Three Texas teams make NCAA tourney

March 14, 2011 8:36:18 AM PDT
Just a few weeks ago, the Texas Longhorns were considered a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, perhaps even No. 1 overall. Then came a skid, a recovery and, on Sunday, a final verdict from the selection committee. All they could muster was the No. 4 seed in the West Region, a stiff punishment for their 4-4 finish even if they reached the Big 12 championship game.

Texas was put on a collision course with fifth-seeded Arizona and top-seeded Duke -- providing, of course, that the Longhorns beat 13th-seeded Oakland, Mich., in their opening game. Texas (27-7) and Oakland (25-9), champions of the Summit League, will play on Friday in Tulsa, Okla.

"I've always said I don't know if it matters what line you are on because you've got to win basketball games," Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. "I'm sure some people would argue it does matter. ... I do think we've built at Texas one of the elite programs in the country."

Texas, Texas A&M and Texas-San Antonio were the only teams from the Lone Star State to make the field, which expanded to 68 teams this year. There's also a Texas-sized dangling carrot for all teams in the field: the Final Four is in Houston.

The Aggies (24-8) are the seventh seed in the Southwest Region, which also could be considered a snub. They will open against 10th-seeded Florida State (21-10) in Chicago on Friday. A victory would set them up for a possible second game against No. 2 Notre Dame. Kansas is the top seed in the region, which will be in San Antonio.

"Well, that's life," A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. "I don't feel like the Big 12 got a lot of respect when it came to the seeding. ... We get to go to a great city in Chicago and play a great team in Florida State that's a lot like us. They really like to defend and rebound. It'll be a good matchup for us. We're happy to be in and looking forward to it."

UTSA landed in the East Region. The Southland Conference champion Roadrunners (19-13) have to advance past SWAC champion Alabama State (17-17) in a first-round game on Wednesday for the right to play No. 1 overall seed Ohio State on Friday in Cleveland.

This is the fourth time UTSA is in the tournament, the first since 2004.

UTEP came agonizingly close to making the tournament, losing the Conference USA championship to Memphis by a single point in the closing minutes. The Miners still won 25 games and were No. 59 in the RPI.

But with only one quality victory, over Michigan, first-year coach Tim Floyd wasn't expecting to make the NCAAs. He pretty much knew his club was out when conference foe UAB -- which was 31st in the RPI -- was only able to snag an at-large entry to a play-in game.

UTEP instead wound up in the 32-team NIT. The Miners (25-9) will open at New Mexico (21-12) on Tuesday.

Also making the NIT was Texas Southern (19-12), the regular-season SWAC champion, which will play top-seeded Colorado (21-13) on Wednesday.

SMU (17-14) already secured a spot in the 24-team tournament, and will host Oral Roberts (19-15) on Wednesday night.

The disappointing seeds for the Longhorns and Aggies weren't the only problem for the Big 12. Colorado didn't make the field, which was considered the biggest shocker.

The Longhorns were likely to move up to No. 1 in the country in mid-February, then lost to Nebraska. That started a 1-3 streak that left them needing a big finish in the Big 12 tournament to restore a high seeding. Making the finals and losing to Kansas -- which earned a No. 1 seed, the second overall -- wasn't good enough for the committee.

Apparently, splitting their final eight games outweighed high points from earlier this season, such as beating the Jayhawks (32-2) and losing by one to Pittsburgh, another top seed.

"We've been tested in a lot of ways," Barnes said.

Kansas coach Bill Self was among those coming to the Longhorns' defense.

"I thought that was a bad seed," he said. "I really thought Texas was a No. 2 seed after the game yesterday. Not saying the other two seeds didn't deserve it. But you're talking about a team that most people three weeks ago thought was the best team in the country -- the best team in the country. Just because they lose games. Teams do lose. Yesterday we were playing our tails off and late in the game it's an eight-point game. I don't understand that one at all."