and both can break it down with their ability to head to the rim on the bounce. Both are excellent passers. And when defenses have to actively deal with two guards like that, that's defensive capital that can't be spent smothering James and Pittman. Suddenly, we're not so easy to defend.
The second big takeaway is that as Avery Bradley has begun to fade -- appearing to hitting a bit of a wall as the season wears on -- Gary Johnson has come on strong. With Hamilton steadying into a dynamic, consistent player and J'Covan Brown appearing to re-emerge as a primary guard, we're a legitimate six-man team, with three others (Mason, Lucas, and Lexi) who can steal a couple few minutes for you in the right situations, as needed. At its best, that's a squad no one wants in their Regional.
Q: What's at stake in the Big XII standings with Saturday's contest against Baylor?
Wiggo already walked us through the Projected Standings, but as of Tuesday, the conference standings look like this:
|1||Kansas||13-1||Kansas St, @ Missouri|
|2||Kansas St.||11-3||@ Kansas, Iowa St|
|3||Baylor||9-5||@ Tech, Texas|
|4||Missouri||9-5||@ Iowa St, Kansas|
|5||Texas A&M||9-5||Oklahoma St, @ OU|
|7||Oklahoma St.||8-6||@ A&M, Nebraska|
Wiggo's tier-based Projected Standings give a slight edge to Missouri for the fourth seed in the Big XII Championship, but the Aggies stole the head-to-head match up with a huge win in Columbia, so A&M controls its destiny for a first-round bye. But what happens if Texas beats Baylor, finishing both the 'Horns and Bears at 10-6 on the year? Is there any way for Texas to earn a bye in the Conference Championship?
- Most obviously, but least likely, both Missouri and Baylor, or Missouri and Texas A&M, could lose both of their final two contests.
- If Texas A&M loses both its contests and Missouri wins one of two, the Tigers, Horns, and Bears would be tied at 10-6. The Big XII's tie-breaking rules call for the tie to be broken among teams within the same division first, pitting Texas and Baylor against one another. Since the two teams would have split head-to-head, the tie-break turns to record in South Division games, but both would be 7-3, sending us to the next step: a comparison of records against the top teams in the South, sequentially based on the standings. Both squads went 1-1 against A&M, so we would move down to Oklahoma State and... voila! Winner-winner! Texas' 2-0 record against the Pokes breaks the tie.
- If both A&M and Missouri lose one of their final two, we'd have a four-way tie at 10-6*, and luckily for Missouri, the tie would again be broken among the Division teams first. Here, the Big XII's published tie-breaking rules get a little messy: "When three or more teams from the same division are tied step B (head-to-head results) will consist of a mini-round robin among the tied teams." Since all three squads would be 1-1 against each other, we'd move to Step C, which again would be intra-division record. In this scenario, A&M's loss to either OSU or OU this week would be their fourth South Division loss of the year, eliminating them from the tiebreaker. We're down to Texas and Baylor again, and again we win on Step D.
*Should A&M's loss come to Oklahoma State, we could have a five-way tie if the Pokes beat Nebraska, but OSU would be eliminated in the first-step, for losing twice to Texas.
Amazingly enough, with a win over Baylor, Texas just needs Oklahoma State to beat A&M in Reed Arena to finish as the fourth seed and earn a first-round bye in the Big XII Championship. I suppose that it doesn't matter all that much, but you can be sure it would really chap Aggie's hide, which is nice.
Assuming Texas loses to Baylor, they'll play an opening round game, like against Iowa State.
Q: What kind of NCAA seed is Texas looking at?
I suppose we should start with the best and worst case scenarios and then explore what's in between:
Worst case scenario: Texas loses to Baylor and to Iowa State in the first round of the Big XII Tourney, to finish at 23-9 (9-8). The perception of our team would be decidedly "trending down," with a 6-9 finish to the season and two bad losses on the resume (at OU and Iowa State in the Big XII tourney). In all likelihood, Texas finds itself on the 9 or 10 line, and possibly 11, depending on how many at-large locks win conference tournaments.
Best case scenario: Texas runs the table, winning the Big XII Championship, to finish at 27-7 (13-6) or 28-7 (14-6), with a smattering of good-to-great wins down the stretch (at Baylor, and three quality teams in the Big XII tourney). Texas probably plays its way up to the 3 line.
There probably aren't many teams with that wide a range, but it's been that kind of a year for Texas. If we're looking for a goal, it should probably be to play our way to a 5 or 6 seed, which it could do a couple of ways. A road win at Baylor would give Texas breathing room in the Big XII Championship, where it could win one or two games and have a realistic shot at a 5 or 6. A loss to Baylor puts pressure on Texas to at least reach the semifinals, and ideally, the Big XII Championship Game.