Texas' inconsistency is maddening, but the Longhorns can play their way into the NCAA Tournament

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Try to figure out Texas. No really, try.

There are few teams in the country with a better set of wins. How many squads dancing around the bubble have beaten three power conference champions? Texas has victories over North Carolina, Purdue and Kansas State. That's not counting a 10-point win over Kansas, which just had its streak snapped of 14 consecutive conference titles.

But there has also been maddening inconsistency -- reflected in a sort-of blah 16-15 mark heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

"There are times when you say, 'Wow, Texas is really [good],' and then there are times when you say, 'What the hell is going on with Texas?'" said guard Matt Coleman.

That Texas is even a conversation piece for the NCAA Tournament reflects much about this team. Those big wins showed the potential for a squad that starts two freshmen.

Standing 6-foot-11, forward Jaxson Hayes is the sixth Longhorn to become Big 12 Freshman of the Year. That list includes T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant and Tristan Thompson.  Guard Courtney Ramey is the other freshman starter; he leads Texas in three-point accuracy.

So what's not to like heading into Thursday night's Big 12 Tournament opener against Kansas? Some would say coach Shaka Smart. The one-time VCU savant has underachieved at Texas with a 66-65 record in four seasons.

That record has been more than scrutinized considering when former Longhorns coach Rick Barnes has taken Tennessee to a No. 1 ranking this season. In Barnes' 17 seasons as Texas, the Horns missed the NCAA Tournament just once. Smart has made the big dance only two of his four seasons.

Hayes would be Smart's third consecutive one-and-done if he leaves early. But Texas has gotten exactly zero NCAA Tournament wins out of them.

When asked why Texas hasn't been better, Hayes said of Smart: "He's a good coach. I couldn't tell you. He wins a lot of big games."

Smart isn't thought to be in trouble -- mainly because of a $13 million buyout -- but that could change quickly next season. Replacement names have popped up – former NBA and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg and Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, -- the Big 12 Coach of the Year and Texas graduate – among them.

A Kansas win could go a long way toward nudging Texas into the bracket. The latest NET rankings have the Horns at No. 38. A loss probably damns Texas to the NIT. No at-large team has ever made the NCAA Tournament with a .500 record.

Even a second win over Kansas would leave plenty of doubt. A second-round loss would have Texas finishing at 17-16.

"They know all that stuff, too," Smart said of his players. "You might as well talk about it. They're on social media, too."

Asked what sort of label he'd put on his team, Smart said he has not thought along those lines. "There sure have been a lot of frustrating moments this year, that's for sure," he added.

Texas will see the return of leading scorer Kerwin Roach, who is coming off his second suspension this season, third of his career. The Longhorns' tournament plight could be pinned on the guard, who leads with 15 points per game. In his absence, Texas went 1-4 and slipped into its current predicament.

"I wouldn't say we're mad at him, just disappointed," freshman guard Courtney Ramey said.

That's a good way to sum up the Horns this season -- disappointing. The only way to make it somewhat better is to win three in a row to take the Big 12 Tournament.

But the inconsistent Horns haven't won three in a row since Jan. 5. Somehow, that makes sense. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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