Kansas was the consensus choice heading into the year and for good reason. The
Jayhawks returned everyone from a Sweet 16 team and added one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
But Bill Self’s team has done virtually nothing to warrant maintaining the top ranking — and it’s not as if it's coming off winning the national title a year ago.
Sure, the Jayhawks pulled away from Cal with an 84-69 win Tuesday night in Lawrence, but let’s face it — even with the addition of Theo Robertson, the Bears are just a fringe NCAA tournament team.
Texas, meanwhile, entered its recent two-game, four-day stretch as much of a mystery as any elite team, but after a fairly dominating performance against North Carolina in Dallas and then running away from Michigan State in the final few minutes Tuesday night, the
Longhorns have earned the top billing.
They have knocked off a couple of legitimate Top 10 teams.
``I don’t think Texas has ever been number one,” Longhorns senior Damion James said after the 79-68 victory over the Spartans. ``It sounds good to me.”
Texas has been numero uno plenty on the gridiron, but Rick Barnes — who has led the Longhorns to 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances — has never held down the No. 1 spot.
``It doesn’t really matter where we are in the rankings,” Texas freshman Avery Bradley said.
``I’d rather be there at the end of the year,” Barnes said.
That’s possible as well.
Tom Izzo & Co. ended up losing by 11 points — the closest anyone has played the Longhorns through the first 11 games of the season.
Dexter Pittman was as huge as his 6-foot-10, 290-pound frame in the win over the Tar Heels on Saturday, but he was a non-factor against Michigan State because of foul trouble.
He had four points and a single rebound in 12 minutes.
But that didn’t matter because of the Longhorns' unmatched depth.
James had another dominating offensive performance with 23 points and 13 rebounds and freshman Jordan Hamilton, who was abysmal against UNC, rebounded with 14 points.
But it isn’t what Barnes’ team does on the offensive end of the floor that sets it apart.
Texas has no peer defensively — especially on the perimeter.
Poor Kalin Lucas — who is one of the premier point guards in the nation. He couldn’t find any daylight while being swarmed by Bradley, Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason.
He was 3-of-11 for 11 points, had just two assists and a half-dozen turnovers.
``Balbay is as good of an on-ball defender as there is in the country,” Izzo said.
``They just keep coming at you,” Lucas said. ``And they have so much depth.”
Imagine if starting guard Varez Ward, who is right there with those three guys on the defensive end, didn’t suffer a season-ending injury earlier this month.
North Carolina floor leader Larry Drew was playing fairly well until he had to go up against the Longhorns' perimeter trio.
He was brutal, finishing with four points, four assists and five turnovers.
When other teams are wearing down, the Longhorns are still fresh. Barnes plays a dozen guys.
He has guards, bigs and wings.
``We can play any way we want,” Barnes said.
Just look at the numbers. Michigan State was 1-of-8 from beyond the arc in the second half and shot just 38 percent from the field after the break.
The Longhorns' numbers improved as the game went on, shooting 59 percent from the field in the second half.
Texas improved to 11-0 with the win. Kansas did the same with its victory against Cal. The two teams meet just once this year — Feb. 8 in Austin.