I think I can speak for the majority when I say that nobody could have expected the Texas Longhorns to be in the unfortunate predicament they’re currently in with two games remaining in the regular season, where it will be a success for Rick Barnes' club to simply steal a spot in the NCAA Tournament. This is a team that began the season ranked No. 10 in the nation, and was anticipated to be a team capable of a push towards a Final Four run. But as we all now know too well, the Texas-sized expectations that surrounded this team in November and December are no more and the free falling Longhorns are fresh off of four-straight losses. Yet, somehow, someway, Texas does still have a shot at making an appearance in the Big Dance and with at least three games left on this season’s slate between their matchups with Baylor and Kansas State, as well as the Big 12 Tournament, is three wins enough to get the Longhorns a spot in March Madness?
My guess would be yes, three-straight wins to conclude the season would be enough to get the 17-12 (6-10) Longhorns a bid in the NCAAs. As this point, Texas currently sits in the "next four out" category in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, but Lunardi did say that Texas didn’t do anything to hurt themselves in their controversial loss to No. 8 Kansas in The Phog on Saturday. This should come as a tremendous sign of optimism for Barnes and his Longhorns, who are still seen as a team deserving of a punched ticket for March Madness in the eyes of some, despite dropping eight of their last 11 games.
Texas has lost its last four games (at Oklahoma, Iowa State, at WVU, at Kansas) by an average of 5.5 PPG. Not a tournament team? Nuts.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 2, 2015
If Texas is good enough to take KU to the wire at the Phog, it's good enough to make NCAAs. Horns pass eye test. Need to win final two.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 2, 2015
Barnes, whose team is face-to-face with tonight’s matchup with No. 14 Baylor in an absolute, must-win game, reciprocated that optimism, via mystatesman.com:
"I just know we’re right there. But we’ve got to do it," Barnes said. "I’m really impressed the guys have hung in there like they have. But now we’ve got to do it, and I think we can. There’s no doubt."
By this point, it’s clear that a fifth-straight loss tonight would guarantee the Longhorns are watching from home when the games start to matter most, which makes the ‘survive and advance’ theme effective immediately. Are the odds in Texas’ favor? No, but there’s still hope, even if it’s very minimal that the Longhorns can make the most of their remaining schedule and play their way into the tourney. The Longhorns’ junior guard Demarcus Holland had this to say about what’s ahead for Texas for the remainder of the season, via mystatesman.com:
"I’m still excited to finish the season and excited to play our way into the tournament," Holland said. "Excited for the last two homes games. We’ve still got a chance to play some good basketball."
If Texas is able to defend their home court tonight and get an upset over the Bears, who embarrassed the Longhorns 83-60 in Waco, they get to close the regular season out at home against Kansas State, who the Horns’ snuck by in Manhattan 61-57 last month. K-State has since hit a hot streak after pulling off back-to-back upsets at home over No. 8 Kansas and No. 12 Iowa State, which suggests the Longhorns will have to go to war to close out their regular season with back-to-back wins.
From there, Texas will get their chance to prove their worth in the Big 12 Tournament. If the Longhorns can get wins over Baylor and Kansas State, they’ll enter the Big 12 tourney as a 6-seed or 7-seed, depending on what Oklahoma State is able to do in their final two games. For Texas, getting the 7-seed and missing out on a first round bye would be the best-case scenario, as they would then see Texas Tech, whom they’ve already beaten twice this season. The 6-seed would pit the Longhorns against Baylor after a first round bye, but Texas will be fortunate if they can just scrape by the Bears tonight. In this case, assuming Texas avoids an upset that would serve as the bad loss that ends their season, the Horns would then move on to face Oklahoma in the second round after getting three-straight wins under their belt.
The Sooners beat Texas in both of this season’s meetings, but anything outside of a blowout at this point after winning three-straight games should be enough to get the Longhorns a tournament bid, and an upset victory in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament would all-but-guarantee the Longhorns have a spot in the 68-team bracket.
Call me a far-fetched optimist, but a glass half full view for the final few games of the season is still possible for Texas. There’s still a chance to spark a run and get some wins under their belt in the coming weeks. There’s still a chance to make some noise from this point on into the Big 12 Tournament and refresh the minds of the selection committee as to how good this team can be when they play up to their potential. With three wins, there’s still a chance the Longhorns hear their names called on Selection Sunday.