Suddenly, the Texas A&M men's basketball team is playing its way back into NCAA tournament consideration.
After going 14-1 in nonconference play, the Aggies limped to a 3-7 start in the Big 12. All appeared lost. Now, coach Mark Turgeon's team has won four straight games to draw even at 7-7.
The Aggies join a crowded group of teams in the middle of the conference standings fighting for inclusion in the NCAA tournament. Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri appear to be locks for the tournament.
In seventh place in the conference with two games remaining, Texas A&M is still a long shot, but Turgeon is just happy his team is still playing for something entering March.
"It's the greatest time of the year for us, professionally, this time of year, especially if you have a team that's starting to play well," Turgeon said in Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. "I told the young men that all the time. I said, 'This is the greatest time of your life and the greatest time of the year."
Turgeon credits his players' growing confidence for his team's turnaround.
"I thought we were turning it around really before we started to win," Turgeon said. "I thought we were playing better. We were playing with more confidence. It helps to win, obviously, and it continues to grow."
Texas A&M is chasing Kansas State and Oklahoma State, which are both 8-6 in conference. Texas is 9-6
The Aggies play last-place Colorado on Wednesday and host Missouri on Saturday. Then comes the Big 12 tournament.
Turgeon hopes to see continued growth from his players entering the team's most important games this year.
"I think this team at times in different areas continued to improve all year and that's why we're playing better right now," Turgeon said.
EARLY TOURNAMENT: Several Big 12 coaches said Monday they are happy with the change to the schedule for the conference tournament.
In past years, the tournament has ended on Selection Sunday, when the NCAA tournament brackets were released. This year, the final game will be on Saturday, March 14.
Kansas coach Bill Self said finishing the conference tournament a day earlier will help the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, which makes its final decisions on Sunday night.
"I think it gives the selection committee a better chance to get it right," Self said. "Anybody, the more time you have, the better chance that you could get it the way it should be."
Self said he likes the idea of having an extra day of rest before the NCAA tournament starts, too.
CONGRATULATED COACHES: The U.S. Basketball Writers Assocation named three Big 12 coaches finalists for the 2009 Henry Iba Award for national coach of the year.
Self, Capel and Missouri's Mike Anderson are all finalists.
The Big 12 is the only conference with more than one finalist for the award.
The over 800 journalists who are members of the organization will vote to determine the winner.
NO NAMES: With his team 4-9 in conference, Baylor coach Scott Drew decided to try something a little creative to emphasize the importance of team mentality to his players.
He covered up the names on the back of their jerseys.
"We really wanted to focus on Baylor and playing for Baylor so that's how it kind of came about," Drew said. "It was just a refocusing, a regrouping."
It worked, at least for one game. Baylor beat Colorado 75-57 on Saturday, but the Bears lost 73-57 on Monday at Texas.
It has been a disappointing season for the Bears, who the conference coaches picked to finish third in the preseason poll.