College basketball fans in Austin, Texas have been very spoiled over the past few years. Not only have they had the pleasure to see several NBA-caliber players come and go from the Forty Acres– i.e. Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, T.J. Ford, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph– the Texas Longhorns have been perennially competitive.
The 2011-2012 Texas Longhorns have struggled– at least given the current standard– due to a variety of factors, some controllable and others simply circumstance.
First off, the Longhorns are an extremely young team, with several freshmen seeing substantial playing time, earning the team the nickname the “BabyHorns” around Austin. Unless you are Kentucky, having five to six freshmen playing heavy minutes is not a recipe for success.
Secondly, this youth has led to crucial mistakes at important times, causing the Longhorns to lose several games which should have been won (both on the road and at home), all contributing to a 15-9 overall record.
In several Bracketology articles which have been published over the course of the last week, Texas is on the outside looking in, but not by much. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Texas as one of the “last 5 out” for this year’s tournament selection, suggesting that Texas needs at least one, if not two, signature wins down the stretch to ensure a place in March Madness.
These potential wins are definitely available on the schedule, but it is up to Rick Barnes’ young squad to capitalize on them. Texas faces the Baylor Bears in Austin on February 20th, and has a re-match of a closely contested January loss against the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence on March 3rd to close out Big XII conference play.
If the Longhorns can somehow manage to win both, a March Madness slot is all but ensured. If they can take one, and make a solid run in the Big XII conference tourney (semi-finals or better) they should be able to slide in sideways with a mid-teens seed. Losing both would require Texas to take home the Big XII conference tourney, something they have yet to do during Rick Barnes’ tenure in Austin.
Ultimately, the Texas Longhorns control their own fate, but there is no time left for freshmen to be freshmen. It’s step up or step aside time for a very young, but talented Texas team.