Not a single player on this season’s Longhorn roster knows what it feels like to play a game as a ranked team.
The last time Texas was ranked was March 14, 2011. Junior forward Jonathan Holmes was preparing to graduate from high school, sophomores Cameron Ridley and Javan Felix were in the 11th grade and breakout freshman Isaiah Taylor was still learning to drive.
That will change when the No. 25 Longhorns play host to No. 6 Kansas (16-4, 7-0 Big 12), this Saturday. After spending nearly three years outside of the rankings, Texas finally cracked the AP Top 25 this week after knocking off three top-25 teams, in three consecutive games, for the first time in school history.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Holmes said. “But our mind-set all year has been to not be content with how we are doing. We are trying to get better each day in practice. We really haven’t done anything yet.”
And what a stage for such a game. The contest will be televised nationally on ESPN and will mark the first top-25 matchup at the Frank Erwin Center since the Longhorns, who were ranked No. 7 at the time, toppled No. 11 Missouri on Jan. 29, 2011.
The Jayhawks, a perennial national championship contender, are as hot as any team in the country as they roll in to Austin. Led by freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, both of whom are expected to be top three selections in this year’s NBA draft, Kansas has won seven straight to open up conference play.
Wiggins struggled to live up to the hype early on in his freshman campaign but has been very dominant lately. The lanky, 6-foot-8-inch guard, whom many have compared to former Longhorn Kevin Durant, has posted career-highs with 27 and 29 points in each of his last two games.
Guarding Wiggins may be Texas’ biggest challenge come Saturday. Wiggins’ size and speed, combined with his ability to score from anywhere, make him very difficult to match up against. Sophomore DeMarcus Holland, who has quickly developed a reputation as one of the top defenders in the Big 12, would likely be Rick Barnes’ first choice to guard the Kansas superstar. But, at 6 feet 2 inches, Holland gives up 6 inches to Wiggins, which will make it very difficult for the Longhorn guard to handle Wiggins inside. Another option would be to match Holmes against Wiggins, but that would mean finding someone else to guard Kansas forward Perry Ellis, who also stands at 6 feet 8 inches and certainly can’t be defended by a guard.
Regardless of whom Barnes decides is best equipped to shut Wiggins down, they likely won’t be left alone. A combination of zones and double-teams have worked best against Wiggins this year, and there’s no reason to believe the Texas coaching staff won’t try the same thing.