I have a longstanding policy to never refer to a non-elimination game as a "must win." Even with a loss tonight against Baylor, the Longhorns can still play their way into the NCAA tournament by picking up a few wins in the conference tournament.
The main thing missing right now from Texas' tournament resume are quality wins. Texas has no bad losses, which is helpful but not sufficient to land the Longhorns in the NCAA tournament. With the season drawing to a close, there just aren't that many opportunities left to pick up a win against a top-50 team. And tonight's game will be Texas' last home game against a resume-boosting opponent.
So while tonight's contest is not truly a "must win" game, the Longhorns' tournament path becomes much simpler with a victory over Baylor.
I think it is safe to say that the Baylor Bears have been among the more surprising teams in the nation, substantially outperforming expectations. After losing a number of critical players from last year's team, Scott Drew's squad entered the season receiving only a single vote in the preseason AP poll.
The season has gone much better than expected. The Bears are currently ranked in the top 20, are 10-6 in the Big 12, and have won four games in a row. They are now playing for a top four seed in the NCAA tournament, and would benefit substantially by winning a game in Austin.
Baylor has the second-best offense in the Big 12. Its success on offense is driven by two simple things. Led by Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley, the Bears lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, tracking down 42 percent of their own misses. And Scott Drew's squad has absolutely shot the hell out of the ball, hitting 39 percent from beyond the arc. Baylor has four guys who have shot better than 37 percent from three point range: Kenny Chery, Royce O'Neale, Taurean Prince, and Lester Medford.
To succeed against Baylor, Texas will need to focus on guarding shooters and closing out well, and on boxing out on the interior. The last time these two teams met this did not happen, as Baylor shot 12-22 from three point range and tracked down 17 offensive rebounds.
Additionally, Texas will need to find some offense on the other end of the floor as well. Baylor will score points, and Texas will need to keep pace. The total disappearance of Jonathan Holmes' offensive game has created yet another hurdle for the Texas offense; tonight would be a great night for Holmes to rediscover his shot.
To give their post season hopes the best chance, the Longhorns need to come away with a win. A close game looks likely, and the win won't be easy to get.