the score

Horns Begin Conference Play

Ohh basketball

By Russ Espinoza, 1:53PM, Sat. Jan. 7, 2012

Rick Barnes
Rick Barnes
Photo courtesy of UT

The intermingling of a shrimpy nonconference schedule with a baby-faced 2011-12 litter — which features six freshmen — amounts to an enigmatic Longhorn squad devoid of obvious identity (and a national ranking).

Texas bid adieu to their nonconference schedule with a home win over the Rice Owls on Dec. 31: finishing 10-3 against a melting pot of nondescript Terriers, Rams, Bearkats, Mean Green, Colonels, and the downtrodden UCLA Bruins.

This Texas basketball season is already an anomaly, and it may not bode well for a 13th consecutive NCAA Tournament invitation unless the Longhorns can defend themselves against the Big 12’s finest.

To speak nothing of Texas’ copious youth, today’s Longhorns are primarily differentiated from previous editions by the white space on their résumé entering Big 12 play. A year ago, the bygone Longhorn battery of Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Corey Joseph, and Gary Johnson blazed through nonconference play: besting 13th ranked Illinois, No. 12 Michigan State, and the North Carolina Tar Heels — who later became a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Certainly, this season’s early schedule rarely presented Texas an opportunity for such giant-slaying, but they lost badly when it did. See: their 82-63 loss at North Carolina on Dec. 21.

In general, Rick Barnes’ teams have shown a bittersweet penchant for standing-out early, but receding late — and sometimes catastrophically so. This year must flip the script if Texas is to go Mad.

The Big 12’s scheduling format bumps from 16 to 18 conference games with Colorado and Nebraska having bailed to more auspicious surroundings. With Big 12 membership in flux, each team will play all the others twice in a given season — at least for now.

What will the Longhorns make of their eight games against Big 12 teams currently ranked in the Top 25? Magic? Or a mess?

If the walls of Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum could postulate, they’d side with the latter. UT outshined the Cyclones in both rebounds (38-29) and free throws made (24 of 32), but relinquished those gains in the second quarter via a late three-minute scoring drought that enabled Iowa State to overtake and win, 77-71.

Looking Ahead:

Jan. 7 vs. Oklahoma State
Jan. 11 vs. Texas A&M
Jan. 14 at No. 6 Missouri
Jan. 18 at No. 22 Kansas State

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