Texas arguably features as much talent as any team in the country, but a recent slump has exposed a couple of the flaws that eventually could keep the Longhorns out of the Final Four.
They depend heavily on freshmen, and they're dreadful from the free-throw line.
Baylor's 80-77 overtime victory at Texas on Saturday saddled the Longhorns with their third loss in four games since they took over the No. 1 spot in the national rankings.
Texas (18-3, 4-2 Big 12) doesn't have to worry about moving back to the No. 1 spot anytime soon. In fact, the Longhorns temporarily may have lost their grip on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"We're all right," Texas forward Damion James told reporters afterward. "Coach [Rick Barnes] said he likes where we are right now. The turnovers hurt us toward the end."
So did the missed free throws.
The Longhorns made good on just 19-of-31 attempts from the foul line against Baylor and have made just 61.8 percent of their free throws this season.
They got inconsistent play from their freshmen: J'Covan Brown came up big with 15 points off the bench, but Jordan Hamilton played just two minutes and Avery Bradley contributed more turnovers (five) and fouls (four) than baskets (three).
The freshman who showed the most poise Saturday was Baylor's A.J. Walton, a 47-percent free-throw shooter who went 3-of-4 from the line over the final 17 seconds of the game.
Texas' freshmen should get better as the season wears on, but those free-throw woes could be a problem all season. Texas also must execute better down the stretch than it did Saturday, as the Longhorns would have won in regulation if they hadn't allowed Baylor's Anthony Jones to make a tying putback with .03 remaining.
While this game likely will cause the sixth-ranked Longhorns to fall a few notches in the polls, it also helped boost Baylor's NCAA tournament credentials. The Bears (16-4, 3-3) came through down the stretch without star guard LaceDarius Dunn and center Ekpe Udoh, who both fouled out.
"This was a great win for us, but it doesn't stop here," said Baylor guard Tweety Carter, who led all scorers with 27 points. "We've got to stay focused and we can compete with anybody on any given day."
Here's a look at some of the other winners and losers from Saturday's action.
The Big East's Butlers: Two guys named Butler came up with huge winning shots for their respective teams. Jimmy Butler resuscitated Marquette's NCAA tournament hopes by sinking a fadeaway with 2.4 seconds left in the Golden Eagles' 70-68 victory at Connecticut. West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler scored 27 points and made the go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left as the Mountaineers rallied from a 12-point, second-half deficit to beat Louisville 77-74. "I'm not going to lie," Da'Sean Butler told reporters afterward. "I've seen pretty much every comeback possible in college and been a part of a couple, so unless there's five seconds left and we're down 10, I know there's a good chance that we can come back."
Marquette's resilience: After losing five Big East games by a combined total of 11 points, Marquette certainly could have thought, "Here we go again," when star forward Lazar Hayward fouled out with 1:51 remaining in a nip-and-tuck game. Marquette instead finally pulled out a close game to improve to 13-8 overall and 4-5 in Big East competition. Marquette still has plenty of work to do to get back into serious NCAA contention, but the Eagles' brutal Big East schedule gives them plenty more chances for signature wins.
Demetri McCamey: Illinois is in a precarious enough situation that it couldn't afford a home loss to Indiana. McCamey made sure it didn't happen. The junior guard scored 19 points, dished out eight assists and made a buzzer-beating runner along the right side of the lane to give Illinois a 72-70 victory.
Georgetown's Big Three: Duke's trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith has garnered more attention for its production this season, but Georgetown's Greg Monroe, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman clearly outperformed them in the Hoyas' 89-77 rout of the Blue Devils. Monroe and Wright scored 21 points each and Freeman added 20 points as Georgetown shot an astounding 71.7 percent.
Kentucky's long-range shooting: The Wildcats bounced back from their first loss of the season by shooting 12-of-23 from 3-point range in an 85-72 victory over Vanderbilt. Darnell Dodson moved into the starting lineup and went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc to score 16 points, and even 6-9 forward Patrick Patterson got into the act by shooting 3-of-4 from long distance.
Glen Rice Jr.: Twenty-one years after his father set an NCAA tournament record with 184 points while leading Michigan to the national title, the Georgia Tech freshman showed that shooting accuracy runs in the family. Rice Jr. shot a perfect 6-of-6 – including 3-of-3 from 3-point range – and scored a season-high 15 points in a 98-50 rout of Kentucky State.
Missouri's home-court magic: On any other floor, Missouri is a pretty good team. On its home floor, the Tigers are virtually unbeatable. Missouri's 95-80 victory over Oklahoma State gave the Tigers 32 straight home wins. The only teams with longer home-court winning streaks are Kansas (54) and Siena (32).
