No. 17 Texas feasted on easy nonconference foes, but West Virginia bites back
Beard not worried about outsiders’ perceptions: ‘We’re in the best league in basketball. So, we'll see.’
New Year’s Day brings the start of Big 12 play. So how much confetti-throwing and kazoo-blowing should be done to honor No. 17 Texas?
The Longhorns have a 10-2 overall record. But according to Ken Pomeroy’s widely-accepted analytics site, the Horns have the worst strength of schedule rating in Division I. Out of 358 teams, Texas’ nonconference schedule is No. 358.
Texas ranks 14th nationally in the NCAA’s NET rankings. But the Horns are 0-2 against Quad 1 opponents, haven’t played anyone in Quad 2 and went 10-0 against Quad 3 and 4 foes.
Saturday’s league opener against West Virginia (11-1, 0-0 Big 12) is a truth-telling moment of sorts. Asked if this nonconference slate properly prepared his team for Big 12 play, Texas coach Chris Beard said, “Yeah, I sure do.”
Fans who purchase special Erwin Center seats in the $10 section can get a free mimosa and see for themselves.
“I think all that stuff, you guys got to write about something, people got to talk about something,” Beard said Thursday. “You know, if we'd have beaten Gonzaga, people would be talking about our profile.
“If we’d come up with Seton Hall …” he started to add before switching gears. “I know this, everyone wants to talk about quality of schedule, we’re about to play 19 NCAA Tournament games coming up. We’re in the best league in basketball. So, we'll see. But I don't spend a lot of time really thinking about that.”
There’s no doubt that an 18-game league schedule plus a Jan. 29 battle with Tennessee (in the Big 12/SEC Challenge) will be all the evidence the NCAA Tournament selection committee needs.
Statistically speaking, Texas is an excellent team. The Horns lead the nation in scoring defense (51.3) and held seven of their first 12 opponents under 50 points. They're No. 3 nationally in turnover margin (plus-7.5).
Beard has acknowledged the team’s hot-and-cold 3-point shooting, but Texas still averages 72.1 points per game. The Horns are No. 53 nationally in shooting (.474) and No. 34 in free throw shooting (.765).
But this happened against teams like Houston Baptist (3-6), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-11), Alabama State (2-11) and Incarnate Word (2-11). At least Sam Houston is now 5-8; UTRGV is 5-7.
Texas played a strong second half against then-No. 1 Gonzaga, but fell 86-74. Three-point shooting was a sore spot in a 64-60 loss to No. 23 Seton Hall. Texas won its only other nonconference game against a Power Five opponent with a 60-53 win over Stanford.
“First of all, perception means nothing to me. We’re here to win,” Beard said. “We’ve got a game Saturday at 11 o’clock. It’s early (in the season). Again, people got to write about something. You know, we’re one of the only teams in the country that took our team and played two true road games first semester. One of them was against the No. 1 team in the country.
“We played some home games, and I think it'll always play out,” Beard said. “You look up here and a couple of these teams win their conference, and you’ll see them on bracket Sunday, it kind of changes the tune. So, I just think it's real early in college basketball. We'll see how it plays out.”
To be fair, it’s not like other Big 12 teams are playing the Nets, Bulls and Bucks. Five other Big 12 teams have a strength of schedule ranking 300th or lower, according to Kenpom. No. 1 Baylor’s schedule is 309th, for example. The Bears are 4-0 against teams in Quad 1 and 2 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, though.
Kansas and Iowa State are both 4-0 against teams in the top two quads. West Virginia is 4-1.
“Coach kind of broke it down, like, our first season is kind of over with,” Texas forward Tre Mitchell said. “The second we stepped back on campus, everybody was in the gym. We were straight to work, and it was like we are going for a national championship again. Things got ramped up to another level.”
The Horns can ill afford stumbling out of the gate. After West Virginia, Texas has back-to-back road games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State next week. Three league games in an eight-day span will be eye-opening, for sure.
Nobody will remember anything about California Baptist or Pine Bluff if Texas starts strong in January.
“Great venues, great college towns, Hall of Fame coaches, NBA players,” Beard said in describing the Big 12. “This year, we have a lot of returning players in our league, too. A lot of veterans. There are a lot of guys playing their fifth year of college basketball.”
The Horns still have one of the league’s oldest, most experienced teams. They’ve got one of the nation’s most passionate coaches, one who’s eager to prove Texas can win right now.
And Beard is convinced the Horns are backed by fans who are eager to make some serious noise in January and February.
What will get Texas fans on their feet? “Win,” Beard said.
“I don't think the people that come here, and they've been cheering their asses off and setting record crowds to this point, have been wine and cheese at all,” Beard said. “There are going to be some amazing times here in the Erwin Center the next couple months if we do our job as players and coaches, and I’m confident we will.”