Trying to understand Texas’ February woes? Look no further than Baylor

Nathan Han

Baylor’s recent struggles after multiple postponements due to COVID-19 are a stark reminder to Longhorn fans just how devastating time away from the court can be for a college basketball team.

The No. 3 Bears were invincible through their first 18 games, winning each contest by at least eight points and outclassing Texas 83-69 in Austin on Feb. 2.

Then, Baylor’s next five games were canceled or postponed. And in the teams’ return from the 20-day layoff, the Bears barely squeaked by Iowa State, who is still winless in conference play, before losing to Kansas 71-58 the following game.

“(Basketball) is a chemistry game,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said after the loss to Kansas. “It's a timing game, too. And then at the end of the day, you've got to make shots. And normally, when the legs go, it's hard to make threes. … That'll all come and we'll get back to getting back into that rhythm, but again, I mean, two plus two equals four.”

The No. 15 Longhorns’ layoff due to COVID-19 issues wasn’t as lengthy as the Bears’ pause. But, like Baylor, Texas hasn’t returned to the form it showed earlier in the year.

The defense is committing one too many unnecessary fouls. Texas’ guard trio, redshirt junior Andrew Jones, junior Courtney Ramey and senior Matt Coleman, is still trying to rediscover their much-needed chemistry together on the court. And shots just haven’t been falling at the same rate, especially towards the end of games, “when the legs go.”

The lack of consistency has added up for Texas, who went from frequently pulling out close wins at the start of the season to narrowly losing in the same late-game situations after coming back from a season pause due to COVID-19.

But it’s March. Both the Bears and the Longhorns don’t have much time before the NCAA tournament to get back into rhythm and reach their ceilings as potential Final Four teams.

Texas plays three road games before the Big 12 conference championship starts March 10.

First up on Tuesday is an Iowa State team still hungry for their first conference win after almost knocking off Baylor. 

“It’s March. So it’s an exciting time of year,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “Sometimes, you get to this time of year, and there’s certainly a tendency on the part of players to want to get to the postseason, but these games are critical to us.”

After the Iowa State game in Ames, the Longhorns will travel to Norman, Oklahoma to face the Sooners on Thursday before heading back to the Lone Star State to finish the regular season in Fort Worth against TCU.

It’s a daunting schedule of three road games in five days, caused by earlier postponements in the season.

Smart said going into the season, he knew challenges related to scheduling were going to be unique and wouldn’t be as “fair” or “equal” as years prior.

“Normally, the Big 12 has pretty stringent scheduling policies,” Smart said. “For instance, you never play more than two games in a row on the road. Your last two games of the year are always one home, one on the road. But obviously, all that stuff’s thrown out of the window this year.”