Texas team capsule
COACH: Rick Barnes, 12 years at Texas, 12 years in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: At-large bid
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Texas’ face-plant in the second half of the season resulted in a spot in the dreaded 8-9 game against a major-conference opponent. The Longhorns drew ninth-seeded Wake Forest, which had a mini-swoon of its own at the end of the season, losing five of six entering the tournament. The Demon Deacons are a poor-shooting outside team (31.3 percent on 3-pointers), so the focus for the Longhorns will be on keeping guard Ishmael Smith from penetrating in the lane. Wake can rotate a lot of height through the post positions, with sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu averaging a double-double (15.7 points and 10.7 rebounds) — just like Texas’ Damion James. Will these potential lottery picks go head-to-head?
GO-TO GUYS: Senior forward Damion James has been the most consistent player on an inconsistent team, ranking fifth in Texas history in scoring with 1,901 points. He has 17 double-doubles this season and 54 in his career … and, in fact, averages a double-double for the season with 18.0 points and 10.4 rebounds. He can get the job done inside or outside. Freshman guard Avery Bradley mostly lived up to his recruiting hype, averaging 11.7 points, second on the team. With 38.5 percent accuracy from behind the arc, he and James are the primary threats from 3-point range. Freshman forward Jordan Hamilton proved capable of 20-point games off the bench and Dexter Pittman can be a force down low, but the Longhorns didn’t always feed him the ball and it was hard to know what you were going to get from either of those players from one game to the next.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: The Longhorns suddenly morph back into the team they were when they started 17-0 and were ranked No. 1 in the country. That wasn’t exactly a fluke since Texas was considered one of the preseason favorites to win it all and then backed up those predictions with wins over Pitt, Michigan State, North Carolina and Texas A&M, among others, in the first half of the season. Injuries at the point guard position have certainly taken a toll. In a perfect Texas world, J’Covan Brown would be the offensive AND defensive threat the Longhorns need at the position but don’t really have. Brown, like most of the Horns, was up and down late in the season. If Texas take a "nothing left to lose" attitude into the NCAAs, it should take its chances with Brown.
STRENGTHS: The Longhorns have an All-America talent in Damion James and no shortage of McDonald’s High School All-Americans on the roster, which is why expectations were so high in the first place. They can score in bunches, averaging 81.2 points entering the NCAA Tournament, and the frontcourt rotation of James, Dexter Pittman and Gary Johnson help the Horns to a rebounding margin of nearly plus-7 per game.
WEAKNESSES: Confidence, consistency and chemistry likely are at season lows. The point guard position was hit by two major injuries — Varez Ward went down with a quadriceps injury before the fourth game of the season, and defensive ace Dogus Balbay tore his ACL on Feb. 20. Texas can choose among Justin Mason (good defender, not a scorer or shooter), undersized Jai Lucas or J’Covan Brown, who has the most upside but also a penchant for poor decisions and defensive lapses. And if the Longhorns find themselves in close tournament games, they might be undone by a season-long trend of poor free throw shooting (63.4 percent).