Since before the season began, the goal for this year's team was to be placed in the Houston Regional. Well, after wins over three top five teams, a 13-3 conference record, and a trip to the Big XII tournament finals, the Texas Longhorns were rightly rewarded with just that--a #2 seed in the South Regional. If the 'Horns can win their first and second rounds games in Little Rock, Texas fans can paint the city of Houston and Reliant Stadium burnt orange and give the Longhorns a huge home court advantage, just like we did in San Antonio in 2003.
The #2 seeded Texas Longhorns will open the NCAA tournament on Friday against the #15 seed Austin Peay Governors, the regular season and conference tourney champs from the Ohio Valley conference. Austin Peay is 24-10 overall, went 16-4 in their conference, and won three games over five days to claim the automatic bid. They are led by Ohio Valley first teamer Drake Reed, a 6-5 junior forward, and Ohio Valley second teamer Derek Wright, 5-9 point guard.
First Look via Ken Pomeroy
The advanced metrics on Austin Peay reveal a team that wins by protecting the basketball, getting to the free throw line, and creating turnovers. The Governors turn the ball over on just 18% of their possessions, good for 31st best in the country, and get to the line on 31% of their possessions, good for 16th best in the country. Austin Peay shoots a respectable 71.4% from the free throw line. On defense, the Governors are able to create turnovers on 24% of their opponents' possessions, good for 31st best in the country. Last, they shoot the ball well from behind the arc, 38.6%, and have three players who've made over 48 threes on the season.
On the flipside, the Governors do not have a starting player over 6-5 and just one regular contributor as tall as 6-6. Not surprisingly, they struggle rebounding the ball on both ends. I haven't seen them play all year but the stats show a team that doesn't play very good half-court defense unless they are creating turnovers.
As long as Texas protects the basketball, the chances of a first round upset are small. Texas is too big, too talented, and, hopefully, too focused to let Austin Peay get the way of a trip to Houston.
If Texas wins on Friday, they will play the winner of (7) Miami and (10) St. Mary's on Sunday. Miami is coached by former Longhorn assistant coach, Frank Haith. The Hurricanes went 8-8 in ACC play with their signature win coming over Duke in Coral Gables. St. Mary's should be a familiar team to Texas fans. The Gaels visited Austin in early January and suffered through an 81-62 drubbing, in one of the Longhorns most complete games of the year.
Sweet 16 and Elite Eight
The #3 seed, and the Longhorns most likely Sweet 16 opponent, is the Stanford Cardinal. The Cardinal hovered around the top ten for most of the season and are led by twin 7-0 centers Brook and Robin Lopez. Brook is the more talented of the two and the key to the Stanford attack on both ends of the floor. While the shear size of these two big men will create some match up problems for the Longhorns, the Stanford guards are less than spectacular. For as a big an advantage as Stanford might have on the interior, Texas should have an even bigger advantage in skill and quickness on the perimeter.
Should the Longhorns win their first three games, a potential game with top seeded Memphis looms in the Elite Eight. The Tigers' path to the Elite Eight could be derailed though, by either #4 Pittsburgh, the Big East tournament champions, or #5 Michigan State, the physical Tom Izzo coached team that always seems to excel in March.
Following their home loss to Tennessee a few weeks ago, the Memphis Tigers have fallen a little off the national radar. Conference USA is part of the reason why as is the strong play of media darlings North Carolina and UCLA. Don't let the lack of hype fool you; Memphis is still one of the best teams in the country. Freshman point guard Derrick Rose is probably the best NBA prospect at his position, Chris Douglas-Roberts is a First Team All America, and Joey Dorsey is a beast on the glass. I've seen Memphis play in person in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, in Dallas in 2006 and in San Antonio in 2007. If it ends up Memphis vs. Texas, we're in for a real battle.
Overall, I like the Longhorns draw. Neither Austin Peay nor our potential second round opponents scare me. Texas should be able to contain the Lopez boys enough, ala Blake Griffin, in the Sweet 16, and, most importantly, we could get to play Memphis behind a sea of screaming burnt orange fans in Houston.
I can't wait for Friday.