All season we've identified 10 conference wins as the magic number for this Texas basketball team to feel safe on Selection Sunday. Should the Longhorns get there they would enter the Big 12 Tournament sporting a 20-11 overall record, 10-8 in the Big 12. With the Big 12 owning the No. 2 spot in terms of conference RPI, it's not out of the question that Texas could get a Tournament bid with a 9-9 conference record, particularly since one of those wins would come versus Baylor or at Kansas, but to avoid a very nervous Selection Sunday that 10-win mark still seems like the goal.
The good news is that Texas' is in a considerably stronger position than its current 4-6 record suggests, having played 7 of its first 10 games against the top five teams in the league, 4 on the road. By contrast, 5 of the Longhorns' final 8 games come against the bottom four teams in the league: Texas A&M (road), Oklahoma State (road), Oklahoma (home and away), and Texas Tech (road). We've talked a lot about the difficulty of winning road games in the Big 12, but a clean sweep of those 5 games isn't beyond this team's capabilities, and should they do so the Longhorns will have three cracks at that 10th win -- twice at home (Baylor and K-State) and once on the road (Kansas). Obviously, should Texas drop one of those five games against the bottom four teams of the conference, they'll have to get to 10 wins by winning two of those three challenging games. This team has proven it can compete with anyone, but it certainly doesn't want to have to count on two of those wins if at all possible.
To get a clearer perspective on Texas' tournament chances, let's take a look at the team's current resume. While for context I'll include a couple data points from more advanced rating systems, bear in mind that the NCAA Tournament selection committee probably doesn't factor in advanced metrics to their analyses very much, if at all.
Texas Longhorns Resume (2/5/12)
Overall Record: 14-9
Big 12 Record: 4-6
Pomeroy Rating: 20
Pomeroy Schedule Strength: 18
Strength of Schedule (SOS): 10
Opponent SOS: 52
Non-Con SOS: 148
Non-Con RPI: 14
vs RPI Top 25: 1-5
vs RPI Top 50: 2-7
vs RPI Top 100: 2-8
vs RPI Top 150: 6-9
vs RPI sub-150: 7-0
RPI Top 100 Wins: Temple, 77-65 (15) / Iowa State, 62-55 (39)
Losses (RPI): n-NC State, 77-74 (56) / n-Oregon St, 100-95 (123) / @UNC, 82-63 (8) / @Iowa St, 77-71 (39) / @Mizzou, 84-73 (12) / @K-State, 84-80 (50) / Kansas, 69-66 (9) / @Baylor, 76-71 (3) / Missouri, 67-66 (12)
The most frustrating thing, of course, is how many near-misses are captured in that resume. The Longhorns should have closed out both Oregon State and NC State, looked well-positioned for a come-from-behind win in Ames until J`Covan rolled his ankle, played well enough to steal the wins at K-State and Baylor, and were out-and-out unlucky not to have won at least one of the two home games against Kansas and Missouri.
Honestly, this season has only illuminated how incredibly small the margins for error can be where NCAA Tournament bids are concerned, and clarified just how impressive Rick Barnes' 14-season dancing streak has really been. Indeed, during Barnes' tenure Texas hasn't even had to sweat out a Selection Sunday, no small feat when you consider some of the schools that have missed the NCAA Tournament altogether in recent years: Syracuse, UCLA, North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, UConn -- just about everyone, when you get down to it.
Even so, that won't provide any comfort if this is Texas' year to fall short, and hardcore Longhorns hoops fans are dying to see this team elevate down the stretch. After flashing so much potential, it's hard to accept that they might wind up falling short. A couple of buckets or whistles here and there and we're instead talking about getting up over and off that 8/9 seed line.
One definitely gets the feeling that if the Longhorns stumble on the road at A&M on Monday night, the writing will be on the wall. No, it won't be over, and yes, there will still be time for Texas to rally and earn that bid, but it's hard not to conclude that a loss tomorrow night will effectively spell the end. By contrast, a win over the Aggies puts Texas on a two-game winning streak and gathers some positive momentum behind this young team for its return home to face K-State. Another win there gets Texas to 6-6 in conference play, with the 10-win prize suddenly within reach -- and practically assured if the team continues riding that momentum to a road sweep of the Oklahomas.
Win on Monday night at A&M. Stick it to K-State back at home. Two games, providing an opportunity with just two wins to re-capture the Horns' season storyline and erase the haunting memories of the painful six-game stretch. The way this season's gone so far, I'm expecting something horrible and heartbreaking to happen, but we're really that close to being right back on track. I'll hang my hope on that, for now.
Upon the first Texas loss in one of those five remaining games against the bottom four of the conference, we'll have to shift our focus to scenario-ing paths to a bid with a 9-9 record. If it comes to that, we'll do so, but right now the focus can and should remain on that 10-win mark.