It wasn’t too long ago that the Texas Longhorns entered the season ranked as the No. 5 team in college basketball. Even more recently, first-year head coach Chris Beard’s team was inching towards another top-10 appearance and snowballing the momentum of 11 wins in 12 games heading into conference play.
Then came three losses in four outings, including a 13-point road loss to 8-5 Oklahoma State and a disappointing home defeat to a 9-7 Kansas State squad. Suddenly, Texas has fallen to 13-5 and the outlook of this group is a bit uncertain.
The reality, at least to this point, is the Horns haven’t looked the part of that elite-level team it was projected to be entering the season — not even close. One could even argue that Texas hasn’t truly looked impressive even once against a quality, healthy opponent save for maybe Oklahoma, a 12-6 team ranked 38th in NET.
Elsewhere, Texas mostly cruised through a laughably weak non-conference schedule, losing to the only two teams of note — No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 23 Seton Hall — and has looked even more underwhelming in league play with the poor recent results.
Now it seems Texas has dug itself into a hole, dropping a few of the more winnable games on their schedule, which in turn minimizes the margin for error going forward. And going forward will pit Texas against nine ranked opponents in their final 13 games, including No. 5 Baylor, No. 7 Kansas, and a surging No. 18 Texas Tech — all twice.
Not to mention, there’s a five-game stretch featuring all ranked foes beginning next weekend.
That’s what awaits for a group that still struggles with inconsistency and hasn’t quite figured out how to play together on a nightly basis.
The writing on the wall seems pretty clear, yes?
To be sure, this isn’t doom and gloom — not yet at least. The silver lining is that this is still an especially deep and experienced team led by a staff with more than enough previous success to go around.
If the light switch gets flipped and Texas starts playing to the expectations that surrounded this program entering the season, most would chalk it up to a group that just needed time to gel and develop chemistry in Beard’s system. But the time for Texas to become that team is running out pretty quickly, and they’ll now need to do so entering nothing short of a gauntlet schedule — one that could pretty easily make or break this season.
As of now, nine of Texas’ 13 wins have come against Quadrant 4 teams — essentially, the bad teams — and they’re just 1-4 against Quadrant 1 teams; that is, the much better ones. The only win was retroactively applied because Kansas State was able to beat Texas in Austin on Tuesday, changing the status of the earlier win by the Longhorns against the Wildcats in Manhattan against a much more depleted group.
In looking ahead to March Madness, the Texas resume, as it currently stands, isn’t going to catch the attention of many on the NCAA Selection Committee. It might be a bit too early to start forecasting the Horns as a potential bubble team, but not by much. Simply put, Texas doesn’t have the margin for error to keep dropping games to opponents it’s favored against, and they’ll have to find a way to steal at least a few as underdogs to feel comfortable come Selection Sunday.
If not, and the current trend continues, well, Beard could see his first season in Austin finish in a fashion all too familiar from the previous five years.