"I don't know if it's an advantage or a disadvantage," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I told the guys were only going to worry about the game in front of us. From there, you move on to the next one if you're successful."
That's why senior F Brad Buckman does not want to discuss the 'D' word. Not yet, at least.
"I don't even want to talk about Duke right now," Buckman said. "We've got Penn ahead of us right now so that's all we're going to think about."
Although the Atlanta Bracket is deja vu all over again for the Horns, almost every player admitted he knew very little about Penn. They did, of course, know what state the Quakers are from. And they knew that Barnes has decades-long ties with Penn coach Fran Dunphy. Barnes was an assistant at George Mason University (1980-85) the same time when Dunphy was on staff at American University.
"Fran and I spent a lot of nights watching summer league games throughout the D.C. area," Barnes recalled. "I've got a lot of respect for him. You've got to marvel at the job he's done once he arrived there. His teams are very intelligent. They're not going to beat themselves. They're going to play extremely hard. They're probably more athletic than people think."
The Philadelphia school has won consecutive Ivy League championships and are 20-8 on the season.
"Fran's been around a long time," Barnes added. "He's a really good basketball man. He's had a lot of success. He was one of the guys who went in when Princeton had their great run through the league and started challenging for Ivy League championships. He's been consistent and that's a sign of a great program."
There has been only one previous meeting between the two schools, a 69-61 Texas win in 1964. The Quakers are 13-23 in NCAA Tournament play while the Horns are 25-26 in the Big Dance. The programs had three common opponents this season (Duke, Villanova, Colorado), each resulting in a Quaker loss.
"You're not playing this time of year if you're not a good basketball team," Barnes said.
Even so, Texas has a clear advantage in size, speed and talent. Penn will probably try to man-up defensively (rather than play zone); it will need to slow the game down, take care of the ball and drain some threes just to keep this one from getting out of hand. No. 2 seeds own an 80-4 mark against No. 15s since the Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Penn will need an exceptional game from G Ibrahim Jaaber (6-2, 170), the Ivy League Player of the Year. The junior led the conference with 18.4 ppg and 3.39 steals per outing. He made 39.4 percent of his shots from three-point range.
"He's a terrific guard. He can play anywhere at any level," Barnes said.
Junior F Mark Zoller (6-7, 220) was also named to the All-Ivy First-Team. He scored 12.7 points per game while averaging 7.5 rebounds. Overall, Penn shot 44.9 percent from the field this season and hit 67.6 percent of its FTs.
The old adage is that the toughest game to win in Tournament play is the first one. Some have argued that the Atlanta Bracket represents the toughest Regional, since it includes the Tournament's Top seed (Duke), arguably the Tournament's hottest team (Syracuse), the Big Ten Tournament champ (Iowa), and the Southeastern Conference West division champ (LSU).
The most troublesome matchup for Texas, this side of Duke, could be No. 7 California. The Golden Bears bring the kind of brawny, physical frontcourt that has given F LaMarcus Aldridge trouble. California F Leon Powe (6-8, 240) and C DeVon Hardin (6-11, 235) bring plenty of muscle to the paint, and tip-off against North Carolina State just before the Texas game. The Golden Bears (20-10) finished third in the Pac-10 while the Wolfpack (21-9) stumbled in as the Atlantic Coast Conference's fourth-place team.
Friday's winners will play at 1:15 p.m., Sunday
"It's a tough bracket," Buckman said, "but we've got to think about the one game that's ahead of us. We've got to think about Penn right now."