The four-game skid that left Texas at 6-10 in conference play effectively rendered the Longhorns' two home contests against Baylor and Kansas State to close out the regular season Elimination Games. And now they'll get Elimination Game #3 tonight in Kansas City, where the No. 7-seeded Longhorns are slated to engage. No. 10-seeded Texas Tech in the First Round of the 2015 Big 12 Tournament.
For both teams, it's an Elimination Game insofar as the loser is out of contention for the conference's auto bid, but where the Red Raiders enter the Big 12 Championship without a prayer of receiving an at-large invitation, the Longhorns open Big 12 Championship play squarely on the NCAA bubble -- needing wins to remain competitive for one of the last few at-large invitations, the price paid for an early exit likely to be a trip to the NIT.
Texas survived its first two Elimination Games, digging deep to pull out a hard fought win over Baylor in overtime before closing out the regular season with a determined win over K-State, in the process securing the No. 7 seed in the conference tournament and tonight's date with Texas Tech.
Notwithstanding the fact that Texas is the solidly favored squad in this match up by just about every measure -- better talent, more experience, more to play for, more size, better guards -- it's difficult to shake the anxiety that accompanies playing an Elimination Game. You'd prefer that anxiety not begin until you start NCAA Tournament play as a protected seed, but when it's your year to sweat it out on the bubble, the Madness starts in earnest a little earlier. I was a trainwreck of nervous energy watching the final two games of the regular season, and I'll be unpleasant company tonight unless and until Texas secures its advancement to the Big 12 quarterfinals tomorrow.
As Rick Barnes said after the narrow win over Baylor, "It gives us another breath."
Staying alive tonight means taking care of business against the conference's weakest team, but I'm disproportionately nervous after spending my childhood listening to my father warn about the elevated difficulty of beating an opponent a third time in a single season. (I heard it enough times that I take it as gospel, but it occurs to me that I have no idea whether or not this is actually true. Has anyone ever done the research on this? My father isn't one to pull things out of his ass -- he's a statistician by trade -- but we all have our list of Things Asserted Factually That Aren't Factual (some lists are just longer than others). Maybe this is one of his? Anyone?)
Okay, I'm rambling, only tangentially on topic, with no plan for where I'm headed. Yup, it's an Elimination Game. Welcome to March Madness.
Just keep breathing, Texas.
Just. Keep. Breathing.