March 10, 2011
It's tournament time, so that means it's survive and advance mode from here on out. Obviously, the big dance is the one that matters the most, but the No. 10 Texas Longhorns (25-6, 13-3) definitely want to chase down a Big 12 tournament title, as well as build up that train of momentum heading into the field of 68 (field of 68 still looks weird). As Texas approaches the beginning of tournament play, these are going to be the five things I'll be looking for on the floor the most:
1) Energy and the "want to" - That's absolutely the thing I'll be watching above all else. Does Texas actually want to play to its best level in this Big 12 tournament, and will the energy match the most recent win over Baylor? Texas' run of dominance through the Big 12 this year was built so much on just flat out wanting it more, and overwhelming teams with its effort and intensity. That slipped, and so did the play down the stretch. Execution is one thing, but let's see how hard and how much energy this Texas team plays with. As Texas has proven this year, defense is about effort, and when the Horns put the effort into it they're arguably the best defensive unit in the country.
2) Jordan Hamilton - After putting up huge numbers in most of the big games Texas played, the 6-7 sophomore hit a cold stretch, and it wasn't just a coincidence that the Longhorns did as well. There have been whispers of Hamilton being a bit tight in the hips. We don't know for sure if that's the case, but you can't deny that his legs looked heavy, and the energy just wasn't there during Texas' three recent losses. When he's on and attacking, Hamilton can score about as well as any player in the country and a Texas team with a high level Hamilton can beat anyone in the country. The Longhorns need him to be great.
3) The rotation - Obviously, this is somewhat dependent on the team that Texas is playing. But with the regular season over, UT should be gearing up with its rotation for tournament time. This is a tournament setting, and Barnes' rotation, most notably J'Covan Brown, will be something to watch. If Texas takes this Big 12 tournament seriously, and you would absolutely have to think it does, the rotation could be telling; it could be a forecast.
4) Owning the paint - Against Baylor, the Longhorns absolutely dominated the battle on the glass. That was a performance welcomed with open arms by the Longhorn faithful after being outrebounded by Nebraska and Colorado. Obviously, Tristan Thompson was a big reason why (that's a massive understatement), but UT was back to being that intimidating, physical presence in the paint, as a whole. Rebounds can be a bit of a skewed stat because the style of the game determines the opportunity of rebounds, but there is no denying that the Longhorns can be one of the best (No. 5 nationally in rebounds per game) when they want to be.
5) The body language - Does this team look like it's having fun on the basketball floor? Will there be smiles and positive energy when the team huddles up? At times during the finish of the Big 12 regular season, the Longhorns didn't show very good body language, and looked bothered by the struggles. You could tell the moment and the losses were eating away at them. The odds suggest that the Horns will trail at some point during Big 12 tournament play, so keep an eye on their emotion and their body language. This is a team that proved to be nearly unbeatable when playing with supreme confidence and energy. This is a team that really enjoys playing basketball together as a group, and Texas needs to keep enjoying things on the basketball floor come tournament time. Will the higher stakes affect Texas? We'll see.
BIG 12 TOURNAMENT BRACKET
Thursday, March 10
Game 5 - No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State
ESPN2 - 11:30 a.m.
Game 6 - No. 4 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Colorado
Big 12 Network - 2:00 p.m.
Game 7 - No. 2 Texas vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (Texas hammered OU in the two previous meetings)
Big 12 Network - 6:00 p.m.
Game 8 - No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 6 Missouri
ESPN2 - 8:30 p.m.
Friday, March 11
Game 9 - Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner
Big 12 Network - 6:00 p.m.
Game 10 - Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner
Big 12 Network - 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 12
Big 12 Tournament Championship - Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner
ESPN - 5:00 p.m.