So, this time next week, Texas should be the 2003 NCAA national champion in (still can't believe it!) basketball? Head coach Rick Barnes has never allowed his team to look beyond its next opponent, which brings us to third-seeded Syracuse (28-5), whose zone defense suffocated the offense out of Oklahoma, 63-47, in the East Regional Sunday.
Other than Sooner head coach Kelvin Sampson, no one can assess the Texas-Syracuse matchup better than Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans lost at home to the Orangemen, 76-75, in February.
"They (Texas) have got a good chance," Izzo said. "They play hard, and T.J. (Ford) plays within himself."
True, but Barnes has never let his team get caught up in seedings or speculation.
"You can throw the seeds out," Barnes said. "Put everybody in a bag, shake it up, and anybody can do it. All four teams that are there, I think that we all feel that if we play up to our ability, we've got a good chance to beat anybody that we go up against."
The Orangemen have shaken up many an offense with its patented match-up zone that held the Sooners to just 31 percent (18-of-58), including 5-of-28 from three-point range. Almost like a broken record, non-conference teams repeatedly and hastily installed sagging zone defenses to try to slow T.J. and Company last November and December. Sometimes the Horns penetrated, scoring or drawing the foul (the way Barnes wants it), or Texas quickly settled for the three-point shot (the way the opponent wants it).
But if anyone possesses the innate ability to dribble-penetrate and break down the zone, it's the Naismith Player of the Year.
"The Final Four is something you always dream about being in," Ford said. "You always think about reaching this point."
At the same time, Ford has repeatedly said this team does not possess a happy-to-be-here mentality. The goal was never just the Sweet 16, or Elite Eight, or the Final Four, It was always the national title when Barnes began selling the program to high school seniors.
"I've never considered a guy like Brian Boddicker a substitute," Barnes said. "He plays starters minutes. He always has."
"Obviously, we're going to have to play good," Barnes said. "We've proven we can win in a lot of different situations, but I'm sure that all four teams that are left can say the same. I have a great deal of respect for (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim. I can remember when I went into the Big East (as Providence coach), I was scared as a young head coach and didn't know what to expect. I had been a head coach for one year. I remember he, of all people, went out of his way and said to me, ‘You're going to be all right.'"
The prediction here: Texas is going to be all right. And with no senior in the starting lineup, the Horns should be even better next season.
Bring on Syracuse! The Orangemen are finally facing a basketball school.