The NCAA Tournament is finally here and both the men’s and women’s basketball programs will find themselves immersed in the madness. Let’s start with the Texas men’s team. The Longhorns earned a 6-seed and will face 11-seed Virginia Tech. Three straight losses, including an early exit in the Big 12 tournament for the Horns have them trending down. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is trending up after winning the ACC Tournament with wins over No. 7 Duke and No. 25 North Carolina. What is your level of concern with Texas heading into Friday night?
Cameron Parker (@camerondparker) - High. The loss to TCU was very concerning. Outside of catching fire in the first half, Texas was outplayed by the Horned Frogs and enter March trending down. Virginia Tech is trending up. It’s a good match-up for the Horns but the offense still sputters and at times this team looks like they’re playing together for the first time.
Abram Orlansky (@waorlansky) - High to very high. It isn’t a good sign when it’s March and your sure-thing head-coaching hire is still talking about the need to finally play a complete game. (That’s also not entirely fair, as TCU and Oklahoma can attest that Texas did put together at least two games that can fairly be described as “complete.”) It’s certainly true that conference tournament results have no bearing on the following weekend, as we all watched Texas win the Big 12 Tournament and promptly lose to Abilene Christian in 2021. But given the manner of Texas’ losing to TCU and the thrashing Virginia Tech put on Duke, the Hokies have to come into this one feeling more confident. A Virginia Tech win would be an “upset” in seeding terms only.
Daniel Seahorn (@DanielSeahorn) - My level of concern for Texas is about as high as it can be considering they entered the tournament on a three-game skid and were one and done in the Big 12 tournament after being up on TCU by double digits. This team isn’t exactly inspiring confidence for me to pick them and they are facing a Virginia Tech team who has got hot at the right time.
Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) - My level of concern is high. Virginia Tech has won 13 of the last 15 games and shoots the three-ball as well as anyone in the country. With how streaky Texas has been hitting from beyond the arc, I’m worried that an off night from three could doom the Longhorns. Similarly, even if Texas shoots well from distance, a poor game from Marcus Carr or Andrew Jones could also make it extremely difficult for the Horns to win. And I’m not alone in feeling that way, either – Draftkings has Texas as a one-point favorite and so does KenPom.com. I think this game is going to come down to the wire.
Texas and Virginia Tech seem to be very similar in play style and roster personnel. How do you think the Longhorns match up against the Hokies?
Cameron - Much like Texas, the Hokies play slow (344th in tempo, per KenPom). They average fewer possessions than the Horns and rebound worse than the Horns. They’re also a guard-heavy team but Hunter Cattoor can heat up quickly. Just ask Duke. Courtney Ramey will draw the assignment against Cattoor and forward Keve Aluva will need to have a big game if Cattoor struggles. If Virginia Tech struggles to knock down shots from the three-point line, I like Texas. But if it’s raining threes, lookout.
Abram - I confess I haven’t watched the Hokies much this year, but everything I’ve read – on BON and elsewhere – indicates Virginia Tech’s normal game is kind of like Texas’ first half against TCU in the Big 12 Tournament: not a lot of possessions, tough defensively, and with the ability to rain down threes. The problem for Texas is, they also have a worrying tendency to bring out the “second half against TCU” version of themselves. If it’s accurate that the main difference between the teams is Tech’s shooting from deep, I don’t like the matchup much at all.
Daniel - I think Tech playing a similarly slow and steady style plays favorably into Texas’ strength on the defensive end, but what worries me is the Hokies’ ability to shoot the three-ball. Texas is streaky at best on the offensive end of the floor and if Tech gets hot with the three-ball I worry about Texas’ ability to have to play from behind in a situation like that.
Wescott - Neither team plays at a fast pace, so neither team has an advantage there. But it’s going to be a challenge for Christian Bishop to defend the versatility of Keve Aluma. And while Courtney Ramey may be able to slow down Hunter Cattoor, the entire Texas defense will have to be aware of guys like Darius Maddox and Sean Pedulla. I would lean towards the matchups favoring Virginia Tech.
What is your prediction for the Texas/Virginia Tech game and how far do you have the Horns going in your bracket?
Cameron - My prediction is Virginia Tech upsets Texas 67-63. Maybe it’s my pessimism coming out but I don’t like the way the Longhorns have ended the season. Meanwhile, the Hokies are playing their best basketball at the right time.
