The streak lives on in Austin, Texas.
After an up-and-down season in which the Longhorns lived on the bubble for the final few weeks of play, Rick Barnes continued his perfect mark on the Forty Acres, earning his 14th NCAA tournament bid in his 14th season as Texas’ head coach. The Longhorns’ streak is tied for fourth-longest among active streaks with Gonzaga and Wisconsin, and falls behind only Kansas (23 consecutive appearances), Duke (17), and Michigan State (15).
Although Barnes and the NCAA tournament have become synonymous over the last decade and a half, this year’s bid wasn’t a sure thing until the final days. Texas needed a comeback victory over Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals, and benefited from numerous losses by bubble teams across the country. The Longhorns also managed to narrowly avoid the First Four games in Dayton, making the field just one slot ahead of the “Last Four In.”
Texas will open play against Cincinnati in Nashville on Friday morning at 11:15 CT. Although the Bearcats were runners-up in last weekend’s Big East tournament, they grabbed even more headlines in early December with their infamous “Crosstown Brawl” with rival Xavier. Four players were suspended for six games as a result of their participation in the melee, most notably senior big man Yancy Gates. Rather than folding, the Bearcats seemed to gather strength from the ugly incident. Mick Cronin led his team to a 12-6 mark in the tough Big East, putting the Bearcats in a three-way tie for fourth.
In the Big East Tournament, Cincinnati survived a thrilling double-overtime battle with Georgetown, the team’s second win over the Hoyas this season. A night later, the Bearcats became just the second team to knock off Syracuse this year, and the first to do it with Fab Melo on the court. Sean Kilpatrick led a three-point barrage for Cincinnati, which hit eight of its first 10 long-range looks. After building a lead as large as 17 points, the Bearcats were able to withstand a late rally by the Orange and advance to the Big East tournament finals.
The hot shooting of the semifinals would be short-lived for Cincinnati, which missed 11 of its first 12 shots against Louisville in the championship game. The ‘Cats would recover to finish 39.2% from the field, but sank just three of 14 from behind the arc. Cincinnati’s 0.746 points per possession were the fewest for the team all season long, much worse than the team’s previous season low of 0.803, posted against Xavier.
Ken Pomeroy gives Texas a 52% chance to knock off the Bearcats, predicting a one-point margin of victory. If the Longhorns do in fact earn a victory in the Round of 64, they would advance to face either Florida State or St. Bonaventure on Sunday.