Texas Won’t Make the NCAAs This Year and That’s Probably a Good Thing…

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 19th, 2016

The Texas men’s basketball head coaching job is one of the most visible in all of college athletics and Shaka Smart certainly embraced that aspect of the position when he accepted it. After then signing the nation’s fifth best recruiting class, expectations in Austin quickly became that these recruits would walk in to the Erwin Center and take the country by storm. Through the first 10 games of this season, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the “take the country by storm” part was at best an incorrect forecast. It’s looking a lot more like day-long cloud cover with periods of heavy rain shifting to light precipitation after dark.

Texas freshman Andrew Jones had his best all-around game (17 points, seven assists) in the team's losing effort. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Texas freshman Andrew Jones had his best all-around game (17 points, seven assists) in the team’s losing effort. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

While it is true that the Longhorns are getting better, spotting that improvement has been difficult to identify. The last time Texas stepped on to a neutral floor — at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn — Smart’s team was run off the floor in embarrassing double-figure defeats to Northwestern and Colorado. Fast forward to Saturday afternoon’s game against Arkansas and the Longhorns arguably played their best game of the year despite the loss. Jarrett Allen (11 points, 10 rebounds), Andrew Jones (17 points, seven assists) and Tevin Mack (20 points, 12 rebounds) provided Smart with a diversity of scoring options for a team that has often struggled to both find good shots and make them.

Yes, Texas is now 5-5 and a .500 Power Six team in December is presumably going through some sort of internal crisis. This does not appear to be the case on the surface but let’s go ahead and parse Texas’ record to this date. Four of the Longhorns’ five losses came against some of the most experienced teams in college basketball. UT-Arlington (#16), Arkansas (#27), Colorado (#45) and Michigan (#68) all have rosters where the average player has played two years or more of college basketball. Since Texas is the 15th youngest team in college hoops, this has put Smart’s team at a definite disadvantage. Additionally, Texas played Michigan and Arkansas tough in games away from Austin, perhaps suggesting that a breakthrough against tougher competition is coming.

Still, Texas’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament this season are slim. TeamRankings.com gives the Longhorns a four percent probability of making the field, and with zero quality non-conference wins and a treacherous league slate ahead, that number is effectively zero. Such a disappointing season could actually benefit Smart’s club in a long-term way. The goal should no longer be to squeeze out enough wins to hope your name is called near the bottom of the at-large list on Selection Sunday. The endgame now should be about shaping the Allen-Mack-Jones core into an cohesive attack worthy of inflicting serious pain on Big 12 opponents and beyond next season. As for the rest of this year, Texas’ conference brethren can ill afford to treat a visit to or from Texas lightly, because even light rain can clean the streets well every now and then.

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