Musings on the West Region

Texas received a four-seed in what appears to be a loaded West regional. But what exactly does that mean for the Longhorns' chances at a tournament run?

1) The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee didn't do Texas any favors. Not only were the Longhorns dropped to a No. 4 seed, but they were put in an absolutely brutal spot just to try and make the Sweet 16, much less a regional final. Sure, the Longhorns stuttered a bit down the stretch, losing three of their final four regular season games. But it appeared that Texas regained some of its lost touch in double-digit victories over Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the Big 12 Tournament, before succumbing to a red-hot and fired-up Kansas squad in the final. Still, the general feeling was that the Longhorns would get a two, potentially a three. Not a four.

2) Oakland is a tough first-round opponent. No, really. Remember when people fill out their brackets and start looking for upsets in the 5/12 and 4/13 games? The first thing they look for is a squad with a great record (Oakland enters the tournament at 25-9) with a track record of playing tough teams. Oakland played at West Virginia, at Purdue, at Illinois, at Ohio State and vs. Michigan State on a neutral court, while winning at Tennessee before breezing through Summit League competition with a 17-1 mark before winning the league tournament. Oakland also has a puncher's chance for two reasons. The first is an excellent offense ranked 13th in the country in adjusted efficiency and third in effective field goal percentage, while playing at the nation's seventh-fastest tempo. Secondly, Oakland boasts a future NBA post player in 6-foot-11 senior Keith Benson, one of the nation's premier shot-blockers. So the Longhorns better come ready to play, or it could be a quick trip.

3) Pray for Memphis. According to Ken Pomeroy, Arizona is the No. 25 team in the nation. Memphis is the No. 85. The Tigers aren't especially battle-tested, only playing one squad ranked in the KenPom top 25. They lost that game, an early-season showdown with Kansas, 81-68. Arizona played five such games, winning one of three against Washington (and sending another to overtime), putting a scare into Kansas and losing to Brigham Young. The Tigers' blossoming star is point guard Joe Jackson, who came on late in the season, but who — because of his small size — would likely get mangled by Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph. The Wildcats' star player is scorer extraordinaire Derrick Williams. A projected top-five pick, Williams is a mobile 6-8, 240-pound force with a great driving game and a penchant for putting opposing big men in foul trouble. He's one of the nation's most efficient scorers (out of players who use at least 24 percent of their teams' possessions, his offensive rating is third nationally), who shoots an absurd 66.9 percent in effective field goal percentage, better than 60 percent from behind the arc, and gets to the free-throw line at a tremendous rate. In short, he's a rough matchup for anybody, much less the Longhorns, who wouldn't have anybody with his size, strength and skill level.

4) Of course, if the Longhorns can get past an upset-minded Oakland and a likely brutal second-round matchup with Arizona, it hardly becomes easy sledding. Instead, the Longhorns would probably draw defending champion Duke, a squad that announced recently the likely addition of point guard Kyrie Irving to the fold. Irving was arguably the nation's best point guard before suffering an injury and missing most of the season. Without him, the Blue Devils are a Final Four contender. With him, they're probably the nation's best team. Still, there's not necessarily reason to fret. Out of the teams in the field, Texas is one of the tougher matchups, even for a full-speed Duke lineup. Balbay presents a difficult matchup for Irving, somebody who can stay in front of him and make everything difficult, while Thompson protects the rim. Joseph is one of the better defensive two-guards, and could force Nolan Smith into some difficult shots. Gary Johnson is one of the few defenders nationally with the ability to guard Kyle Singler inside and out. And more importantly, the Blue Devils don't have anybody to handle Jordan Hamilton at the three, a problem exposed by Harrison Barnes in the North Carolina match-ups.

5) With all of those challenges afoot, it will be interesting to gauge the Longhorns at season's end. There's no shame in losing a 4-5 game, particularly with a tough draw in Arizona. A first-round exit will have many howling that Texas coach Rick Barnes might have lost his touch with another late-season meltdown. But what of a second-round defeat? How would people take that loss? If J'Covan Brown and Hamilton are able to heat up, Texas is capable of making a run here. They're tough enough defensively to provide problems, but will need the offense to step up to shoulder some of that load. Barnes said at the Big 12 Tournament that the Longhorns were a team nobody wanted to face in March. And he's absolutely right. But the 'Horns have been grouped with other teams in that same category. With a relatively young team, a tournament run through the tough draw could give next year's team something solid to build on.

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