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Texas remains on NCAA Tournament bubble ahead of Big 12 Tournament

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The Longhorns still appear to be on pace to sneak into the Big Dance, but a loss to open the Big 12 Tournament could crush those dreams.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

After amassing five consecutive wins and sparking new life into a season that seemed all but lost less than a month ago, the Texas Longhorns had largely positioned themselves for a comfortable return to the NCAA Tournament. That was, of course, until Texas essentially showed up and did little else on Saturday afternoon en route to a costly 81-59 home loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Consequently, Shaka Smart’s squad finds itself back on the edge of the bubble ahead of the Big 12 Tournament.

Fortunately for the Horns, though, with a week remaining before Selection Sunday, Texas still finds itself on the right side of the field, despite the fresh black eye that was their 22-point blowout loss at home.

ESPN Joe Lunardi, arguably the most notable and credible source for accurate NCAA Tournament projections, has the Longhorns listed among the Last Four In in his latest Bracketology, which pits Texas against NC State in an 11-seed play-in game in the West region. Elsewhere, TeamRankings lists Texas’ odds of attending the Big Dance at a remarkable 96 percent, also projecting the Horns as an 11-seed. BracketMatrix.com also projects Texas to dance as an 11-seed, though the Horns are now appearing in just 59 of 92 brackets.

Among those brackets Texas isn’t currently listed in is that of CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, who has Smart’s team with work to do among the First Four Out. Similarly, after entering the weekend slotted at No. 57, Texas is now ranked 68th overall in the NCAA NET rankings, which is far from a comfortable position.

So, given the general outlook at this juncture, the Longhorns almost certainly can’t afford to kick off the Big 12 tourney with a second straight loss. Despite their latest loss — as embarrassing of a defeat as it was — Texas still appears to be on pace for a trip to the tourney, but just barely. Sneaking into mid-March, even among the Last Four In, would serve as not only a year-to-year improvement over last season, but a minor miracle given where this team was just weeks ago.

But that coming to fruition is far from a certainty.

Texas still largely appears to be among the field, but the Longhorns are clinging for life to the edge of the bubble. A win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament would likely be enough for Texas to pull itself back up and dance. Without a win on Thursday morning, though, Texas almost certainly falls from the bubble and back into the NIT.