College Sports

The curious case of the Texas Longhorns and their NCAA Tournament chances

Texas’ Shaka Smart laments late game struggles

Texas basketball coach Shaka Smart laments his team's late-game struggles after a four-point loss at TCU on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019.
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Texas basketball coach Shaka Smart laments his team's late-game struggles after a four-point loss at TCU on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019.

Kansas coach Bill Self feels the Texas Longhorns have already secured an NCAA Tournament berth.

Self made the proclamation on the Big 12 coaches conference call on Monday, although he acknowledged the Longhorns may play a little “desperate” going into this week’s Big 12 tournament to solidify an invitation to the Big Dance.

Of course, Self’s Jayhawks are the ones on tap to face the Longhorns on Thursday night.

Does Texas share Self’s belief that its a tournament team? Here’s what Shaka Smart said on Saturday after his team fell flat against TCU.

“We’ll see,” Smart said after the Frogs whipped the Longhorns, 69-56. “We’ll find out in Kansas City. Obviously we have to play a lot better than we played today.”

Sure, the Longhorns would like to think they’re in, just like anyone who buys a lottery ticket would like to think that theirs has the winning numbers on it.

But, in reality, the Longhorns are in a precarious situation. At 16-15, a loss to Kansas would leave put them at the .500 mark on the season. The NCAA’s tournament selection committee has never handed out an at-large bid to a .500 team.

Georgia received an invite to the 2001 tournament at 16-14. Villanova got in at 16-14 in 1991 as well.

Ironically, receiving a bye in the Big 12 tournament may actually backfire on Texas. The Longhorns could’ve picked up an easier win in the first round over one of the bottom seeds before facing a program such as Kansas.

At this point, though, Smart and the Longhorns aren’t worried about it. Instead, they have to go in optimistically after knocking off the Jayhawks in Austin, 73-63, on Jan. 29 and almost pulling off an upset in Lawrence a few weeks before that in an 80-78 loss on Jan. 14.

“For us, obviously we’re focused on the things under our control,” Smart said. “When you finish in the top six in the conference, you get a bye, so we play Kansas on Thursday. That’s a heck of an opportunity for us. Obviously they’re one of the best teams in the county. If we could win the game, obviously that would be another huge resume win for us.”

Texas does boast impressive wins on its resume such as non-conference wins over North Carolina and Purdue. In conference, it has beaten teams such as Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State.

However, it has bad losses, too, such as Georgia and Providence.

At the end of the day, Texas is in an interesting spot. With a “soft” bubble this year, Self may be right and the Longhorns may be in regardless of what happens Thursday.

But it sure feels like Texas needs to win at least once more. If not, is the committee really going to take a .500 team that would have lost five of its last six?

“In terms of what we have to do, I don’t know exactly where everyone else stands in the country,” Smart said. “All I know for us is Thursday is a huge game. Any time you play in a conference tournament or any tournament for that matter, you want to go up there to win.

“Obviously you have to do that one game at a time. If we’re fortunate to win, then you want to flip the page and try to win the next one.”

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Drew Davison is the TCU and Big 12 sports writer for the Star-Telegram. He’s covered everything in DFW from Rangers to Cowboys to motor sports.