The biggest reason is their biggest player. Junior Dexter Pittman improved dramatically throughout the season as the Longhorns carry a 22-11 record into the NCAA Tournament.
Texas was seeded seventh and drew Minnesota in a first-round matchup in the East Region on March 19 in Greensboro, N.C.
Pittman, a 6-10 center who lost 95 pounds since his arrival at Texas yet still checks in at about 300, can only go for so many minutes. Texas coach Rick Barnes limited to Pittman to about 20 minutes in most games.
However, in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament against Kansas State, Pittman's value was extended over 34 minutes and he contributed 19 points and 20 rebounds in a 61-58 victory.
"We try to use the timeouts, try to get him out before the timeout break, if we can," Barnes said. "You got to give him credit. He is really learning how to do it. It is just experience. There is no doubt he is working at it. The more he can stay out there, he is a factor."
The hard part for the Longhorns is other players have regressed this season. Senior guard A.J. Abrams is often covered along the arc because he is the Longhorns' only consistent threat. Damion James, who battles inside as an aggressive rebounder, also has been dogged by inconsistency.
Others have attempted to step up, but an ankle injury to forward Gary Johnson, and the adjustments necessary for Dogus Balbay to become a solid point guard, have hampered their progress.
SCOUTING REPORT: Playing zone against Texas is usually a sound tactic because of the Longhorns' inability to knock down 3-pointers. They ranked last in the Big 12 in both 3-point makes and accuracy. In addition, a zone enables defenders to pack the middle against C Dexter Pittman, though F Damion James is a potential mid-range threat. Both front-liners are good crashing the boards.
COACH: Rick Barnes, 11 years at Texas, 11th year in NCAA Tournament.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Texas did a lot to build its NCAA credentials with a solid non-conference run that included wins against UCLA and Villanova. A 9-7 finish in the Big 12, which tied Texas for fourth in the Big 12, was a disappointment. The Longhorns possess good size, and ranked second in the conference with a 39.2 rebounding average.
THEY'LL ADVANCE IF: They can get production inside from burly 6-10 C Dexter Pittman, and also keep teams honest with perimeter shooting from G A.J. Abrams. The Longhorns' biggest problem all season was finding outside production, with Abrams too streaky to provide a consistent threat.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We saw (at the Big 12 tournament) that we can play through Dex (Pittman). He became more of a force for us. We knew what he could do. It was kind of a breaking-out party for him knowing he can play longer stretches of minutes and just be a dominant force inside." — Texas guard A.J. Abrams.
Texas 67, Colorado 56 (Big 12 tournament first round)
Texas 61, Kansas State 58 (Big 12 tournament quarterfinals)
Baylor 76, Texas 70 (Big 12 tournament semifinals)
vs. Minnesota, NCAA Tournament first round, East Region, Thursday, March 19.