After barely squeaking into the Top 25 rankings in the preseason, expectations were a bit tempered in Longhorn country for an unproven team that has struggled in the NCAA tournament as of late.
But after a season that saw Texas flirt with a No. 1 seed for much of the season, only to lose its grip on a top spot over the last three weeks of conference play, Longhorns fans are thirsting for a trip to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.
Rick Barnes' squad has battled a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality over the course of the season, winning 11 in a row in January and February only to lose to unranked—and eventual NIT invite—Nebraska. Is this a team that can string together two solid games in a row—something it has struggled to do in the last month?
To do that, Texas will first have to solve its defensive problems. Against Colorado, the Longhorns collapsed, blowing a 22-point lead and giving up a combined 54 points to Alec Burks and Levi Knutson. Barnes has struggled at times to get a full 40 minutes on the defensive end from his relatively young team.
If Texas wants to make it out of the first round, the defense will have to clamp down on Oakland's inside-outside duo of 6'11" center, Keith Benson and 5'11" guard, Reggie Hamilton. The two combine to average over 35 points per game.
Oakland is also one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament, having won 18 out of its last 19 games. A fast, confident start on Friday in Tulsa will be a must if the Longhorns want to avoid another first-round upset.
The real question is, what kind of production can Texas get out of freshman, Tristan Thompson? The 6'8" forward has been impressive at times, and frustratingly absent at others. The Longhorns have lost only one game this season in which Thompson has recorded a double-double. If Thompson can get it done at both ends of the floor and step it up on the free-throw line—he's shot an abysmal 48.6 percent this year—Texas should be able to make it through the first weekend, where they'll likely face No. 1 seed Duke.
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