The Texas Longhorns basketball season now appears to be in free fall. Shaka Smart’s team has lost five out of the past six games, including a particularly uninspiring loss over the weekend against a rebuilding Georgia squad. Now the schedule is not letting up; the Longhorns face No. 11 Kansas tonight before heading on the road to play No. 20 Iowa State this weekend.
But hey, there are still six weeks of the season left, as well as the Big 12 tournament. So while there isn’t much time for Texas to course correct, there is still some.
There also is plenty of time for things to go completely sideways.
One peculiarity of the Big 12 schedule this season is that Texas plays Kansas twice in January. The Longhorns will be done with their season series with the Jayhawks before facing either Baylor or Iowa State.
The last time Texas and Kansas played, the Longhorns battled until the buzzer, having a shot to win the game on a final possession in Lawrence. But the final play was botched, and Jase Febres, who had shot Texas back into the game from three, didn’t get a clean look at the rim.
The Jayhawks are coming off of a loss of their own, falling by eight points to No. 8 Kentucky on Saturday. It was a game in which Bill Self’s team had a difficult time converting near the basket; to site just one example, likely All-American Dedric Lawson went 5-of-15 from two-point range against the long and athletic Wildcats.
Still, that loss (much like Texas’ recent loss) doesn’t mean a thing for the Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks currently hold a 5-2 record and sit tied for first with Kansas State; Kansas has a reasonable chance to put some distance between it and its competition in the next week or so, with upcoming games against Texas Tech and Kansas State (teams that along with Iowa State currently look the most likely to give the Jayhawks a run for the conference title).
Meanwhile, Texas sits with a 3-4 conference record, and a theoretical path to winning ten league games still exists. (Don’t laugh; I said “theoretical” and words still have meaning.) But that path gets really narrow if Texas takes too many more losses at home. So, Kansas or not, a win on Tuesday evening is something that could help the Longhorn season get back on track.
And what will that take? One of the curious things that has happened is that this iteration of the Longhorns started off the season as a team that defended extremely well while struggling to score, and has gradually morphed into a team that puts up points while struggling to get stops.
That transition was at its most apparent the last time Texas played Kansas, a game where Texas put up its most efficient offensive performance of the season but still could not come away with a win. The Longhorn offense put up similar performances against Oklahoma and Georgia (with a turnover-fueled stinker also slipped in there in a loss at TCU).
So what has happened to the Texas defense?
The Georgia loss was somewhat atypical, as Texas forced a lot of turnovers while failing to protect the basket in Athens. During the Big 12 season the opposite has been true; Texas leads the conference in two-point field goal percentage defense (Jaxson Hayes is a big part of this), while Longhorn opponents haven’t been forced into many turnovers.
To get things right, the Longhorns again must find their consistency on defense, while continuing to do the things that have supported their offensive improvement: driving to the basket, taking care of the ball, and hitting just enough open shots from the perimeter to make it all work out.
The game tips in Austin at 6 PM CST, and airs on ESPN.