1. Texas Longhorns (20-5, 9-3 Big 12)
If you’re trying to win a Big 12 championship, you’ve got to win your home games because the road is so tough.
– Jonathan Holmes, Texas Forward
Preach, baby, preach. One of my college basketball commandments has always been, “If you protect your home floor, good things will happen.” Or something like that. Great things are now happening in Austin. The Longhorns won their two home games this week by a combined 36 points. Texas hasn’t lost at the Frank Erwin Center since an 88-85 loss to Oklahoma on January 4, their first conference test. They are one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings with six more to go.
Is this real life? Can Texas actually win this conference? Is Rick Barnes some kind of basketball sorcerer? Yes, yes, and of course, in my opinion.
I was a little skeptical about the Horns this week. How would this young team respond after being thrashed at Kansas State? First up, a desperate Oklahoma State squad trying to rally after the Marcus Smart suspension. With Holmes out due to a knee injury, I wondered if the embattled Cowboys could steal this one. I wondered wrong, as the Horns drilled 11 threes en route to an 87-68 victory. Next up was scorching West Virginia. They had won four of their last five with Juwan Staten averaging 22.2 ppg and 6.6 apg through that stretch. I thought the Mountaineers might pose a tough challenge for Texas. Wrong again. The Horns cruised to an 88-71 lashing while holding Staten to 14 points on 16 shots.
Javan Felix was brilliant in both matchups (45 points, 55.5 3P%) and Cam Ridley (29 points, 19 rebounds, 4 blocks) dominated, too. According to kenpom.com, Ridley is now 13th in the country in free throw rate. In these two games, his free throw attempts (22) DOUBLED his field goal attempts (11). His hulking 6-9, 285 pound frame forced Oklahoma State and West Virginia to double team and hack in the paint to try to slow him down. Last season, this might have worked when Ridley shot an abysmal 33% from the line. This season, he’s almost up to 62%. His significant improvement in this area is just another example of how far this team has come in just a year.
Up Next: 2/18 @Iowa State, 2/22 @Kansas