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Shaka Smart and Texas Longhorns in midst of unbelievable season.

Longhorns' coach Shaka Smart has his squad ranked #5 in the nation. What's different about this year's team?
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A popular saying this last year has been “It’s 2020, anything can happen.” Well, in the college basketball world, something crazy and unpredictable has happened: the Texas Longhorns have become one of the best teams in the country.

No, really.

Texas holds a record of 11-2, with a 5-1 record in Big 12 play.

The latest AP Poll ranked the Longhorns the #5 team in the nation, behind only Michigan (4), Villanova (3), Baylor (2) and Gonzaga (1).

The Smart Way of Play

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Head coach Shaka Smart entered this season on a relatively hot seat, as he hasn’t lived up to the potential during his Texas tenure, specifically having zero NCAA Tournament wins in only two appearances.

It’s almost like Smart knew this, as his team entered this new season with a new attitude. Last season, the Longhorns per-game scoring margin was a dismal +1. This season, however, it’s a solid +11.

Smart’s squad has four players scoring in double figures, with veteran guards Courtney Ramey (14), Andrew Jones (14), Matt Coleman (13), and forward Greg Brown (12), a top-20 prospect.

Come March, most college basketball experts say one of the most important things a team needs to make a championship run is veteran guard play. One of the next best things is a good defense.

Well, Texas has both. Ramey, Coleman and Jones keep the Longhorn offense flowing, and the team is shooting 45% from the field and 35% from three.

While those aren’t eye-popping numbers, when your defense holds opponents to 39% from the field and 29% from three, they don’t look as bad. Texas won’t shoot you out of the gym like other top teams, but they lock down the paint and won’t give you any easy baskets.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done to maintain an 11-2 record.

The Big Games

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Texas has stamped some solid wins this season, and hopefully a few more before conference play begins.

The first one was knocking off North Carolina in the championship of the Maui Invitational off a Coleman buzzer-beater. They wound up losing to #3 Villanova a few days later, but the four-point loss still proved to fans that this team was for real, and would be a threat all year.

Those were the games that last year’s Texas team would’ve lost, and lost bad. Not this year’s squad.

After edging out a home victory against Oklahoma State and #1 prospect Cade Cunningham, the Longhorns traveled to Allen Fieldhouse to face the Kansas Jayhawks on Jan. 2.

This was the big game everyone was watching, as it would be a big, early test for how Texas would last the rest of the season, specifically in Big 12 play.

And the Longhorns did not disappoint.

Shaka Smart had his players ready from opening tip, as Texas led the game from start to finish. They wound up burying Kansas late in the second half, and finished with a stunning 84-59 victory.

This game only confirmed what fans were starting to firmly believe: This Texas team is different. A good different.

Texas continued to rack up wins, including a Jones buzzer-beater against West Virginia, until they lost a heart breaker at home to Texas Tech on Jan. 13. Unfortunately, games like that will happen in a tough conference like the Big 12, but it’s no indication the Longhorns are in any kind of trouble.

Down The Stretch

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The biggest game of the year has yet to come, as Texas has yet to play Baylor, the #2 team in the nation. The teams were scheduled to play earlier in the season, but it was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. They will, however, meet each other very soon.

The next four games will be no easy task for Smart and the Longhorns.

  • vs. #24 Oklahoma
  • @ Kentucky
  • vs. #2 Baylor
  • @ Oklahoma State

If Texas can go 2-0 heading into the Baylor game, it will be a great momentum boost, hopefully big enough to take down undefeated Baylor Bears.

With the Big 12 Tournament a little over a month away, the Longhorns look to finish strong and perhaps even clinch a Big 12 Championship.

And after that, for the first time in Shaka Smart’s Texas tenure, make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Author

  • Thomas Senerchia

    Lifelong sports fan fulfilling a childhood dream. I'll talk sports all day. Passion and hot takes are my thing... there's always a story. Yankees. NY Giants. Knicks. Texas Longhorns.  Yes... being a Knicks fan is rough, but my time will come (hopefully). Senior at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

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