White hash marks painted on green turf don’t decorate all huge sporting events in Texas. Sometimes, the distance of the playing surface stretches 94 feet, not 100 yards.
For the 25th-ranked Texas Longhorns’ basketball team, this is one of those times. They’re on fire, but the way the Big 12 shakes out this season, defeating Kansas University is the only way for anyone to gain serious credibility.
The ’Horns are coming off of three consecutive victories against ranked opponents, a school first.
With a fourth in a row against Kansas today in the Erwin Center, third-place Texas would draw within a game of the first-place Jayhawks.
Mix in a home crowd that doesn’t get up for every basketball game but does relish the opportunity to witness an upset against a perennial powerhouse.
And then there is the urgency Texas coach Rick Barnes must feel working for a new boss, one who fired football coach Mack Brown, winner of the BCS title game Jan. 4, 2006. At some level, that alone must make the basketball coach crave a big victory that could make his players feel confident, give the fan base something about which to boast and buy him good will with bosses.
So why can’t I make myself believe that Texas will knock off KU and introduce suspense to a Big 12 race that is at once not yet half over and not at all feeling like much of a race?
It could be that no Longhorn strikes me as a candidate for first-team All-Big 12 honors. Or maybe it’s because this year, more even than most, trying to identify the second-best team in the Big 12 involves choosing from so many legitimate contenders for the silver medal. Yet, not one has flashed even a bit of a gold-medal shine to it.
The standings say Oklahoma — with a 6-2 record, a game-and-a-half behind KU — is the second-best team in the Big 12. Kansas took care of the Sooners in Norman already. Since losing Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State hasn’t been quite the same and already has three Big 12 losses. Kansas State? Too young. Iowa State? Feels sort of that way, but then the standings show the Cyclones with a 3-4 conference record, two of the losses at the hands of KU. Baylor is 1-6.
It’s easier to become highly motivated playing against teams with star power. For that reason, the Longhorns’ lack of it might make them a tougher opponent.
They do have one McDonald’s All-American, 6-foot-9, 285-pound center Cameron Ridley, a far better sophomore than he was a freshman. He hits the offensive boards hard and averages 11.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots. Power forward Jonathan Holmes averages 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds and makes his free throws (.779).
Freshman Isaiah Taylor and sophomore Javan Felix form one of the quickest backcourts in the conference. Both know how to get to the paint to score and create opportunities for teammates.
Taylor’s coming off a 27-point outburst at Baylor. A glimpse of things to come down the line, or a turning point? Too early to say. The Longhorns will be jacked for this one. Will KU? Athletes are taught to think big-picture. They’re trained to think “next possession” at all times. But they’re human, and it’s impossible not to cave to human nature at times. When the Jayhawks’ minds think about the Longhorns in a big-picture way, does the prospect of playing against them turn on the jets of their adrenaline? If not, they could lose a Big 12 game for the first time this season.