The Texas Longhorns will be back in the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season under head coach Rick Barnes on Sunday when the field of 65 is officially announced. The Longhorns enter the Big Dance with a 22-11 record and a fifth place finish in the Big 12 conference. Texas advanced to the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament for a fourth consecutive year with victories over Colorado and Kansas State before losing to a resurgent Baylor team.
The Longhorns began the season ranked #7 in the AP and #8 in the ESPN/USA Today polls. Texas began the season with victories at home over Stetson and Tulane winning by an average of 27.5 points. A trip to Maui for the EA Sports Maui Invitational followed and the Longhorns finished third after losing to Notre Dame 81-80 in the second round.
The Longhorns climbed as a high as #5 following victories over UCLA and Villanova in a six-day period. In fact, Texas was ranked in the top 10 the first eight weeks of the season. Texas finished their challenging non-conference schedule with a record of 11-3.
By week 13, the Longhorns had fallen out of the top 25 in both polls. Texas dropped three straight Big 12 games to teams from the north, including back-to-back home games to Kansas State and Missouri.
Kansas State broke the Longhorns 19-game home winning streak to begin the slide.
Texas inserted sophomore point guard Dogus Balbay into the starting line-up February 10 against Oklahoma State and the Longhorns have gone 7-4 since that time, including a win over Oklahoma in Austin February 21.
In 11 starts, Balbay has averaged 6.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals with 60 assists to just 22 turnovers. The Longhorn team has seen an increase in field goal percentage and scoring average since the change.
Senior guard A.J. Abrams and junior forward Damion James were named to the Big 12 all-conference second team, while junior guard Justin Mason was on the all-defensive team and sophomore forward Gary Johnson was named to the all-reserve team.
The Longhorns placed six players on the first and second team all-academic team. Connor Atchley, Damion James, Gary Johnson and Dogus Balbay were named to the first team all-academic team, while Justin Mason and Dexter Pittman took home second team honors.
Best Wins/Worst Losses
The Longhorns won three key games in the non-conference. Texas beat UCLA 68-64 in Austin December 4, Villanova 67-58 in Madison Square Garden December 9 and at Wisconsin 74-69 December 23.
In conference, the key victories were all home games against Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The worst loss in the non-conference was at Arkansas to end the non-conference schedule. In Big 12 play, the worst losses were back-to-back home games dropped against Kansas State and Missouri. A win in either would have given the Longhorns a top four finish and first round bye in the Big 12 Tournament.
Texas is 22-11, including 11-8 in Big 12 regular season and tournament games.
Texas vs. Top 50 RPI: 6-6
Texas versus the likely NCAA Tournament field: 6-6
At this point, the Longhorns are likely sitting on the seven/eight seeding line. Some projections have the Longhorns as high as a six seed, but that would be a surprise.
The Longhorns non-conference wins over UCLA, Villanova (neutral) and at Wisconsin will carry weight with the selection committee. The late season win over Oklahoma is not as impressive as it was at the time when the Sooners lost four of six headed into the tournament.
Of the Longhorns 11 losses, six have come on the road and three at neutral sites. Five of the losses were by four points or less.
Note on the Longhorns
While sharpshooter A.J. Abrams is the leading scorer and shot taker on the Longhorn team, Texas has been more successful when Abrams isn't attempting the most shots and makes the extra pass or isn't the focal point of the offense.
In games in which Abrams has taken the most shots in Big 12 play and the Big 12 Tournament, Texas is just 3-4. When someone other than Abrams, Texas forwards Damion James and Gary Johnson or center Dexter Pittman, is the focal point of the half court offense, the Longhorns are 8-4.
The Longhorns out-rebounded their opponent in 16 of 19 Big 12 conference and tournament games. Texas is just 9-7 in the 16 games in which they won the battle of the boards.
Abrams enters the NCAA Tournament with 95 made three-pointers on the season. He needs five for a third straight season of 100 or more made three-pointers. The senior knocked down 120 in 2006-07 and 118 last year.
Damion James sits at third on the Texas all-time rebounding list with 949. James is 78 behind LaSalle Thompson for second and trails the all-time leader James Thomas by 128.
NCAA Tournament History
The Longhorns will be making their 27th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. In 26 prior appearances, Texas sports a 32-29 record. Under Rick Barnes, the Longhorns have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in all eleven seasons he has been in Austin. Texas is 16-10 in the Big Dance under Barnes, including 15-7 since the 2001-02 season.
During that span, Texas has advanced to the Sweet 16 or beyond five of those seven seasons, including the Final Four in 2002-03 and the Elite Eight in 2005-06 and last season.
In the last twenty years, Texas has advanced to the NCAA Tournament 18 times. The Longhorns are 25-17 in the tournament over the last 19 years, including seven Sweet 16's, five Elite Eight appeareances and the Final Four appearance.
The Longhorns have made three Final Four appearances all time (1943, 1947 and 2003).