With the season more than halfway over, the #6 Texas Longhorns are in contention for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. But, with recent back-to-back losses to Kansas State and UConn clouding the horizon, head coach Rick Barnes needs to re-focus his squad for the remainder of the Big 12 Conference schedule, and find the keys to his team’s early-season winning ways.
So, they’re not as legitimate as expected with an 11-8 record, but rivalries exist on and off the football field in Austin and Norman. Guard Willie Warren was expected to be the force behind the sooners squad in 2009-2010, and while he has done his best, with three freshman in the six-man line-up, the team has struggled to a 2-3 record in Big 12 play to-date. While Warren contributes 17.6 ppg, and has three other starters in double digits, the team’s inconsistency has blown their shot at the NCAA Tournament unless they finish strong. With a rivalry in the balance, oklahoma could give Texas a run for their money in Norman on February 6 before a trip to Austin in March.
It seems as though every year, an Aggie has their coming-out party at the ‘Horns expense. This year, two seniors pose the biggest threat to Texas – guard Donald Sloan (17.5 ppg) and forward Bryan Davis (9.7 ppg) – both who play big and aggressive against the ‘Horns every outing. The Aggies have already given Texas a tough game, a 72-67 overtime loss in Austin, when junior forward Nathan Walkup made his statement with 13 points. In recent years, Texas and Texas A&M (14-5) have split their two conference games, and this season, don’t expect the Aggies to give the Longhorns any less of a fight in College Station. After all, as their fight song alludes, “t.u.” is their most hated foe.
Seriously. With a record of 15-3, the Bears history of sporting a solid backcourt continues to define the team’s success. Headlined by starting guards LaceDarius Dunn (19.2 ppg) and Tweety Carter (16.2 ppg), both who may own the best first names in college basketball, Baylor has only lost three games by a combined 16 points – not to mention giving #2 Kansas a run for their money in Lawrence. Add forward/center Ekpe Udoh (14.2 ppg) to the mix, and head coach Scott Drew has his team on the brink of bringing Baylor to the top of the Big 12 heap. Texas has Baylor twice in the closing clip of conference play, and you could see the Bears grab one of those two if Dunn and Carter are hitting their shots.
This will prove to be the tilt that decides the Big 12 Conference, and potentially a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for both teams. Like many other college basketball powerhouses, Kansas (19-1) simply reloads year-after-year, and despite key losses to graduation and the NBA draft, head coach Bill Self has guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich as the dominant forces leading the Jayhawks this season. Collins (16.0 ppg) and Aldrich (11.2 ppg) are the headliners, but heralded freshman Xavier Henry (14.3 ppg) has made his presence felt, along with forward Marcus Morris (12.4 ppg). The Jayhawks are perhaps the only team in the Big 12 Conference that can even come close to Texas’ bench depth, and their transition offense is purity to the eyes of basketball fanatics across the country. With Aldrich and Texas’ Dexter Pittman battling for space in the paint, and both team’s guards shooting it up from beyond the arc, this has the makings of an instant classic. It’s both a blessing and a curse that these two teams – playing in opposite divisions of the conference – are guaranteed to see each other only once every season.