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Weekend Homework: A Texas-sized test

1/31/2014

Texas is the anti-Kansas.

Its roster is no longer led by uber-talented players labeled as can’t-miss NBA prospects. And the Longhorns have been better off this season for it.

The culture change underway produced a team that wants to be taught, one that knows it has to function as a team because its individual talent isn’t going to overwhelm any Big 12 opponents.

“The one thing that we’ve always tried to stress with our players is we don't want anyone that has a sense of entitlement,” Texas coach Rick Barnes told ESPN.com after beating Iowa State. “We want players that understand work.”

That’s how the Longhorns have gotten it done. They’ve held opponents to shoot a combined 39.2 percent from the field -- including just 25.9 percent from 3-point range -- in the past five games.

Texas turned what looked to be a make-or-break stretch of games into a coronation. It started with a road win at West Virginia, then extended with three straight wins over ranked opponents for the first time in school history.

Texas has a chance to complete those five games unbeaten, but adding a fourth win over a ranked team might be the toughest task yet. At a different point in the season, Texas likely would have lacked the confidence to believe it could beat the sixth-ranked Jayhawks. The Longhorns have the confidence now, but that might not be enough.

Kansas has a lot of confidence, too, much of it coming from accomplishing what the Longhorns seek to do with four straight wins over ranked opponents. It’s part of a seven-game win streak the Jayhawks ride into Austin.

The players in their assembly of the highly touted individual talents the Longhorns lack are starting to play to their potential.

Just as folks started to question whether forward Andrew Wiggins had the will to be great, he scored a career-high 27 points against TCU only to set a new high with 29 in the Jayhawks’ win over Iowa State. Center Joel Embiid is coming off his fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds against Iowa State.

Guard Naadir Tharpe, who averages 5.3 assists per game, is coming off a career-high 12 assists against Iowa State.

Kansas should enjoy a size advantage against the Longhorns’ three-guard lineup. And that seems fitting for Texas. The Longhorns have played with a chip on their collective shoulders all season. What’s one more game playing the underdog role?