There have been 7 Texas games this season that have been decided by 6 points or less. The Longhorns have lost all of them. For a team that's in peril of playing in the NIT for the first time in 13 years, there's a pressing question: Can Texas close a game?
Several of these close finishes - including Baylor, K-State, and Kansas - would have been badly needed marquee wins for the Longhorns. On Monday night, Texas dropped a heartbreaker to Mizzou by one point. The ‘Horns were trailing by 10 points with less than five minutes to go before going on a 13-2 run. A layup from Mike Dixon put the Tigers ahead with 31 seconds left. Texas' efforts, including a last-minute baseline jumper attempt by Myck Kabongo, weren't enough to seal the deal.
There's a lot to debate about the final seconds of the Texas-Mizzou game. Was Texas stymied by the Tigers' switch to zone defense after the final timeout? Should Matt Pressey have been whistled for a foul on Kabongo's final shot?
Less debatable is the pattern that's emerging in the Longhorn's conference games. An underwhelming first half is followed by an improved second half and a rally to even things out. Then, when the W is within their grasp, the ‘Horns let it slip away.
"Everyone in that locker room wants to win so badly," Kabongo said after the game. "Unfortunately, for some reason, they aren't turning into wins right now."
Whatever that reason is, it's keeping Texas fans up at night. A lot of blame was thrown Rick Barnes' way after the game. His name was trending on Twitter and message boards were lighting up with indictments of his coaching style. I'm not ready to jump on the "Fire Rick" bandwagon. Is it the coach's fault if the players aren't executing on the floor? If Kabongo had made the shot... . If Mike Dixon hadn't made his... . Well, it's a different outcome and the Twitter trending topics go back to being about Justin Bieber.
I think the most likely culprit is a lot of freshman mistakes and a little dumb luck. Experience counts in the final seconds of a game. Would Kabongo-the-junior have made the shot even though there was contact? With so many freshmen on the floor, is J'Covan Brown doing too much to be fresh at the end of the game?
Of course, the obvious answer is to just play better from the start of the game instead of 15 minutes into the second half.
Monday's game marks the end of a punishing 6-game stretch for Texas. No one expected the match-ups with Kansas, Baylor, or Mizzou to be so close. Even if it doesn't show up in the results, this team has improved from the non-con losses to NC State and Oregon State. What can we expect from the Longhorns over the next few weeks? If they hope to make it to the tournament again, it has to be finishing the close games.
Dumb freshman mistakes? Bad luck? Coaching? Are they simply outmatched? Let us know what you think is ailing Texas in the comments.