The Texas Longhorns will not make the NCAA tournament for the first time in the tenure of head coach Rick Barnes if they don't win the Big 12 Conference Tournament in Kansas City. Considering they are a seven-point dog against Kansas State, their prospects are not looking good.
Texas can win because…
It will be playing for its only, and last shot at an NCAA tournament berth in this game. The Longhorns have made the NCAAs in each and every season under head coach Rick Barnes, who joined the program before the 1998-1999 season. Barnes hasn't always made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, but for a decade and a half, he's always gotten the Horns to the Big Dance, but that's not going to happen this season unless Texas can win three games in three days in Kansas City after surviving last night's opening round against TCU.
This is the key game in Texas' Big 12 Tournament journey. Kansas, the heavyweight in the league, is on the other side of the draw. Kansas State is the toughest team on Texas' side of the bracket. If the Longhorns can pull the upset here, they might get a chance to face an inconsistent Baylor squad in the semifinals if the Baylor Bears can knock off Oklahoma State. Then, if the winner of the Iowa State-Oklahoma quarterfinal can upset Kansas in a likely semifinal, Texas could play in the Big 12 Tournament championship game on Saturday without having to face the mighty Jayhawks. If Texas can win here, against Kansas State, everything could come together for a Cinderella run. The Longhorns did lose twice to KSU this season, but it's hard for one team to win three out of three times against a familiar opponent in the same season. Texas will be supremely motivated to get the job done here.
Kansas State can win because…
The Wildcats are simply a lot better than Texas this season. Kansas State didn't merely sweep the two games between the schools in the regular season; it won those two games by a combined total of 38 points. Texas has no answers for Kansas State's rugged and relentless defense. The Wildcats play a focused blue-collar style of ball that gives most opponents fits. One of the things to appreciate about Kansas State is that it has a mixture of veteran players who know what they have to do on the floor. This is not a bunch of underclassmen who are erratic and volatile. This is a consistent team, one that shared the Big 12 championship with Kansas, a terrific feat for the Wildcat program.
Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber is used to this kind of situation. What is meant by "this kind of situation" is that Weber has inherited a veteran team before. He left his head coaching position at Southern Illinois in 2003 to coach a talented Illinois squad. Through his coaching acumen - and without need for recruiting - Weber turned Illinois into the national runner-up in two seasons. He never made a deep NCAA Tournament run with his own recruits at Illinois, but with a veteran team at the beginning of his tenure there, he succeeded. Weber is now doing much the same thing with Kansas State, taking a group of older players and getting them to mesh on the floor. The Wildcats are playing in harmony with each other, and this is the kind of attribute that really makes a difference in conference tournaments, which are staged on neutral courts in unfamiliar environments. Kansas State should be settled and secure in this game, both tactically and psychologically.
Outlook & College Basketball Betting Prediction:
This game could be close for 30 to 35 minutes, but Kansas State knows what to do in difficult situations. Even if Texas does play well, expect Kansas State to find an answer on Thursday. Add Kansas State to your NCAA Basketball picks, as we fully expect them to cover and send Texas packing.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Kansas State -7 at Bovada