Strickland: Texas' NCAA Tournament scenarios

March, 2, 2012
3/02/12
8:30
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Nobody knows if Texas is in the NCAA Tournament and Rick Barnes would have you believe he doesn’t care.

"If we are good enough we will be where we want to be,’’ said the Texas head coach.

Somebody, anybody please place a call to James Carville. Barnes desperately needs a crash course in politicking. This is not the time for ho-hum hope they like us statements. This is a time for bold declarations, podium-pounding facts and maybe, if all that doesn’t work, a little bit of pleading.

[+] EnlargeRick Barnes
David Butler II/US PresswireRick Barnes has led Texas to 13 consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
But first the facts. Texas will finish with a .500 or better record in the Big 12 regular season. That was hurdle No. 1 as no team with a sub .500 Big 12 regular season record has ever made it to the NCAA Tournament.

Ah, but that leaves those with a .500 record. Just last season Colorado was 8-8 in the conference 21-13 overall and finished the year in the NIT.

Texas’ likely record by the end of the Big 12 Tournament will be 19-13 overall and 9-9 in regular season conference play. The Horns are heavy underdogs at Kansas Saturday and have lost twice to Baylor, the almost certain first game opponent in the Big 12 Tournament.

Now Texas’ strength of schedule is 27th according to ESPN contributor Ken Pomery whereas Colorado’s was 65th in 2011. But while Texas may have played a strong schedule it did not do well against the strong teams on that schedule.

Of the Longhorns 19 wins, eight were against teams in one-bid conferences, seven were against Big 12 teams with overall losing records and losing conference records, one was against a team in complete disarray, CLA, and three were against teams that will make it into the NCAA Tournament -- Kansas State, Iowa State and Temple. (OK, I will allow that UT-Arlington may very well make it in. But is that a win anybody really wants to thump their chest over?)

But wait, what about the BPI? It’s ESPN’s new version of voodoo economics. Texas is rated 25th in BPI. Why? It’s apparently because the Longhorns rarely get blown out against top teams. But here is the thing: Texas may rarely get blown out but it never wins. That’s like saying you were a close second in a high noon gunfight. Nobody much cares because they are busy building the casket.

Texas is 0-8 in games decided by two possessions or less against teams with a winning record. How that can possibly be spun as a positive stat is unfathomable. Texas is 2-0 in the same type of games against teams with losing records.

So Texas is just good enough to edge out the bad teams but not good enough to edge out good teams. That should be simple enough to decipher.

What is not simple is figuring out all the other factors that could have an influence on Texas’ future.

First off there are 68 spots, not 65 this season. That bodes well for Texas. While it is hard to argue Texas is one of the top 64 teams, it is much easier to rationalize that it is team on par with the likes of the other edge teams such as Northwestern, Miami, Colorado State, South Florida and Xavier.

Of those Texas actually does look like one of the strongest candidates. It plays in the Big 12, the second toughest conference. And while Northwestern might be the sentimental favorite given its history of never having been to the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats are 7-10 in the conference.

The other factors hurting Texas’s chances are upsets. Colorado State pulled off on the other night against No. 17 UNLV. That most certainly boosted the Rams’ chance. And invariably there are some that happen in the conference tournaments.

What Texas doesn’t need is an underdog like Tennessee State to beat Murray State in the finals of the Ohio Valley or for Loyola Marymount to get hot and win the West Coast Conference tournament. Wins like those would force additional bids from the non-BCS conferences therefore taking away at-large bids from conferences like the Big 12.

Of course, Texas could make all this arguing moot by going out and winning at Kansas Saturday or even beating Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament. Do that and the Longhorns are a lock.

Lose and Barnes may have to start polishing up on his politicking.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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