17 Mar

By

Texas out as Nevada wins a close one in NCAA men’s basketball tournament

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The Texas Longhorns are the most mercurial team in college basketball, so it is only fitting that their NCAA men's tournament debut came down to overtime. Facing a deadly perimeter Nevada offense focused on increasing the tempo, Shaka Smart's No. 10-seeded squad displayed energy and unselfish play for a half before collapsing in a thrilling and frustrating 87-83 loss the No. 7-seeded Wolf Pack.

The 'Horns showed flashes of grit and inconsistency that make you scream. They effectively shut down an offense for a half that was ranked 11th overall in Pomeroy Efficiency rankings and looked like a team at times capable of getting to the Sweet 16. It's important to remember that Nevada offense ranks 100th overall in Defensive Efficiency, so UT basically was facing the Bizarro version of itself. (UT ranks ninth in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency).

Only six Nevada players got on the court, making their comeback both curious and impressive. Also, the cursive lettering on the back of their jerseys was a sight to behold.

Texas guards Matt Coleman and Kerwin Roach shined offensively, with the latter matching a career high 22 points. Dylan Osetkowski, the best player in burnt orange at the beginning of the year, also showed life on the boards and some craftiness, but struggled at the line after hitting 74 percent from the free throw line all season.

It's the most obvious statement in the world but worth noting; the Longhorns are so much better when Mo Bamba can give them productive minutes. Bamba looked healthy and active coming off a toe injury and his presence down low allowed the entire Texas team to commit to locking down the gunners of Nevada for a time. Props also to freshman forward Jericho Sims for offering a spark in the second half when Texas had gone cold. Bamba, who likely will head to he NBA as a lottery pick, will be missed.

The Wolf Pack camped out in the lane for a half like badge holders at a SXSW music showcase — understandable given the Longhorns' weak shooting offense throughout the season. This time Texas punished the Pack at first, hitting six threes in the first half to build a nine-point lead at the half.

Unfortunately, that output didn't last. Nevada dropped into 2-3 zone routinely in the second half and the 'Horns had trouble, as they usually do, creating any open shots. They didn't even hit the rim on multiple shots and the dips in their confidence dip with each miss was visible, while the brothers Cody and Caleb Martin and Nevada gained momentum, killing the Horns by, you know, actually being able to operate a half-court set. This outcome really is par for the course, and Smart will have to answer questions about why the team wasn't able to make adjustments the way Nevada coach Eric Musselman's team did. The former NBA coach won the battle of X's and O's without question.

The season, perhaps mercifully, is now at an end for Texas. Much credit should be given to a team that lost Andrew Jones for the season as he fights a much more important battle against leukemia. Basketball is fun, but it's not life or death. As disappointing as it is, Texas was the underdog and was expected to lose. Nevada moves on and will face a lethal Cincinnati squad Sunday, a team well deserving of the No. 2 seed and as aggressive a defense as there is in the NCAA.