NCAA chances hinge on Big 12 tourney opener

AUSTIN, Texas -- Coaches always insist one game does not make or break a season.

In Texas’ case, however, that could be true. After all, had the Longhorns not lost a 17-point lead in the final minutes against N.C. State or lost a four-point lead in the final minutes against Kansas, or dropped a couple of two possession games to Baylor, or turned the ball over in the final minute against Kansas State or even not lost to Oregon State in overtime, they would have no worries and a 14th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament to look forward to.

But Texas didn’t do any of those things. So now the Longhorns (19-12, 9-9) are staring squarely into the face of a make or break game. Just don’t tell the coach that.

“Nobody knows that,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “That is media and speculation saying we got to win. Nobody knows that. I don’t know that. All I know is that I hope [the players] listen to us.

“We’ve got to worry about winning a basketball game. We don’t have to worry about the (NCAA) tournament. They can hear it, and if they get caught up in it, that means we’re not prepared and we’re not ready to win a basketball game and we’re not going to win a basketball game.”

It’s a simple and myopic view. One that could be sold to a veteran team perhaps. But Texas will most likely starter three freshmen and play three more against Iowa State Thursday in the Big 12 tournament. So to believe those players will not be caught up in the significance of the game might be just a tad na├»ve.

Still, that is what Barnes is attempting to do. Being that he has been successful in steering Texas to 13 straight NCAA tournaments, it might be short-sided of anyone to sell him short.

“This time of year we know that basketball is taking center stage and we know there are people out there talking and doing this and that but the bottom line is, and I have told them all year long, ‘If we’ve done enough we will be there,’” Barnes said. “We’ve got to worry about what we can do and that is simply win a basketball game.”

It’s not that simple. First off Texas is facing Iowa State (22-9, 12-6). The Cyclones have one of the most versatile players in the conference in Royce White.

“He is a very unique player,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It makes it difficult to prepare for us when you have somebody like that who can do so many different things and play in so many different areas.”

Texas did have the perfect player to defend the 6-foot-8 White, Alexis Wangmene. The emphasis there is on did. Wangmene suffered a broken wrist against Kansas Saturday and is out.

“If you have done enough by now you can adjust and we have had to adjust in games when we have had guys in foul trouble,” said Barnes. “That’s how we look at it. Other guys just have to get ready to play and do their job. We have had to adjust to a lot of things this year and we will adjust to this too.”

Texas did not adjust very well at Kansas. Wangmene had limited Big 12 Player of the Year Thomas Robinson to 3 of 10 shooting before the injury. Robinson made seven of his next nine shots and finished with 25 points in KU’s 10-point win.

Without Wangmene, Texas will only have three post players, Clint Chapman as well as freshmen Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond.