If Texas doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, it is only fitting that their season would end the way it did. Thursday’s stunning loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament sums up their season in one game.
And while they will hold out hope for a bid amidst bracketologists saying they might still be in even after Thursday, at this point putting Texas in would be a travesty. The Longhorns simply don’t deserve to be in. Perhaps, though, theirs will not be a story of a great collapse, but rather, one of a team that wasn’t as good as we thought they were.
On Thursday, Texas had a double digit lead for a lot of the first half, aided by a 14-0 run to break the game open. They still led by 11 at the half. It had people wondering where this Texas team has been for a couple of months. Remember, this is a team many felt could actually match up with Kentucky and potentially beat them. They actually did play Kentucky tough, but fell by 12 to the better Wildcats. Still, the thought was that this was a team that might have a shot to end Kansas’ streak of Big 12 regular season titles.
For good measure, this team seemed to have lots of pieces. They had an All-America candidate in Jonathan Holmes. They had great size up front and could own the boards. They had more experienced guards, enough to theoretically make up for Isaiah Taylor’s loss due to injury. It looked like Texas was back, that last year wasn’t a fluke amidst a steady decline before it. Maybe the tide had been reversed.
Not only did Texas not unseat Kansas atop the Big 12, they didn’t come close. They didn’t just have a mid-season slump; they had two four-game losing streaks. They looked nothing like the team they did early in the season. Back then, many, including this writer, thought no one had as good a month of November as Texas did. They say hindsight is 20-20, though, and it you look back, the Longhorns’ run in November and early December isn’t what we thought it was at the time.
Texas went to New York and beat Iowa and California to win the 2K Classic. California hit the wall in Pac-12 play, so that win looks less impressive now. They went to Connecticut and stunned the Huskies on a buzzer-beater by Holmes; that win looks less impressive now since the Huskies’ only ticket to the NCAA Tournament will be an American Athletic Conference Championship. The rest of the non-conference resume is a bit less impressive, littered with wins outside the top 150.
Against that backdrop, an 8-10 mark in the Big 12, which was the best conference in the country this year, is perhaps not surprising. It makes more sense than thinking this team just fell apart. They simply weren’t as impressive in November as we thought they were.
I’m not one of those who is trying to advocate for Murray State to be in the NCAA Tournament, but if I had to choose between the Racers and the Longhorns, I’m almost inclined to choose the Racers. Playing a tough schedule like Texas always does is great, but you have to win games. Not having a bad loss is great, too, but losses add up, and the Longhorns have 13 of them. The fact that Texas is 3-12 against RPI top 50 teams tells you that they don’t often do so well when they’re up against any real competition – the kind that they would face in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa State finished Thursday’s game on a 12-0 run to beat the Longhorns. The Cyclones never led until the final buzzer. Texas’ season seems a little like that now, one where they led big early on and still led throughout before losing at the buzzer.