NCAA Basketball: Texas Needs to Enter Big 12 Tournament on Winning Note

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIMarch 2, 2011

GREENSBORO, NC - DECEMBER 18:  Head coach Rick Barnes of the Texas Longhorns against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Greensboro Coliseum on December 18, 2010 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The No. 8 Texas Longhorns, the team ESPN's Hubert Davis still feels has the talent to win the NCAA Tournament, need a strong showing in their final regular-season game at Baylor this Saturday.

The Longhorns (24-6) have lost their last three out of four. A solid win against the Bears (18-11) will help fans think the last two weeks are not the beginning of a disappointing plunge like last year's team suffered, but just a bump in the road on the way toward the Final Four.

The Longhorns got off to a great start this season, and before they lost to Nebraska on Feb 19, they were 23-3 and ranked No. 2 in the country.

Of the three losses, two were to Big East powers Pitt (68-66) and UConn (82-81 OT).  The other was to USC (73-56), their only bad game to this point.

On Jan 22 the Longhorns beat Kansas by 11 points in Lawrence and were on top of the Big 12.  They started their Big 12 season with 11 straight wins, most of them by 10 points or more.

But it was against Nebraska where the Longhorns showed an unfamiliar vulnerability for the first time in conference play.

Their fans are hoping it wasn't the beginning of another late season meltdown.

Last year's Longhorns had a better start—17-0.  Halfway through the season they were ranked No. 1.

But after a loss to a strong Kansas State team, things started to unfold and they lost nine of their last 17 games.  They concluded their season with a disappointing loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Sometimes teams peak too early.   Sometimes they have too many young players who just aren't ready for the demands of a long season. 

Sometimes teams turn it around and get back on track.  That's why a solid effort against Baylor will be just what the doctor ordered.

Two of Texas' recent losses were games in which they squandered big leads.  Against Nebraska the Longhorns were up 33-24 late in the first half and went on to lose 70-67.  Against Colorado one week later they were up by 22 at one point in the first half and lost 91-89.

Monday night Texas lost to Kansas State 75-70.  The Wildcats, presently one of the most dangerous teams in the country, outplayed the Longhorns in the second half and held on for the win.

The Baylor game won't be easy.  The Bears gave Texas a lot of trouble in an earlier meeting and this Saturday they might be playing for their NCAA Tournament life.

After the Baylor game the Longhorns play in the Big 12 Conference Tournament.

So what's going on?  Is this recent slump something for Longhorn fans to worry about or is it just a hiccup?

Texas' leading scorer Jordan Hamilton (18.7 ppg.) is a sophomore.  Their second-leading scorer Tristan Thompson (13.3 ppg.) is a freshman and Cory Joseph, the teams leader in assists, is also a freshman.

Are these young players starting to tire?  The 91 points they gave up to Colorado on Saturday was the most points the Longhorns have given up all season.

What looked like a good chance to win the Big 12 Tournament a couple of weeks ago is no longer.  The Longhorns now have to contend with No. 2 Kansas and a surging Kansas State. 

They'll likely enter the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 2 seed, but they'll be the analysts' third choice to bring home the hardware.  And that's why they need to go to Waco on Saturday and remind everyone just how good they really are.

They need to enter the Big 12 Tournament on a winning note and make a good run.

If the Longhorns think they can make it to the Final Four, they need to prove to their fans—and themselves—that they are over the last two weeks and they are still one of college's elite teams.