Everyone knows that in Texas, football is king. With college football over and the NFL winding down, we can take a deep breath and get focused on college hoops. February is make-it or break-it time for most college teams. Everyone is scrambling for those marquee wins to boost their resume. If things haven’t come together by now, your chances of making the Big Dance are slim. With only a handful of conference games left to play, those tough games against ranked opponents become your last opportunity to show that you are deserving of a coveted spot to the Tournament.
Being in the heart of Big 12 country, we are graced with both excellent football and basketball. Though Big 12 basketball often gets overshadowed in the national media by more traditional basketball conferences such as the ACC and Big East, there is no denying the fact that the Big 12 has some of the most competitive basketball in the country this season. With three teams in the top 10 (#4 Mizzouri, #6 Baylor, #8 Kansas), Kansas State hovering around the top 25, and Iowa State playing exciting ball, the Big 12 looks to make a strong showing in the tournament with four (possibly five) teams in the Tournament. Austin is home to a motley collection of fans from all around the Big 12. We love you all. That being said, this town is dominated by Bears, Aggies, and of course, Longhorns. For those of you just checking into basketball season, here are my thoughts on the local favorites thus far and predictions for the weeks to come.
It has already been an exciting year for Baylor athletics (RG3 anyone?) and for Bears fans, there is lots more to come. Starting the season with 17 straight wins, the freakishly athletic Baylor squad lead by Perry Jones III (a national player of the year candidate) was brought back down to earth by back to back losses to Kansas and Missouri. The Kansas game was never close, with the Bears looking a little overwhelmed by the energy in Phog Allen Field House by the Jayhawk faithful. The following game at home against (then ranked) #5Missouri Tigers was a solid effort, especially at the end, yet I believe the better team won in the end. The Bears have gotten things back on track since and are fighting to break back into the top 4 and claim a coveted 1 seed in the tournament. This won’t come easy with another tough stretch of games ahead: Kansas, at Missouri, Iowa State (who just beat Kansas) and Kansas State. I see the Bears cruising into the Sweet 16 but getting beat by a more refined and organized team.
A model of consistency in the Big 12, the Longhorns have made it to 12 straight NCAA tournaments. This season, however, may very well be the end of their streak. After losing all their starters from last year, (three to the NBA), this extremely young Longhorn Squad has been thrown into the fire and learned quickly what it takes to win in the Big 12. Lead by junior J’Covan Brown, a shoe in for first team all Big 12, and gaggle of super talented freshmen, Texas has yet to log any big resume wins. Though they have steadily improved throughout the season, the Longhorn’s suffered tough losses to Kansas (lost by 3), Baylor (lost by 5 but within 2 points in the last minute), and Missouri (lost by 1). They have another shot against Kansas (away) and Baylor to make their case. Tough losses don’t translate to tournament bids and I predict Texas being one of the last four teams out of the tournament. Cheers to next year, especially if Brown sticks around.
Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies had high hopes for this year, coming into the season ranked 21st in the country. None of that matters now as they have been rocked by injuries, losing their star small forward Khris Middleton to a knee injury in November which he has yet to fully recover from. Making matters worse, the Aggies are down to a walk-on at point guard (though he was the spark plug in a win against OSU) as they limp through Big 12 play. Most losses have been by margins of 10 points or more, with no key wins to speak of. Wins against Kansas and/or Missouri would most certainly still not be enough to get the Aggies a spot in the tournament this season.
PS: a quick shout out to the UT-San Antonio Road Runners and my old teammate Melvin Johnson III. Hope to see ya’ll in the tourney again this year.