Top-Seeded Texas On The 'Defensive'

With the No. 1 seed in the NCAA South Region and with college basketball's best player (according to <I>Sports Illustrated</i>) leading the charge at point guard, Texas is clearly poised to beat the hell out of…well…somebody.

With tip-off set for 11:30 a.m. (CST) Friday in Birmingham, Texas is the only NCAA Tournament team that does not know who its opponent will be. The Horns face the winner of Tuesday's play-in game between UNC Asheville and Texas Southern. Two years ago, the tournament increased its field to 65 teams. (Why? Cha-ching!) Tuesday's winner is seeded No. 16 and basically becomes the tourney's biggest long-shot.

So while other squads are already studying game film of specific opponents, head coach Rick Barnes' bunch is working on (big surprise) defense. Barnes' offense is predicated off of defense, and Texas has never defended as tenaciously as it does now. The fifth-year head coach, however, expects his club to defend better particularly after giving up, what, 200 points against Texas Tech Friday.

"After the game on Tuesday, we'll have those two days to get ready for whoever our opponent will be," Barnes said. "I'm more concerned now for us to be better, to improve ourselves, especially defensively. We'll focus on that today and the rest of week."

Of note: T.J. Ford's former high school coach at Houston Willowridge (Ronnie Courtney) is now head coach at Texas Southern. In addition, UNC-Asheville is coached by Eddie Biedenbach, who gave Barnes his first collegiate coaching job at Davidson College.

Another interesting wrinkle to the South Region is that if No. 12 BYU gets past No. 5 Connecticut, it will switch places with a team from the Midwest because school rules prohibit the predominantly Mormon university from competing on Sunday.

"Obviously, they have a problem that they have to try to work thru and fix it," Barnes said. "Right now, we're just thinking about what's in front of us this weekend. I'm not sure it matters other than the fact you have to be playing great basketball this time of year. Once you get down to the Sweet 16, you have to be ready to go regardless of who your opponent is."

This marks an unprecedented fifth consecutive appearance for Texas in the Big Dance, the 21st overall. The Horns are but one of just seven schools in the nation to appear in 13 of the last 15 NCAA Tournaments (Arizona, Indiana, Duke, Kansas, UCLA and North Carolina).

Before Sunday, Texas' highest NCAA seed stood at No. 4. The Horns were promptly dismissed in the opening round when Oklahoma ousted them, 90-76.

"I'm excited for our team because it's a real compliment to end up with a No. 1 seed," Barnes said. "It's not something that we really and truly set sights on, but (the ranking) says that we went through a year as one of the best basketball teams in the country and with a league schedule that proved one of tops in country. Now we have to see what we can do with it in the Tournament."

A No. 16 has never pulled the upset against a top seed. Texas is about as likely to lose Friday as Saddam Hussein is of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Barring the biggest choke job in NCAA history, the Longhorns will face the winner of the Purdue-LSU game with the tip set for approximately 3:50 p.m., Sunday.

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