For the 13th consecutive year, Texas will compete in the NCAA Tournament. Only five other programs have made it to the last 12 NCAA Tournaments, and while Duke, Kansas, and Wisconsin will all join Texas in making it 13 straight,
both Gonzaga and (especially) Michigan State are on the bubble--in a year in which the field is expanding to 68 teams, no less.
Though the Longhorns' recent losses have muted the No. 1 seed talk, Texas still finds itself in excellent position heading into the Big 12 Tournament. Most bracket projections currently have Texas slotted as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, which feels about right, although if the field were being selected today, I'm inclined to believe the Horns would get a No. 2.
The Big 12 basketball tournament, then, is mostly about seeding for Texas. Should the Horns stumble in their quarterfinal game, it's fairly likely the Horns would slip off that No. 2 line to a solid No. 3. Win one game and they're on the cusp between the two, with final placement depending how other contenders fare in their own tournaments.
Should Texas make the Big 12 finals, you can lock the Longhorns in to a No. 2 seed. The most interesting question is what happens to Texas if they win the whole thing. A Big 12 tournament championship--pretty much the only accolade short of a national title that has eluded Barnes' career at Texas--would almost assuredly mean a win over Kansas or Kansas State. And given that the Big 12 tournament is in Kansas City, that win would effectively be a road win.
Would three straight wins be enough to get Texas back to the top line?
With three more wins, Texas would finish the year 28-6 overall, with a Top 10 RPI, Top 4 KenPom rating, and an excellent 9-3 record vs the RPI Top 50 (assuming Big 12 tourney wins over A&M and KU or KSU). That would include wins at Kansas and at North Carolina, with a third win effectively either at Kansas or K-State in the Big 12 title game.
What about its competition for the top seeds? Let's assume for simplicity's sake that Ohio State, Kansas, and Pitt are all locks for top seeds. The teams in contention for a top line bid appear to be Notre Dame, Duke, BYU, North Carolina, and Purdue.
Notre Dame is currently 7-4 against the RPI Top 50, and they're hot, having won 11 of 12. If they make a run to the Big East finals (and especially if they win it), they'll have as legitimate a claim to a No. 1 seed as would Texas. But if they lose in their opener, it ain't happening. Given their mediocre non-con resume, the Irish need to win at least one, and probably two, to have a shot at a top-line bid.
More difficult for Texas to overcome will be Duke and Carolina should the two meet in the ACC finals. First, they're Duke and Carolina, and like Kansas, that seems to matter, even if just a little bit. No mind that the ACC is terrible this year, the reputation and hoopla has a Red Sox-Yankees effect to it. The chattering class will all be yammering for the winner to get a top bid. If it's Duke, Texas has no prayer. If it's North Carolina, though... well, that's more interesting, because while Carolina has come on strong lately, they have that head-to-head loss with Texas. It's the same reason Texas would have a harder time stealing a top-line bid from Pitt.
BYU has a better resume than you might think, but getting swept by New Mexico stings, and they'll need to win the MWC tourney, and in convincing fashion, to have a shot at a top-line seed. Still, if the other favorites falter, the Cougars have a legitimate shot. As for Purdue, their resume is by far the weakest of the competition and they just lost to Iowa, so they're really only in the conversation here if they run through the Big Ten tournament. If they do, including a win over Ohio State, they'd finish with a very similar resume to Texas, but if it came down to the two, I'm inclined to think that if the Longhorns' title comes via a second win over the Jayhawks, Texas would get the nod.
Texas Most Likely Seed: No. 2
With loss to Baylor in Round 1: No. 3
With loss in B12 semifinals: No. 2 / 3
With loss in B12 finals: No. 2
With B12 championship: No. 1 / 2
Most likely fourth No. 1 seed: Duke