This week's Texas Basketball Report (back to Fridays now and throughout the rest of the season) focuses on the rest of the Big 12 as Texas preps for conference play. First up, a visual guide to each team's season so far, categorized as follows:
PB: My power rankings of the teams heading into conference play.
KenPom: Ken Pomeroy's ratings
Sagarin: Jeff Sagarin's ratings
RPI: Ratings Percentage Index ratings
SOS: Strength of schedule, as measured by KenPom
+Wins: Wins of quality that will affect a team's chances of making the NCAA tournament and/or their seeding therein.
- Kansas. For the umpteenth year in a row, Kansas is the favorite in the North. In many recent years, this has also made them the heavy conference favorite, as several teams at the bottom of the North were gimme wins. Nebraska's still a bit of an unkwown right now, but if they can be competitive with Kansas in Lincoln, it's possible Kansas could have a tougher row to hoe than in recent years.
- Texas. The Longhorns' chance of finishing 1 or 2 in the Big 12 this season probably begin and end with their road trips to Missouri (this Saturday) and Kansas State (February 25th). If they win those and take care of business against the lesser teams, they'll be in a position where splits with A&M and OU should be enough. A&M sits in the same boat as Texas, getting KSU and MU on the road, with the Jayhawks at home. If either team sweeps the conference series against the other, they'll be in terrific shape.
- Texas. When the 'Horns are healthy, there aren't many teams who can run and score with as much efficiency as Texas. Bear in mind, too, that Texas has done most of its damage without any inside presence at all. Kansas and A&M are both solid, high 2-point percentage teams.
- Kansas. Nothing new here, though Texas A&M is once again elite on defense. Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri all exceled at frustrating opponents in non-conference play, making the Big 12 once again one of the premier defensive leagues in the country. Texas fans get ready for the brutal banging of conference play. It's the same every year.
OUTLOOK FOR TEXAS
This Texas team is in almost exactly the same position as last season heading into conference play: extremely dangerous on offense, decent defensively, and vulnerable to physical teams who can muscle our guards and/or shoot the three ball.
The Kansas State loss last year presents a template of the kind of loss we should worry about this year. We remain a team that relies on two sub-six foot guards to play 35+ minutes, a weakness that leaves us vulnerable to teams who can hit the three pointer. On the flipside, those two guards can struggle offensively against teams who succeed in smothering the perimeter.
Which is why Gary Johnson is so critical to Texas' chances of winning the Big 12 this season. Though the Longhorns are a much more diverse offensive team than a season ago, of late we've struggled to score as teams have locked down the perimeter with impunity; Texas simply hasn't had an inside presence for which teams must account. Though Gary Johnson doesn't need to be a scoring machine in the post, if we can run our offense through him on some sort of regular basis, teams will be forced to stay honest on the interior. Likewise, with Johnson's arrival, Texas isn't forced to play Jay Mason 30-35 minutes a game, an offensive problem which allowed teams to double team without worry.
As mentioned above, Texas' road games at Missouri and Kansas State are the ones to watch. If the 'Horns picked up wins in each, they'd be in terrific shape overall. A loss in either of those contests would put additional pressure on Texas to beat Kansas in Austin. Remember: the goal this year - more than most - is to shoot for a high enough seed to enjoy some regional advantages in the bracket. A 1 or 2 seed could land Texas a trip to Houston for the South Regional. Like UCLA last season, that could be a huge boost in getting to the Final Four.