"We don't want to be a good team; we want to be a great team," junior G Brandon Mouton said at a post-selection press conference Sunday.
The team will get a chance to prove its greatness when it opens Tournament play in Birmingham Friday against the winner of Tuesday's play-in game between Texas Southern (the Southwestern Athletic Conference champ) and North Carolina-Asheville (the only team in the field with a losing record at 14-16). What's more, the top seed assigned the perfunctory task of finishing off the play-in squad is typically considered the team to beat in the field of 64.
Texas is the team to beat! Amazing!
More so this year than, perhaps Kentucky -- the top seed in the Midwest Regional, winners of 23 straight, SEC regular season champs, SEC Tourney champs, No. 1 in the final RPI ratings, not to mention the most storied program in the history of college basketball? Consider this: the Wildcats are in the same regional as second-seed and Big East Tournament champion Pitt and in the same bracket as Arizona, Kansas and Duke.
As expected, Arizona is the top cat in the West Regional. But the only thing more surprising than Texas' No. 1 seed and its tailor-made-for-a-Tournament-run venue selection is Oklahoma's top seeding in the East Regional. Never before has a conference's third-place finisher been awarded a region's highest poll position. The Sooners, of course, nipped Missouri for the Big 12 Tourney championship Sunday.
"Kansas won our conference; finished 14-2. Texas finished second," OU head coach Kelvin Sampson said. "We came on strong to win the Conference Tournament. I thought any of those three teams could have been No. 1 seeds. If it had been Kansas and Texas, we would have said congratulations to them and ran with a No. 2 seed. But we're thrilled to death with a No. 1 seed."
If anyone deserves to be pissed, it's Kansas head coach Roy Williams. The Big 12 champion Jayhawks (25-7, 14-2) lasted one more round in the conference tournament than did Texas but forfeited its No. 1 seed by falling to Missouri Saturday. Presumably, selection committee members took seriously not only the upset loss but also its head-to-head setback against OU and its lower RPI rating than both the Horns and the Sooners. If the seeds hold true, Kansas will face the Duke-Creighton winner in the opening round of the Sweet Sixteen before vying against Arizona just to get to the Final Four.
Other Big 12 teams invited to dance are No. 6 Oklahoma State (East), No. 6 Missouri (Midwest) and No. 10 Colorado (South). At 18-12, and with a 6-10 conference mark, Bob Knight's Texas Tech team had its bubble burst.
Once Texas dropped that stinker to the Red Raiders Friday, I thought the best UT could hope for was a No. 2 seed in the South Regional. Even that, I thought, was more advantageous to a title run than a top-seed in another Region. Obviously, selection committee members did not hold Texas' disinterested performance against the Sand Aggies against a team that entered the game with a No. 3 national ranking and an RPI rating second only to Kentucky.
The potential landmine for Texas is facing the LSU-Purdue winner on Sunday. Nobody wants to handle LSU these days, one of the hottest teams in Dance and playing in a bordering SEC state. The resurgent Tigers are only one of two teams to have stunned Arizona during the regular season, and have also knocked off Florida, Mississippi State and Alabama.
You want Purdue to win. Regardless, the outcome will be a rematch against the very teams that eliminated Texas from Tournament play during head coach Rick Barnes first two years. (The Boilermakers beat Texas 58-54 in 1999 while the Tigers sent UT packing the following season, 72-67.)
If Texas can land in San Antonio, in front of a margarita-soaked, home crowd of screamin' Orangebloods at the Alamodome, the Horns would likely open against the winner of the Connecticut-Stanford matchup.
And here's looking way down the road: if the seeds hold true, Texas will play Oklahoma again…in the national semis in New Orleans.
Incredible! Amazing! Let the games begin!
QUICK GLANCE AT THE SOUTH REGIONAL
16. TX. SOUTH./UNCA
13. SAN DIEGO
14. TROY STATE
7. MICH. STATE
15. SAM HOUSTON STATE