The 20-6 Texas Longhorns basketball team is off to a start that no one would have suspected prior to the 2013-2014 season. Rick Barnes has done arguably his best coaching job in his 14 year tenure on the Forty Acres, and has a young team playing with heart, intelligence, intensity and chemistry.
Over the past few weeks the Longhorns have struggled some in road losses to the Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas State Wildcats, and face the toughest three game gauntlet of the entire conference season over the course of the next seven days.
Texas makes a trip to Lawrence to take on the conference-leading Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday afternoon, before returning to Austin to welcome the Jekyll and Hyde Baylor Bears on Tuesday the 26th, and finishing the triumvirate with another road trip to Norman to take on the surprising Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday, March 1st.
A solid 2-1 split through these three games — which would definitely be a minor victory — would position Texas to grab one of the top seeds in the Big 12 Conference tournament in Kansas City starting March 12th, but more importantly, would solidify a mid-tier seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what may happen in the conference tourney.
For the Longhorns to get there, a renewed sense of urgency — one that manifests itself in greater defensive intensity, better ball control, and more consistent scoring from the team’s top offensive threats — is absolutely paramount.
As any college basketball fan realizes, trying to beat Kansas on their home floor is a monumental task and one that requires pretty much perfect basketball. This type of test, however, is just what the Longhorns need at this juncture in the season.
Any coach wants to see their team hitting a peak of performance just prior to the start of the post-season and this is what Rick Barnes will be expecting of his guys on Saturday afternoon. Just as importantly, it’s an opportunity for the Longhorns to again prove that their early-season thrashing of the Jayhawks at home wasn’t an anomaly, but instead a sign of a team that has the ability to make some noise during March Madness.
There’s no single player, necessarily, on this Texas team that serves a barometer as to how a game will turn out. One guy, though, is as close as it comes: Isaiah Taylor.
The rest of the season — whether his shoulders are broad enough to handle it or not — lies in Taylor’s hands. When he’s on his game, you’d be hard-pressed to tell me there’s a better floor general in the Big 12, if not this part of the country.
When he struggles, however, the team becomes a reflection of his struggles.
This three game stretch will be a reflection of Taylor, and by their association with him, a reflection of the Texas Longhorns as a whole.
Can he rise to the occasion?
Can Texas rise to the occasion and prove that instead of a cute sidestory, they’re really a team to be reckoned with?
We’ll know, to some degree, on March 2nd.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer and the Hiring Manager for Rant Sports.