With only five games remaining in the regular season, the Texas Longhorns are continually creeping towards an NCAA Tournament berth. Despite that giant question mark hanging over the program for much of the last several weeks, the Longhorns appear to be on a path that erases any remaining doubt, fully in control of their own destiny as they enter the final, very crucial stretch of the 2018-19 season.
This, of course, is not to suggest Texas is playing its best basketball of the season. The Longhorns, however, are winning the games they’re supposed to and competing in the contests where they stand to have much to gain.
Since the embarrassing loss at Georgia, the Texas is 4-2 with a hallmark win over Kansas. What’s especially important during this stretch is that Texas won the games it absolutely could not afford to lose, with victories over West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
Now, Texas prepares to go on the road against rival Oklahoma. While it is a rivalry game that often gets a free pass due to the animosity and passion that can sometimes fuel the lesser opponent to victory, the Longhorns aren’t exactly in a position where they can afford a loss to a program in the condition the Sooners currently find themselves in. I marked this game down as a whatever-happens-happens because of that specific element — the rivalry component that erases all of the matchup notes on paper. But the Longhorns need this game to cement their place in the NCAA Tournament as every win will only help their seeding and situation.
First off, the play-in game in Dayton, Ohio. It’s fun to be in the field of 68. It is not fun to be among the last four in.
Luckily for Texas, the current metrics show the Longhorns aren’t at risk for playing the extra game, for now.
According to ESPN’s Bracketology with Joe Lunardi, Texas’ stock has recently taken a hit, though not enough to bump the Longhorns out of a No. 9 seed. Lunardi currently predicts Texas at No. 9 taking on No. 8 Syracuse in Columbia, South Carolina.
Texas likely gains a little bit of clout with North Carolina’s big win over Duke on Wednesday night. The 92-89 win over the Tar Heels still holds as the top line on the resume. In addition to the marquee win over North Carolina, Purdue’s win over Indiana to put the Boilermakers tied atop the Big Ten Conference is also doing wonders for Texas. The December win over Purdue is tied with their win over Kansas for the second biggest resume-boosting victory of their season.
As it stands, according to Barttorvik.com, Texas has the 20th best resume in the country. Both Barttovik and the NCAA’s new NET rating have Texas ranked in the mid-30s overall, with the Longhorns coming in at 34th and 35th overall, respectively.
This season, Texas (15-11) is 2-5 on the road and 11-5 at home, but the most impressive mark is a 2-1 record at neutral sites. This bodes well for Texas if it can, in fact, hold true to current predictions and make the NCAA Tournament, as the Longhorns will clearly not be phased by neutral game sites.
Bracket Matrix also has Texas playing as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with the No. 8 seed opponent any one of Ole Miss, Auburn, St. John’s, or Baylor. The Horns are featured in each of the 123 brackets tracked by the site.
The Longhorns will face the Bears one more time, in Waco, before the regular season ends. The five remaining games, in order, fall like this: at Oklahoma, at Baylor, vs. Iowa State, at Texas Tech, and at home against TCU.
With Texas’ five remaining games, the Longhorns will face five NCAA Tournament teams, as it stands currently, according to ESPN’s Bracketology and Bracket Matrix, as Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State, Texas Tech, and TCU are all slated to make the NCAA Tournament. With a 4-9 conference record, however, the Sooners need some victories — ESPN has Lon Kruger’s team as one of the last four receiving byes.
In total, when the regular season comes to an end, Texas will have faced 12 likely NCAA Tournament teams, seven of which are Big 12 opponents played twice in the league’s round-robin format. The Texas record against those projected tourney teams is 6-8 with five outcomes pending.
Here is how Texas fared against projected NCAA Tournament teams with the opponent’s projected ranking included with the outcome:
- North Carolina, projected as a No. 2 seed — W, 92-89
- Michigan State, projected as a No. 2 seed — L, 78-68
- Radford, projected as a No. 15 seed — L, 62-59
- VCU, projected as a No. 11 seed — L, 54-53
- Purdue, projected as a No. 3 seed — W, 72-68
- Kansas State, projected as a No. 6 seed — W 67-47 and L 71-64
- Texas Tech, projected as a No. 4 seed — L 68-62, TBD
- Kansas, projected as a No. 3 seed — L 80-78 and W 73-63
- Oklahoma, projected as a No. 10 seed — W 75-72, TBD
- TCU, projected as a No. 9 seed — L 65-61, TBD
- Iowa State, projected as a No. 4 seed — L 65-60, TBD
- Baylor, projected as a No. 8 seed — W 84-72, TBD
If Texas can finish the season with a 3-2 record during the final five games of the season against tourney teams, I’d imagine the Longhorns would hold true to a No. 9 or No. 8 seed come Selection Sunday, even with a win in the Big 12 Tournament.
But the final five games also leaves a lot to be settled if Texas plays some of the basketball it’s put on display in the last two-to-three weeks in games like the wins over Kansas and Baylor, and even the loss to Iowa State on the road.
If Texas knocks off Oklahoma on the road, and splits between Baylor and Texas Tech on the road, but takes care of business at home against Iowa State and TCU, finishing the final five games at 4-1 and then winning at least one game in the Big 12 tournament, there’s a chance Texas could sneak into a No. 7 seed slot or higher.
I’m not sure where the ceiling is for Texas — if they pull off an upset conference tournament run and win the Big 12, sure, I suppose a No. 6 seed is possible if they finish the final five games 4-1.
The bigger hypothetical is what happens to Texas if it fails miserably during the final five games of the season? If Texas goes 2-3, or, heaven help us, 1-4 during the final five games and is bounced in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the worst Texas can do is that play-in slot as a No. 11 seed. If the Longhorns lose four of their final five to finish 16-15 with a losing record against tourney teams, and then they get bounced in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, it might not be a discussion as to what seed but more so what now?
Texas can’t afford to do any worse than 3-2 over the next two weeks if it wants to simply maintain its current projection as a No. 9 seed.
Buckle up, Longhorns fans.