Dancin Again

AUSTIN – This time a year ago, as the majority of the country settled in for the unveiling of the NCAA Tournament, Longhorns coach Rick Barnes had his players in the gym. They didn't earn the right to watch the selection show.

"Where we were a year ago wasn't acceptable," Barnes said.

At the time, Texas was a lowly 16-17 on the season and headed to the College Basketball Invitational where it would lose to Houston in the first round.

Fast-forward to present day, and there was a much different tone at the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion.

The team was saddled up on chairs in front of a flat screen television while coaches and their families surrounded them.

Once it was finally determined that the Longhorns (23-10, 11-7 Big 12) were the No. 7 seed in the Midwest bracket, the team only broke out into subtle applause. A few "Ooohs" followed when they learned their first round opponent was No. 10 seed Arizona State (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12) and they'd play at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI. Thursday night.

Simply put, this is a team isn't just satisfied with getting into the tournament. They want to make a name for themselves.

"We are going in this trying to win the national championship," Texas forward Jonathan Holmes said. "We are taking it one game at a time. But we are not saying ‘Lets get to the Sweet 16 and call it a good season.' Our goal is the national championship."

This will be Texas' 15th appearance in the last 16 seasons and 31st all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

If the Longhorns are going to make some noise and advance in the tournament for the first time since 2010 they'll have to do it in what many consider to be the toughest region. It includes Wichita State (34-0), Kentucky (24-10, Kansas State (20-12), Louisville (29-5), Duke (26-8), Iowa (20-12), Tennessee (21-12), Saint Louis (26-6), and Michigan (25-8).

However, Texas is certainly battle-tested enough to stand up to its completion. Of UT's 33 games this year, 18 have come against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns hold a 9-9 mark against those teams. That includes six Big 12 teams.

"Having seven teams from our conference in the tournament is big for all of us," freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor said. "Knowing that we played a hard schedule, especially in conference, is going to help us out in the NCAA Tournament."

There was a bit of disappointment amongst the group that Texas didn't get placed in San Antonio for the first two rounds. That instead went to Baylor, which Texas beat twice in the regular season but lost to in the Big 12 Tournament.

"A little bit [of disappointment]," Taylor said. "But we know that Baylor has been the hottest team in the Big 12 as of late. I think Baylor won 9 of their last 10, and they had a really tough non-conference schedule."

Added Demarcus Holland: "I saw San Antonio up there and smiled because I wanted to play in San Antonio. But a court is a court, and the game is the game."

Javan Felix shared similar sentiments.

"Today we talked about it hoping we would be in San Antonio," he said. "If we would have beat Baylor we probably would have been in San Antonio. It would have been a good thing for us. No matter where they put us we have to be ready to play. That's the main focus."

The main focus right now are the Sun Devils, who have lost three straight, including a 79-58 loss to Stanford in the Pac 12 Tournament.

Their best player is sophomore point guard Jahii Carson, who averages 18.6 points per game and 4.5 assists per game.

"I know a little bit about him from his high school days," Holland said. "I know he is an explosive athlete and I know he plays confident. He is a shot-maker. I wouldn't be surprised if I had to guard him."

ASU also has a big front line led by 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski, who has 119 blocks on the season. That's a matchup Cameron Ridley feels he's prepared well for.

"I think [playing against bigger guys in the Big 12] has prepared me a lot for it," he said. "[Longhorns center] Prince [Ibeh] is basically 7-foot. I practice against him everyday. I think it will help me in that matchup as will playing against [Baylor's] Isaiah Austin and Corey Jefferson. I think the Big 12 has helped prepare me for these games."

Arizona State won't be a stranger to Texas' tendencies as its head coach Herb Sendek used to be an assistant coach under Barnes at Providence.

"The only thing I would say with respect to Texas is, I worked for Rick Barnes at Providence as an assistant," Sendek said. "He's somebody who I consider a great friend, somebody who is not only a great basketball coach, but even a better person. He's the kind of man that if you have a son, that's who you want him to play for. He's that good of person. I just have tremendous respect for coach. What he's been able to do at Texas over the years is incredible. He's really taken that program to unprecedented and sustained heights."

Though this will be Barnes' 18th trip in the last 19 years to the Big Dance, he made sure to stress to his team not to take this opportunity for granted.

"That's what you do this for is for the chance to go to this tournament," he said.

"There is no doubt they are excited about it. I'm excited because this is something you don't take for granted. I made sure they understood that. The body of work they put together is something they should be proud of."

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