The Longhorns of early November—a team coming off of one of the greatest collapses in the history of college basketball, a team unranked by the AP Poll to begin the year, a team expected to finish fifth in the Big XII Conference behind the likes of Missouri, Baylor, Kansas and Kansas State.
The Longhorns of today? A squad rolling, unchallenged, through conference play, a team ranked solidly in the top five of every major college basketball poll, a group of well-disciplined stars executing an unselfish and defensively-minded style of play to perfection.
A tough group unwilling to falter, even through a brutal conference schedule. This team’s chemistry, something strikingly absent from last year’s squad, has held them together—through both struggle and success.
Even after losing by one point in overtime against sixth-ranked Connecticut, even after falling to the second-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers by two earlier this year, even after unranked USC clubbed them in a head-scratcher game in Los Angeles—these Longhorns continued to battle and fight hard against every opponent with whom they shared the court with.
It is this grit, this determination, that has led to their nine-straight wins and undefeated conference record, their shocking upset win against second-ranked Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse and their wins at Texas A&M, at North Carolina and at Michigan State.
How will Texas finish the season?
With emotional leadership provided by seniors Gary Johnson and Matt Hill; phenomenal defense and effort contributed by the Turkish Prison, Dogus Balbay; highlight-reel dunks and alley-oops produced by Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph; and consistent, solid play off the bench by Jai Lucas and J’Covan Brown, these Longhorns have all the makings of a championship-caliber team.
In the coming weeks, Texas will have their skills put to the test when they take on the athletic Baylor Bears (twice), travel to Lincoln to take on the upset-minded Cornhuskers, visit Boulder to battle the Buffs and defend their home court against Oklahoma State.
A difficult stretch, no doubt, but if the Longhorns follow the generic, cliché advice of “stick to your game plan,” a game plan which, in their case, consists of tough interior defense, dominance on the glass and discipline on the offensive side of the ball (i.e., no turnovers or quick shots), they should roll through the Big XII, unscathed, with the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to show for it.