Last year was as depressing as it’s ever been for men’s college basketball in the state of Texas. For the first team since 1977, no team from our great state made the NCAA Tournament. As someone who loves to overreact, I wondered if this would be an unfortunate trend to continue into the future.
Is Texas not producing the talent it once was? Is the coaching that bad? Can we just expand the tournament field to 128 teams already? I was a little dramatic, I know. Fortunately, this season appears to be a turnaround year for the state, allowing me to back off from my college basketball cliff.
Right now, I project four Texas teams (Baylor, SMU, Texas, Stephen F. Austin) to make the Big Dance and it’s only January. With conference play heating up, I tried to power rank the top 5 teams in the state:
State of Texas College Basketball Power Rankings
1. Baylor 13-4 (1-3)
I still believe that the Bears are the cream of the crop in the state, for now, but Scott Drew’s group is clearly moving in the wrong direction. Baylor has now lost 3 of their last 4 games since Big 12 play began. Streaky shooting and defensive collapses have led to upsets by Texas Tech in Lubbock and now Oklahoma at home. After leading by 6 at the break yesterday, the Bears allowed the Sooners to start the second half on 16-0 run en route to another defeat, losing 66-64.
I’m betting on Baylor’s talent to figure this slump out. New point guard Kenny Cherry (16 points, 5 rebounds vs. Oklahoma) continues to impress as the team’s new floor general. Isaiah Austin and Corey Jefferson still form one of the nation’s top frontcourts. The pieces to win are there for Drew and his staff, but they must learn how to fit properly fit them together. The sooner the better too, with a trip to Allen Fieldhouse tomorrow vs. Kansas and a home tilt vs. Texas on Saturday.
2. SMU 13-4 (3-2)
I was very impressed with the Mustangs yesterday in an ugly 58-46 victory over Central Florida in Orlando. After shooting 32% and turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, they buckled down defensively and pulled away in the second half. SMU clearly did not have their best day, but showed resilience on the road to battle back for a win.
Larry Brown has changed the culture in University Park and I really do believe this team can compete with the best in the AAC. With big man Yanick Moreira still out for a few weeks with the torn MCL on his left knee, guys like Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore are elevating their games to keep their squad competitive. After a makeup game vs. Hofstra tonight at Moody Coliseum, the Mustangs finish the week with a Tuesday home game vs. Rutgers before a Sunday road trip to take on Houston.
3. Texas 14-4 (3-2)
The Longhorns are one of the most surprising teams in the country. After a plethora of defections this past offseason, including star point guard Myck Kabongo jumping to the NBA and Greek forward Ioannis Papapetrou signing overseas, I thought, like most experts, that this team would be at the bottom of the Big 12. Rick Barnes, though, has surely taken his name off the hot seat with an early season performance that even this Aggie is impressed with.
Jonathan Holmes (23 points) and Cameron Ridley (16 points, 11 rebounds) dominated the paint in an 86-76 win over the #8 Iowa State Cyclones in Austin. Point guard Javan Felix is gaining more and more confidence each week and Texas is now on a three-game winning streak. Tough tests against Kansas State at home and Baylor in Waco are ahead, but i think the Longhorns are for real and should be dancing come March.
4. Texas Tech 10-8 (2-3)
Yes, I know the Red Raiders have eight losses, but here are the teams that have defeated them: Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Iowa State, LSU, Pittsburgh, Texas, and West Virginia. None of these are terrible losses for a team picked be one of the worst in the Big 12. Plus, Texas Tech is coming off a fantastic week after upsetting Baylor at home 82-72 and taking care of business against TCU on the road 60-49.
Forwards Jaye Crockett (14.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG) and Jordan Tolbert (12.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG) continue to improve under new head coach Tubby Smith. Making the tournament is definitely a long shot at this point, but teams should not take Texas Tech lightly as the season moves forward. This week, the Red Raiders will seek revenge against West Virginia on the road and host Oklahoma on Saturday.
5. Texas A&M 12-5 (3-1)
Part of me wanted to put Stephen F. Austin here, who is 16-2 and have won 13 straight, but I’ll play the homer card and go with my Aggies. In all seriousness, though, the Lumberjacks are coasting past powerhouses like Houston Baptist and Lamar with the 336th toughest schedule in the country, according to CBS Sports. Texas A&M should be undefeated in conference play, if not for a Tarvario Miller brain fart in the game’s final seconds, which led to a 81-72 overtime loss at Mississippi State.
Billy Kennedy’s squad has looked much better after being dismantled at home 61-41 on New Year’s Eve. Although it still makes me cringe to watch our offense try to break a zone, converted point guard Alex Caruso is starting to make significant strides at his new position. His 5.2 assists per game are an SEC best and 2.2 steals per game are good for fourth in the conference. JUCO transfer Jamal Jones has scored 22 points or more in the last three contests and the Aggies are only allowing opponents to score 61.5 points per game, which is the 17th best mark in the nation. Texas A&M’s tournament chances still look slim, but Kennedy appears to have his team headed in the right direction as they prepare for a trip to Kentucky on Tuesday night.