Air Force: A program that won a combined 50 games in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons has suffered a major fall ever since former coach Jeff Bzdelik left for Colorado, but the Falcons finally gave their fans reason to celebrate Saturday by knocking off Wyoming 70-63 to end a 22-game Mountain West Conference losing streak.
President Barack Obama: When Kentucky suffered its first loss of the season Tuesday, some fans searching for reasons behind the Wildcats' flat performance blamed college basketball's First Fan, who had called the team earlier in the day to thank them for raising more than $1 million for Haiti earthquake victims. But Obama's presence certainly didn't bother the home team Saturday. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited the Verizon Center and watched Georgetown deliver its best performance of the season against Duke. Obama even joined the CBS broadcast team at one point and praised the performance of Georgetown's guards.
Hamady Ndiaye: The Rutgers center boosted his reputation as a Luke Harangody stopper while helping the Scarlet Knights earn their first Big East win of the season. Ndiaye blocked six shots in the second half and swatted away two Harangody attempts in the final minute of Rutgers' 74-73 triumph over Notre Dame. The 7-footer clinched the victory by outleaping Harangody to rebound a missed Rutgers free throw. Harangody scored 19 points for Notre Dame, but he made just 8-of-26 shots. The All-America candidate has gone a combined 18-of-68 in three games with Rutgers over the past two seasons.
Baylor's backcourt: Center Ekpe Udoh missed his first 11 shots and eventually fouled out, but the Bears still beat Texas 80-77 in overtime because their guards picked up the slack. Tweety Carter led all scorers with 27 points, while LaceDarius Dunn scored 12 points before fouling out. A.J. Walton delivered 14 points and six steals while shooting 4-of-5. Walton, a freshman who had made just 47 percent of his free throws this season, also went 3-of-4 from the foul line in the final 17 seconds of the game. Baylor's ball-hawking guards also helped the Bears score 27 points off 18 turnovers.
Devan Downey: Four days after he scored 30 points in an upset of top-ranked Kentucky, Downey had 33 points and made the winning basket with 50 seconds remaining in South Carolina's 78-77 victory over Georgia. The 5-9 senior guard has scored at least 30 points in five of South Carolina's seven SEC games this season.
Michigan State's guards: Durrell Summers scored a season-high 24 points and Kalin Lucas added 23 points in the Spartans' 79-70 victory over Northwestern. Summers also pulled down 10 rebounds – one off his season high – against the Wildcats. The big games by Summers and Lucas helped Michigan State overcome an off night from Raymar Morgan, who fouled out without scoring.
Cornell: The Big Red took a giant step toward their third consecutive Ivy League title with a surprisingly one-sided 86-50 victory over Harvard. This showdown was one of the most anticipated matchups in recent Ivy history because both teams were in the top 60 of the RPI and had impressive non-conference results (Cornell beating Auburn and nearly knocking off Kansas, Harvard beating Boston College). The Ivy League doesn't have a conference tournament, so the league’s regular-season champion earns an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Syracuse defense: The fourth-ranked Orange didn't exactly deliver a championship-caliber performance in a 59-57 victory over lowly DePaul. "We stunk," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We played awful." But give credit to the Orange's defense for playing well enough to allow Syracuse to rally from an 18-point deficit. Syracuse outscored DePaul 16-5 over the final 7:19.
Jimmer Fredette: Now that the BYU guard has recovered from mononucleosis, he once again is playing like one of the best players in the country. Fredette scored 36 points in an 82-69 victory over Utah, and he now has averaged 32 points over the Cougars' last three contests.
Cashmere Wright: The Cincinnati guard made 9-of-11 shots and tallied 24 points as the Bearcats beat Providence 92-88. Not bad for someone who hadn't scored more than 12 points all season and who had just returned to the starting lineup.
Gonzaga: The Zags lost an 81-77 overtime stunner to San Francisco, which marked the first time Gonzaga had fallen to a West Coast Conference opponent since its loss to San Diego in the 2008 WCC championship game. The 13th-ranked Zags obviously are in no danger of missing the NCAA tournament, but this result could hurt their seeding on Selection Sunday because San Francisco entered the game with an RPI of 251. All three of Gonzaga's previous losses were against likely tournament teams (Duke, Michigan State and Wake Forest).
No. 1 seeds from last season: Connecticut, Louisville and North Carolina all headed into the 2009 NCAA tournament as No. 1 seeds. If the season ended today, all three programs would have reason to feel nervous about whether they'd crack the 65-team field at all.
