That’s the number of games the Texas men’s basketball team has left to prove itself as a tournament team. There are still several opportunities remaining, with games against No. 14 West Virginia at home and a trip to Lubbock to play No. 24 Texas Tech.
The Longhorns will likely need to win both of those games to put themselves into a position to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Despite a recent string of injuries, the team has the talent to make it happen.
“Absolutely I think we have what it takes, but there’s a difference between knowing what to do and going and doing it,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “But we don’t have a choice.”
Before those two key matchups, Texas travels to Ames, Iowa, looking to finally beat a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team. The Cyclones gave the Longhorns a difficult test in Austin in a game Feb. 1 that went down to the wire.
A loss to Iowa State on Saturday would be devastating to a team that is in the middle of a three-game losing skid. While every team the Longhorns lost to is currently ranked in the Top 25 nationally, missing out on a résumé-building win deeply hurt the team’s tournament chances. After losing to No. 1 Baylor on Monday, the focus has to shift to the future.
“Now we’re just focused on Saturday trying to get a win at Iowa State,” junior guard Matt Coleman said. “We still got eight or seven games left on our schedule, (then) you’ve got the tournament. There’s still light at the end of the tunnel, and we just have to grab hold of it.”
Coleman is not alone in maintaining that attitude. The players still have faith that an NCAA Tournament appearance is within reach. They just have to take advantage of the games still on the schedule.
“It’s a long season, and we have a lot of games left,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said. “The most important thing for us is going to Iowa State and getting a win on Saturday.”
Luckily for the Longhorns, the Cyclones will be without their best player when the teams take the court at Hilton Coliseum. Sophomore point guard Tyrese Haliburton, a likely lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft, broke his wrist in a game against Kansas State.
Despite the Cyclones’ most talented player missing time, the Longhorns still need to focus on improving their own game. The inconsistency that has prevented the team from upsetting any of the last three opponents has to be rectified to some degree. That starts with a solid performance at Iowa State.
“We’re trying to focus on being the best we can be tomorrow and the next game because, the reality is, it puts you in a better position if you win the next game,” Smart said. “You can’t win two in a row without winning one in a row.”