Abram - Last year’s Texas team is a living caution against putting too much stock in momentum heading into the Tournament, but until Texas wins a Tourney game in the post-Barnes era, I have a hard time predicting that outcome. Texas fired Barnes in 2015. Since then, the Longhorns have missed the Tournament twice (not counting the canceled 2020 Tournament) and lost in the first round in excruciating fashion three times: to Northern Iowa in an epic endgame collapse; to Nevada in overtime; and to Abilene Christian, in a game, I’ve wiped from my memory. Only one day till we find out what fresh hell awaits in 2022. But I’m going one-and-done in some form.
Daniel - One and done and that’s just because I think Texas is catching Virginia Tech at the wrong time. Momentum plays a pivotal role heading into Big Dance and right now Texas is lacking any while the Hokies have a nice tailwind heading into the matchup.
Wescott - Chris Beard has never lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and Texas hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2014. Just as much as everyone else, I would love for the Longhorns to finally notch a victory in the Big Dance because these last eight years have often felt interminable. But I think Texas is going to continue to struggle to make plays in winning time, as they have in recent games, and lose a close one to Virginia Tech, 67-63. Even if Beard’s team does manage to make it past the first game, I think it’s highly unlikely that Texas can get past Purdue – the Longhorns have played seven games against top-15 opponents in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric with only two wins against those opponents.
Give us your Final Four teams and National Championship prediction.
Cameron - Gonzaga, Kentucky (LOL), Arizona, and Auburn. I picked Arizona to knock off the Zags but the time this gets published, I wouldn’t be surprised if my bracket has been blown up Die Hard style.
Abram - In a sign that I’ve watched two conferences far more than the others, Texas Tech, Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, with the Jayhawks to win it. (Edit: wrote this before today’s games. Choosing not to pretend I didn’t pick Kentucky because a person should admit when they’re really really wrong.) Tech and Tennessee make the cut because they’re both talented, well-coached teams and because Texas men’s basketball fans can’t have nice things.
Daniel - Gonzaga, Arizona, Purdue, and Iowa. Wildcats over the Zags in the title game.
Wescott - Gonzaga, Baylor, Tennessee, and Auburn. The Zags win the title that eluded them last season.
While the men’s team ended the season on a disappointing note, Vic Schaefer and the women’s team are heating up. 10 straight wins, including a victory over No. 4 Baylor to win the Big 12 tournament en route to a No. 2 seed. They also drew a favorable region, with 1-seed Stanford, who they defeated earlier in the season, on their side of the bracket. What are your expectations for the Horns?
Cameron - I think Schaefer has a team that’s ready to make a deep run in March. The potential LSU match-up in the Sweet 16 is scary, but this isn’t a Karen Aston coached team. As we saw last year, Schaefer just breeds successful teams for the NCAA tournament. I have Texas reaching the final four, knocking off Stanford for a second time. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but strong point guard play is crucial for deep runs and Rori Harmon is playing as good as anyone in the country right now.
Abram - I expect a rematch with the Cardinal in the Elite 8, but the probable Sweet 16 matchup with Kim Mulkey’s resurgent LSU certainly gives me pause. Assuming they get past the Tigers, the also-probable rematch with Stanford should be a classic. The early-season game in Palo Alto was as even as you could hope for, with the Longhorns overcoming a 5-point deficit to start the 4th quarter by exploding for 26 in the final 10 minutes. I think Schaefer has earned the benefit of the doubt in March, so I’ll back Texas to sweep the Cardinal and head to Minneapolis for the Final Four. From there, of course, anything can happen; in a field so strong that UConn and seemingly-recovered Paige Bueckers are a 2 seed, it would be hubris to predict a title. But the Horns are contenders.
Daniel - Vic Schaefer has his bunch playing at a high level and Rori Harmon is playing as well as anyone in the country. It is hard not to have high hopes for this squad all things considered, but a looming potential matchup against their archnemesis Kim Mulkey and LSU will be a measuring stick for how far this team can go in March. I’m not going to bet against Vic with how the region has setup. I think this team can make the Elite 8 and make some serious noise in the tourney.
Wescott - If Rori Harmon can keep playing at a high level – a difficult task for a freshman amid the pressures of March Madness, I think Texas has a chance to make a run to the Final Four. There’s no question that Schaefer has his team peaking at the right time and finally beating Baylor for only the second time in the last 11 years is huge for this team’s confidence.