The NCAA Tournament’s field of 68 has been set, and for the second time in three seasons, Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns were left on the outside looking in after slogging to a 16-16 record and an 8-10 effort in Big 12 play.
Texas’ exclusion from the Big Dance doesn’t come as a surprise considering that no team has ever finished .500, as the Horns have, and went on to earn an at-large bid. The Longhorns’ struggles down the stretch certainly didn’t reflect well on their tournament résumé, either, as Texas dropped five of its final six games, including three consecutive losses.
Nevertheless, Texas was largely given the benefit of the doubt until the bitter end.
Just nine days ago, despite Texas narrowly clinging to a plus-.500 record at 16-14, the Longhorns were projected to make the NCAA Tournament as a 10-seed, per ESPN’s Bracketology update on March 8. The following afternoon, Texas fell at home to TCU by double digits, 69-56, yet even then, the Longhorns entered the Big 12 Tournament projected to sneak into the Big Dance as an 11-seed.
Even one win over Kansas in the conference tournament’s opening round would have all but stamped Texas’ ticket to the NCAA Tournament. But when the final buzzer sounded, Texas trailed, 65-57, falling to .500 on the season.
But Texas isn’t the typical .500 program, which is why there was even a need to have a legitimate discussion regarding Texas’ tourney hopes.
According to the the KenPom.com rankings, which span 18 years, this is the best .500 team in that stretch at No. 30 nationally, with 2014-15 Florida (No. 34). serving as the only other highly-ranked outlier. Credit victories over No. 6 North Carolina, No. 10 Purdue, No. 16 Iowa State, No. 19 Kansas, and No. 23 Kansas State for that unusually high ranking.
Credit some bad “luck” and bad losses for being on the wrong side of the bubble — in addition to going 4-10 in close games, Texas ranked No. 350 out of 353 in KenPom.com’s Luck rating, the deviation between a team’s expected record and actual record.
Nevertheless, with the NCAA Tournament now set to take place without Texas, expect the Longhorns to accept an NIT bid if offered.