Hoops: Is a No. 1 Seed Already in the Bag?

What does Texas (22-5) have to accomplish in the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas this weekend to ensure an unprecedented top seed heading into the NCAAs?

Arizona and Kentucky are locks for No. 1s while Texas, Kansas and Wake Forest state the most compelling case for the remaining top seeds. Several hoops pundits (including USA Today sports columnists and the effervescent Dickie V.) are saying Texas sealed the No.1 seed with that riveting 76-71 win at Oklahoma.

Others cautiously say the top seed is now Texas' to lose. So, can the nation's third-ranked team lose it?

The Burnt Orange crystal ball says that a one-and-done debacle (in front of what could be a highly-partisan Texas crowd) would likely demote the Horns to a No. 2 seed (still unprecedented for the program, but not what you want).

The Sooners forfeited most hopes for a top billing and are probably in line for a No. 2 after Texas swept them for the first time in more than 50 years. Florida is probably a No. 2 in the South Regional, after narrowly failing at home to do to SEC champ Kentucky what Texas did on the road at Oklahoma.

No. 5 (AP) Pittsburgh could grab a top seed with a Big East Tourney championship, but the Panthers damaged their cause when Syracuse won the league's regular season title.

Still, the Burnt Orange crystal ball says there is no way Texas loses to the Baylor-Texas Tech survivor (not even if Bobby Knight returns two years salary and Dave Bliss petitions for Divine intervention). The Burnt Orange crystal ball says Texas locks up the No. 1 just by reaching the tournament final, regardless of its outcome.

That leaves the semifinal matchup (probably a third tilt against OU) as the joker in the deck. A loss here opens the door for ACC champion Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons would have an impressive argument should they add a conference tournament to this year's resume.

If Texas loses in the semis, the selection committee would have to consider if the Big 12 runner-up merit's a higher seed than the ACC champ. The biased, subjective opinion here is that the ACC is down this season and that the Big 12's top three teams are superior to Wake. The biased, subjective opinion here is that the committee will not look to the Big East tournament, a league that lost its luster this season when Notre Dame, Connecticut and even Pitt faded down the stretch.

The only thing certain about the NCAA selection committee's seeding process is uncertainty. The final pairings have left more than one coach, including Rick Barnes, wondering what the regular season, conference tournament, conference strength and those RPI ratings had to do with the end result.

"I wish one day I could sit in that room and hear how it all goes about," Barnes sighed.

Consider this: in 2001, Texas finished second in the league, reached the finals of the Big 12 Tourney, spent the entire regular season in the Top 25 before being relegated to a No. 6 seed against a tough Temple team (that eliminated UT before lunchtime in the opening round). Meanwhile, in 2002, Texas finished third during the regular season, lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament but was awarded a favorable Dallas venue that propelled the Horns into the Sweet Sixteen.

Barnes admits he really doesn't know (and basically doesn't care) which particular sub-regional pod pairings feed into Sweet Sixteen venues, other than a stated preference for the South Regional and host city San Antonio (a mere 78 miles south of Austin). It would first mean navigating through enemy territory and a nasty crowd in Oklahoma City (although OU likely won't be awarded a South Regional unless it claims its third straight Big 12 Tourney title).

But Texas proved last Saturday it can emerge from the Sooner Nation with all the scalps and is stoked with players that thrive in hostile environments. (And isn't any environment hostile when Texas hits the road?)

"The house is always against the (higher seeded) white jerseys," Barnes said. "They're always pulling for the underdog."

As much as we want to carve T.J. Ford's mug onto Mt. Rushmore, Texas' bench strength has carried it throughout the season. (Ford, meanwhile, is not only elevating his level of play but that of his teammates as well.)

"We've used our depth all year not so much from a fatigue standpoint but from a production standpoint in terms of guys doing what they need to do," Barnes noted. "Depth has been great for this team, because I truly believe we've got 10 or 11 guys who can play 20-plus minutes if they have to. At this point, my biggest job is make sure we've got something left before every game. This time of year, our guys want to be playing even though there is a quick turnaround. You have enough days to recover if you use it wisely."

Texas, Kansas, OU and Oklahoma State earned first-round byes when the Big 12 Tournament tips off Thursday. The Horns take the court vs. the Baylor-Tech winner at approximately 6 p.m., Friday (ESPN+ telecast).

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