Texas comes back for dramatic win, keeping tourney hopes alive
Let's just start here: Texas was out. This was halftime of Monday's night's game against in-state and Big 12 Conference rival, Baylor. The Longhorns, with their NCAA tournament hopes flickering on the verge of being blown out for good, were trailing by seven points in a game they needed to win. Texas was out.
Gone. Finito. Buh-bye.
So, head coach Rick Barnes, feeling his seat getting warmer by the possession, told his team at halftime that it was going to come down to the final 20 minutes: Make a stand or you're going to have to win the Big 12 tournament next week.
Texas held firm on this night, beating Baylor in overtime, 61-59 in a game that was marred by a wild fracas in the final minute of the extra session, where seven total players were ejected. Isaiah Taylor hit a runner in the lane with just over four seconds to play, which was the game-winning basket and a shot that might just have saved the Longhorns' season.
Nothing is certain of course, Texas still has to host Kansas State on Saturday in the regular-season finale, but Monday's big win keeps the NCAAs in play as a realistic chance.
Depending on which bracket projection you're fond of, Texas was in the "First Four Out" or "Next Four Out" categories. That is a precarious place to be in the last week before conference tournaments begin, especially when you're trying to put the brakes on a four-game slide in one of the toughest leagues in the country.
The Longhorns had no one to blame but themselves for this mess.
Ranked as high as No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 at the beginning of December, Texas played about as well as a team can. A 12-2 start, with its only losses to Kentucky (by 12 on the road) and to Stanford (by three in overtime at home). That resume suggested that not only was Texas a tournament team, but a tournament team that would live in the top-half of the bracket.
Then, the Big 12 smacked the Longhorns back down to earth, landing them at 18-12 with Monday's win.
Texas' problem over the last two months since conference play began wasn't so much the losses—though they hurt, too—as it was the lack of quality wins. Entering Monday night's game, the Big 12 was the No. 1 RPI conference in the country. There was no excuse for Texas not to, at the very least, stumble into a couple of high-profile wins to boost its resume. You see, Texas had a non-conference strength of schedule rank of 90. Not damaging, but not noteworthy, either.
The Longhorns just never got there.
Before Monday night's win over Baylor, this Texas team had just one win—one—against a team in the top half of the standings. That was a home win over West Virginia, on Jan. 17. It feasted on the likes of TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State for the bulk of its conference wins. Making matters worse, the committee saw a team that wasn't staying competitive against the best teams in its own league.
Texas had losses to Oklahoma (by 21), to Kansas (by 13), at Baylor (by 23) and to Iowa State (by 8). Sure, there were some close calls in there, but nothing had turned the Longhorns' way.
Until Monday night.
Whether or not Texas finds itself in the field of 68 when the brackets are unveiled 12 days from now, is still very much up in the air. Even if Texas is in the field as of now, it is far from a certainty. The best remedy is to keep winning as long as you can and take the decision out of the hands of the committee. Before the win over Baylor, Texas was out.
Now it's in.
Sounds like a good place start.