Heading into tonight's Big 12 quarterfinals against Iowa State, the Longhorns find themselves somewhere they haven't been for nearly 14 years — squarely on the tournament bubble. At this point, Fred Hoiberg's transfer squad is playing for seeding. Texas is playing to stay alive.
Ahh, March. The most wonderful time of the year.
Iowa State (3) and Texas (6) split the difference during the regular season. Iowa State topped Texas 77-71 in Ames in early January, while the Longhorns paid the Cyclones back 62-55 in Austin at the end of the month. Iowa State has gone 22-9 overall and 12-18 in conference play, logging impressive wins over Kansas, Baylor, and Kansas State. This week, for the first time since 2005, the 25th-ranked Cyclones made an appearance in the AP poll.
Texas — one of only six schools to have an active NCAA tournament streak of 13 years or more — has had a decidedly less triumphant season. The young, inexperienced ‘Horns went 19-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12. Texas has a few quality wins to their name (Temple, Iowa State, and Kansas State) and at least one head scratcher of a loss (Oregon State). And they've been responsible for broken remotes hurled at walls all over Austin — this team's hallmark is letting close games slip away at the last minute. Eight of their losses have been decided by six points or less.
To get the upset tonight, Texas will need to stop the most efficient three-point shooting team in the conference from racking up treys. J'Covan Brown needs to turn in another take-charge, 20-something point performance. Myck Kabongo (9.8 points and 5.3 assists per game) and Sheldon McClellan (11.4 points per game), who both vacillated between brilliant and frustrating this season, need to be consistent and aggressive.
The second order of business for the Longhorns will to contain Royce White. But putting a stop to White — who leads the Cyclones across the board with 12.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.2 steal per game — will be a tall order. Especially now that key Longhorn big man Alexis Wangmene (4.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game) is out with a broken wrist.
All Iowa State needs to do to win tonight is play the way they've been playing for the past four games. White has been unstoppable, plus Chris Allen (12 points per game) and Scott Christopherson (12.6 points per game) are turning in strong performances.
Even if Texas wins tonight, it's not necessarily enough to ensure a tournament berth (there are enough permutations of bubble math for an LSAT problem). But it sure would be a step in the right direction. Iowa State is stronger, healthier, more experienced — and has the homecourt advantage in Kansas City. But anything can happen in March.
The game is at 8:30 CST and airs on the Big 12 Network. The winner faces
Mizzou the winner of the Mizzou-OK State game.