Louisville's ability to handle prosperity: If the Cardinals fail to reach the NCAA tournament, they can blame their absence on their inability to protect leads. Louisville squandered a 17-point lead in a home loss to Villanova, blew a five-point lead in the final 34 seconds of regulation in an overtime loss at Pittsburgh and couldn't hang on to a 12-point lead in the final 10 minutes against West Virginia. Louisville was on the wrong end of a couple of questionable out-of-bounds calls in the final 20 seconds, but the Cardinals would have already put the game away by that point if they had executed down the stretch.
LSU's offense: The defending SEC champions have lost 10 of 11 overall and seven in a row after falling 67-51 at Mississippi State. LSU's only win in its last 11 games came against McNeese State, which headed into the weekend with an RPI of 280. LSU has exceeded the 63-point mark just once in its seven-game skid and has scored a total of 89 points over its last two games.
Saint Louis: The Billikens put up a dubious double distinction in a 62-36 loss to Richmond. They failed to make a single free throw or 3-point shot. Saint Louis was 0-of-3 from the foul line and 0-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Memphis: First-year coach Josh Pastner has signed an outstanding recruiting class that should make Memphis' long-term future bright, but things aren't looking good in the short term. After winning 64 consecutive Conference USA games, Memphis now has lost to two of its last four league opponents. The Tigers still have plenty of talented guards, but their lack of firepower in the frontcourt has been a problem all season. A 70-60 loss at Southern Methodist (11-10, 4-3) makes an NCAA bid unlikely for the Tigers (15-6, 5-2) unless they win the Conference USA tournament.
Duke's supporting cast: The Blue Devils' top three players – Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith – are as good as just about any trio in the nation. But a lack of depth could keep Duke from making a deep NCAA tournament run. Smith, Singler and Scheyer teamed up for 54 points against Georgetown, but the rest of the Blue Devils combined for only 23 points. Only six Georgetown players came into the game averaging as many as 10 minutes per game, yet even the Hoyas seemed deeper than Duke on this day.
Oklahoma State's ball security: Missouri's "40 minutes of Hell" can force a lot of opponents into mistakes, but Oklahoma State's inability to protect the ball prevented the Cowboys from having any shot of winning. Oklahoma State committed 24 turnovers and already had matched its season high of 20 with almost 13 minutes left in the game.
Klay Thompson: Washington State's standout guard was late for the team bus Friday and began Saturday's game with Washington on the bench. Thompson never got into a rhythm all day and scored just seven points – 15 points below his season average – in the Cougars' 92-64 loss. Thompson didn't make his second basket of the day until only 3:31 remained in the game.
Vanderbilt's frontcourt stars: A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor played vital roles in helping Vanderbilt win its first five SEC games, but neither player performed well in a loss at Kentucky. Ogilvy got in early foul trouble and made just two baskets on his way to finishing with 12 points. Ogilvy's inability to control the paint helped Kentucky outrebound Vanderbilt 39-21. Taylor scored 10 points, but he blew a chance to cut Kentucky's lead to 10 in the second half by missing a reverse dunk when a simple layup would have sufficed.
Stanford on the road: The Cardinal's 88-70 loss to Arizona State dropped them to 0-8 in road games this season. Stanford (10-11, 4-5 Pac-10) didn't come close to ending its road woes Saturday, as it trailed by as many as 37 points.
Notre Dame: The Irish (15-7, 4-5 Big East) pretty much knocked themselves out of any hope for an NCAA at-large bid by falling to Rutgers, which had lost its previous three games by an average of 25 points.
Cincinnati, Providence free-throw shooters: Cincinnati and Providence delivered one of the worst free-throw shooting exhibitions of the season. Cincinnati went 20-of-41 from the line, while Providence was 9-of-18.
Oklahoma: The Sooners were expected to take a step back this season as they attempted to replace the Griffin brothers, but who figured they would fall this far? Oklahoma's faint hopes for an NCAA at-large bid likely vanished with a 63-46 loss to Nebraska, which hadn't won a Big 12 game all season. The Sooners (12-9, 3-4) need more production from Willie Warren, who scored just four points against Nebraska after missing two games with a sprained ankle.
Southern California: USC coach Kevin O'Neill has done a good job this season of helping the Trojans deal with all kinds of adversity, but his team hasn't been quite the same since learning it had no shot at the postseason because of the school's self-imposed sanctions for NCAA rules violations. USC fell 67-57 at Oregon for its fifth loss in its last seven games.