The last time Rick Barnes’ Longhorns had won three consecutive games they were nearing the end of their non-conference schedule before dropping a home game to a Stanford team that they should have beaten, even without Isaiah Taylor.
The last time they did so in Big 12 play, the Horns’ were concluding an impressive streak in the early portion of last season’s conference slate, where Texas won seven straight match ups, including four consecutive wins over ranked opponents. Two of those four ranked opponents were teams ranked in the top 10 nationally -- No. 8 Iowa State and No. 6 Kansas.
Barnes’ club now is coming face-to-face with another daunting portion of their season and the implications of how the Longhorns fare during this stretch could become the difference between a successfully salvaged season and an increasingly warm seat for the 17-year Texas coach.
Over the course of the next five games, the Longhorns will see No. 17 Oklahoma, No. 14 Iowa State, No. 23 West Virginia, No. 8 Kansas and No. 20 Baylor before concluding their season against Kansas State. Of these six, Texas has only beaten West Virginia and Kansas State this season, but lost to the other four by a total of 60 points.
Luckily for Texas’ hopes of a revamped season, if there’s one thing we have been able to take away from the Big 12 this season, it’s that anybody is susceptible to dropping a game on any given night. Just look at Saturday’s upsets of TCU over Oklahoma State and Kansas State over Oklahoma for proof.
But Texas will need more than some luck and an upset to conclude this campaign on a successful note. The Longhorns realistically have the possibility of getting a solid 4-6 seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but the chance of still completely missing the tournament is an option, as well, although unlikely, considering Texas is void of truly impressive wins while the losses have piled up. But with three weeks of very opportunistic basketball ahead of the Horns, here’s how Texas can finish on a strong note in search of a 9-0 finale to Big 12 play.
Win at home
Of Texas’ six remaining games, they will see Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State in Austin. The once-percolating Cyclones have dropped two of their last four games. Baylor has seen two back-to-back losses and outside of their season sweep of Oklahoma, conference wins have been hard to come by for K-State, especially on the road where they’ve one won only one game. Even though Texas will be the underdog against ISU and Baylor, winning all three of these home matches is an absolute must for a strong finish to the season. This becomes even more more important when you consider Texas will see Kansas and Oklahoma on the road.
Even with the severity of the Longhorns’ remaining schedule, anything less than a .500 finish to the season in these next few weeks will leave Texas lacking in momentum on the court and on their resume heading into March Madness. With their only "easy" game remaining coming against K-State and two opponents who have struggled as of late serving as their final home games, Texas has to come out on top every time in Austin from here on out.
Continue Building Momentum
Although the recent Texas surge has sparked a three-game win streak, it means nothing if they can’t keep it going when the competition toughens. It’s been encouraging to see Texas start finding ways to win and showing signs of chemistry as a unit, but it also came against the three worst teams in the Big 12.
Their Tuesday matchup with Oklahoma in Norman will arguably be their most crucial of this stretch. Not only is it one of Texas’ final three games on the road, but also serves as the first of five straight ranked opponents and is against a team coming fresh off a heartbreaking loss.
A loss to the Sooners would seemingly crush any steam Texas has built up over their last three wins, which is something the Horns’ can ill afford with a rematch with Iowa State coming next week, also.
Rick Barnes on the closing six-game stretch: "There’s not any easy games anywhere. Gotta love it and gotta embrace it."— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) February 15, 2015
For Texas to ultimately earn the finish to the season they desire, they must find a way to upset Oklahoma on the road. It could go without saying that they could capitalize on their overwhelming interior advantage to get their first ranked win in a month, but just as important will be hoping and praying Demarcus Holland can keep Buddy Hield from doing any and everything he wants offensively.
With a little help from a poor shooting night from the Oklahoma backcourt, Texas could be entering their rematch with Iowa State on a four-game win streak, which would be good enough for the longest in the Big 12. If Texas can topple the conference’s third highest scoring team on the road Tuesday, it will serve as yet another stepping stone for the tall task they have out out-scoring Iowa States’ Big 12-leading 80 points per game.
This one isn’t necessarily a must-win game for Texas, but if they have any hopes of surviving their second meeting with one of the most offensively skilled teams in the country, they have to start this stretch off right by continuing their momentum with a win over Oklahoma.
Texas G Javan Felix says team is gaining momentum. "If we keep doing things the right way and playing for each other, then we’ll be fine."— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) February 15, 2015
Get an upset
Although Texas coming out on top in any of these next five games would technically be considered an upset, there are two match ups where that would be especially true for and Texas will greatly benefit if they are able to survive Iowa State or Kansas, if not both.
In a perfect world, Texas would topple Oklahoma, use that momentum to carry over to Iowa State and ultimately West Virginia before playing Kansas in The Phog, where the Jayhawks have only lost three games in the last five seasons. But in reality, if there’s one game Texas can expect to lose for the remainder of the season, it’s their February 28 game with Kansas.
Unless Texas can manage to win all four of their other final six games, finding a way to upset the Cyclones or Jayhawks will go a long way towards how much success can come out of this season, and this holds even greater weight for a Longhorns’ team that is yet to come up with a confidence-boosting win before the postseason, which is something they could desperately use.
There’s much more that would have to fall into place for Texas to ultimately end the season on a note that’s worthy of praise. Taylor would have to continue streaking offensively, the big guys in the paint have to be involved and producing at a high level and the role players have to be able to provide quality minutes, rather than standing in awe of Taylor and Jonathan Holmes shooting at will. But a great finish to the season is still possible and Texas has been getting things to fall into place with the end of the season nearing, which is realistically the best time to start peaking
Holmes on the big picture: "We’re starting to get our identity back. It’s looking good for us right now."— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) February 15, 2015
Is a 9-0 finish to the season possible? Yes. Is it likely? absolutely not, but that isn't to say we aren't in for what could shape up as special of a finish as we've seen from Barnes during his tenure at Texas.
The Longhorns enter the most imposing portion of their schedule at the most crucial point of their season. If there were ever a time to live up to the tremendous hype that surrounded the program heading into the season, it’s now.