Texas Basketball: Will Longhorns' Strong Start Last in Big 12 Play?

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, NC - DECEMBER 18:  Javan Felix #3 and Damarcus Croaker #5 of the Texas Longhorns leave the floor after a win over the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Dean Smith Center on December 18, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Texas won 86-83.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Big 12 Conference has been full of surprises this season, and the latest team to start receiving some recognition is Texas. 

Rick Barnes' Longhorns were mired in the Myck Kabongo eligibility saga last season; as a result, they finished their regular season with a 15-16 record. 

This season, with one nonconference game against Rice remaining, the Longhorns are five wins away from their 2012-13 win total thanks to a reenergized program.

During their first 12 games, the Longhorns have been tested and have come away with some big victories, with the biggest one coming in Chapel Hill on December 18 over then-No. 14 North Carolina. 

The Longhorns' resolve was also tested back on December 7 as they defeated Temple in Philadelphia, 81-80, in overtime. 

There have also been a few bumps in the road as the team has lost to BYU and Michigan State during nonconference play. 

Despite falling in two of their high-profile games this season, there is plenty of hope that the Longhorns will pose a challenge to the rest of the Big 12 when they open their conference schedule against Oklahoma on January 4 at the Erwin Center. 

Texas currently boasts five players who average more than 10 points per game and two who have recorded more than seven rebounds per game. 

While the play of Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley has been impressive in the paint, the real catalyst of the team is sophomore guard Javan Felix. 

Felix is a point guard who could easily give the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State trouble during the Big 12 regular season due to his shot-making and his ability to distribute. 

In 24.6 minutes per contest this season, Felix has put together some very respectable numbers with 10.9 points and 3.1 assists per game; he is also an 80 percent free-throw shooter. 

But, Texas is about more than just Felix and the two big men as they have a strong nine-man rotation that has plenty of quality players. 

Barnes has shown his trust in the bench by handing four non-starters more than 10 minutes per game. By giving those players some valuable experience during the early part of the season, it will prepare them well for the conference campaign. 

The Longhorns will have to put everything together early on in Big 12 play as four of their first eight contests are against the four ranked teams that the conference currently has. 

During their first eight Big 12 games, the Longhorns will be at home against No. 14 Iowa State and No. 16 Kansas, while they must travel to Stillwater on January 8 to face Oklahoma State. No. 11 Baylor will host the Longhorns on January 25 in Waco. 

If the Longhorns can win a few of those matchups at home as well as defeat the weaker teams in the conference like West Virginia and Texas Tech, their confidence could easily rise as the season moves on into February.

If all goes well for Barnes and company during the first month of conference play, their real litmus test will come in mid-February when they have to visit Iowa State and Kansas in back-to-back games. 

Being able to weather the storm that Hilton Coliseum and Allen Fieldhouse present is no easy task, but if the Longhorns can come out of that stretch rather unscathed, their path to the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship tournament is an easy one. 

The final stretch of the season presents a home game with Baylor followed by games against Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech, which the Longhorns should win. 

Winning at least 10 games in the Big 12 this season should be enough to put Texas in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid, and if they win a few big games like they did against North Carolina, we could easily be talking about them as a sleeper to win a few games in March.


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