Texas Basketball confident, ready to make a run in the NCAAs

Men's basketball players Cameron Ridley, Isaiah Taylor, and Javan Felix talk during the win over Baylor on Feb. 26. (Photo: courtesy UT Athletics Photography)
Men's basketball players Cameron Ridley, Isaiah Taylor, and Javan Felix talk during the win over Baylor on Feb. 26. (Photo: courtesy UT Athletics Photography)

By Steve Habel - Horns Illustrated Associate Editor

The Texas men’s basketball team watched Sunday afternoon as the NCAA selection committee handed it a seventh seed in the Midwest Regional versus Arizona State in the opening round of the  NCAA tournament, marking the Horns’ return trip to the Big Dance after failing to make it last season.

The announcement – watched by the team, its coaches, a few friends of the program and the media at the Cooley Pavilion adjacent to the Erwin Center – was met with subdued applause and a feeling of a job well done but a mission far from completed.

Afterward, the players met individually with the media, with all saying they expected to be where they are today and that they were confident that they would find success in the tournament.

Texas (23-10) and 10th-seeded Arizona State (21-11) will tip off at 8:40 p.m. Thursday in Milwaukee, with the winner advancing to play either Michigan or Wofford in the round of 32 on Saturday.

“We are looking at a fresh start and we can have some success if we get back to doing what we do best,” Texas freshman guard Isaiah Taylor said. “It will be nice to play a team we haven’t played yet and that doesn’t know so much about us. Arizona State is not as adept at defending us as the teams we have been playing in the Big 12, and that gives us an edge.”

This marks the 15th appearance in the last 16 seasons and 31st all-time appearance by the Longhorns in the NCAA Tournament. Texas sports a 34-33 (.507) record in its previous 30 trips to the Big Dance. This also marks the 23rd time in the past 26 seasons that the Horns have earned a bid to the NCAA tourney.

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Texas coach Rick Barnes called his team “quietly confident” about its chances in the tournament.

“We knew early on that this team had the talent and the temperament to play as well as we have been, and I know our players believe they can win Thursday and in games beyond Thursday,” Barnes said. “Our players like each other and play well together. At this point in the season, we just have to stick to the fundamentals and play the game that we know we can play.”

Texas has played a schedule that prepared it for success in the postseason. Of the Longhorns’ 33 games this year, 18 have come against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

The Longhorns hold a 9-9 mark against teams that will take part in the Big Dance – 1-0 vs. Mercer, 1-0 vs. Stephen F. Austin, 0-1 vs. BYU, 1-0 vs. North Carolina, 0-1 vs. Michigan State, 0-2 vs. Oklahoma, 1-1 vs. Oklahoma State, 1-1 vs. Iowa State, 1-1 vs. Kansas State, 2-1 vs. Baylor, 1-1 vs. Kansas.

Last year the Longhorns – on the cusp of concluding a season that saw them play (and lose) in the third tier College Basketball Invitational – were on the Cooley Pavilion practice court when the NCAA tournament brackets were announced, working to forget what 68 other teams were preparing to enjoy.

It was a welcome sight Sunday to see them back on that practice court, this time talking about how far they’ve come and how much farther they can go.

James Schleicher

James Schleicher is the publisher of Horns Illustrated magazine. He's also a fifth generation Texan and lifelong Austinite. Follow @HornsIllus twitter to keep up with all things Horns Illustrated.