Sports

History lifts Texas to NCAAs; Baylor looking to make mark

Texas dodged a bullet Sunday when members of the selection committee allowed the Longhorns to extend the school's streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to 14 without a play-in game Tuesday or Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.

Baylor, meanwhile, may be walking into an unexpected ambush in its first-round game against South Dakota State, if you believe CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis.

That's the quick takeaway for the two Big 12 schools from Texas among 37 recipients of at-large bids to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which begins with four first-round games in Dayton, followed by the start of regional play Thursday.

Texas (20-13) can thank its recent history under coach Rick Barnes, combined with the reputation of the Big 12, for landing its spot as a No. 11 seed in the East Regional heading into Friday's matchup against Cincinnati (24-10). Mix in the fact that Texas is a TV ratings-grabber and you have the three primary intangibles that caused committee members to place Texas, the No. 52 team in the latest RPI ratings, into the pod of 64 teams that will be heading to regional sites this week.

The Longhorns will bypass the play-in games in Dayton while four schools rated ahead of Texas in RPI -- California (No. 39), Iona (No. 46), Brigham Young (No. 48) and South Florida (No. 51) -- duke it out to see which two advance to regional sites as either a No. 12 or No. 14 seed. And we haven't even mentioned Oral Roberts, a 27-6 team positioned at No. 42 in RPI that was relegated to the NIT because it doesn't play in the proper power conference.

Barnes' take, after learning of Sunday's inclusion?

"I'm excited for our guys ... They earned this," Barnes said during a news conference in Austin.

Really? Does any team with 13 losses -- Texas, Kansas, Kentucky or otherwise -- truly earn its way into the postseason?

To me, that phrase should be reserved for conference champions. But with 148 teams receiving season extensions Sunday (68 to the NCAA Tournament, 32 to the NIT, 32 to the College Invitational Tournament, 16 to the College Basketball Invitational), you can't quibble with one being laid on Texas.

Not all losses are created equal. And Texas absorbed 10 of them -- offset by 10 wins -- from opponents in the Big 12, arguably the nation's toughest conference. That's why league teams received six berths Sunday into the NCAA field, second only to the Big East (nine).

Based on its raw numbers, Texas could have been a part of the Dayton play-in contingent. Or a top seed in the NIT. But the committee chose to reward Barnes, who is 14 for 14 in producing NCAA berths during his Texas tenure, and his young team that played two of its best games this season during the Big 12 tournament.

Now, it is up to the Longhorns -- who feature six freshmen among their eight-player NCAA rotation -- to prove they are worthy. Barnes said he stressed that point to players after receiving the bid.

"This is what we expect," Barnes said. "We told them that youth would never be an excuse. We're going to put the time in and do the work, and we'll see what happens ... This team has expectations, whether other people do or not. These guys are too proud and have worked too hard just to be happy to be in it. They want to win."

Against Cincinnati, that's a possibility. After that, all bets are off.

For Baylor (27-7), which landed a No. 3 seed in the South Regional, the journey toward a probable spot in the Sweet Sixteen begins Thursday in Albuquerque. Unless you believe Davis, who played the upset card during CBS' bracket announcement show less than a minute after the Bears were confirmed as the opponent for South Dakota State (27-7), a No. 14 seed and champion of the Summit League.

"I think South Dakota State is going to beat Baylor," Davis said.

I think Davis missed the Bears' performances in the Big 12 tournament, where 6-foot-11 forward Perry Jones III showed a mental and physical toughness that had been missing in his first two seasons in Waco. If a hungry, driven Jones shows up in Albuquerque -- and I think he will -- it's hard to imagine the Bears bowing out without a couple of wins in this tournament.

Beyond that, it will come down to matchups. And Baylor has shown enough recent improvement in its guard play -- notably reserves A.J. Walton and Deuce Bello -- that this team is rising, not waning, heading into the NCAA Tournament.

"The Big 12 does an incredible job preparing teams for the postseason," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Our losses this year made us a better team. We haven't lost to teams we shouldn't lose to."

The Bears do not intend to start Thursday. Regardless of what Seth Davis predicts.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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