If the season ended today, for the first time in Rick Barnes' 14 years in Austin, Texas would not make the NCAA Tournament.
With a 15-9 overall record and a 5-6 mark in conference play, the Longhorns have neither a signature win over a top 10 opponent nor a sustained record of overall success to ensure their ticket to the Big Dance is punched.
That's why their home game Saturday against the Kansas State Wildcats, one of the five Big 12 teams currently projected to make the Tournament, is so important.
Texas lost a tough 84-80 game in Manhattan on Jan. 18 in the middle of a stretch of five losses in six games against the conference's top teams.
Kansas State, a 17-6 team who has been in and out of the top 25 all season long, would be the most impressive scalp on the Longhorns Tournament resume, setting them up for a strong finish to the season. If they can hold serve against the Wildcats, they'll be in position to get to 10 conference wins without counting their upcoming games against Baylor and at Kansas.
In the first game between the two teams, Wildcat guard Rodney McGruder dominate the action on both sides of the ball. The 6'4 junior scored 33 points on 11-17 shooting and grabbed 8 rebounds while helping to hold Texas star J'Covan Brown to an 8-28 shooting performance.
The Longhorns will be looking for a more balanced offensive attack on Saturday, as their five freshmen have taken several steps forward over the last month as Big 12 has rolled on.
The 1:00 PM game will be televised nationally on ESPN.