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Selection Sunday has come and gone and the University of Texas now know that they will be opening the tournament Thursday night in Milwaukee. The Horns are the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region and will square off with the 10th seeded Arizona State Sun Devils in the NCAA Tournament.
The Texas Longhorns, coming off of a semi-final loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament, are back into the big dance after missing the tournament last year for the first time in the Rick Barnes era. The Horns will take on ASU in a matchup of new AD Steve Patterson’s current and former schools.
Arizona State, out of the Pac-12 conference, finished the season with a 21-11 record overall, 10-8 in conference play. The Sun Devils finished the season with three straight losses, including a second-round exit to Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament. ASU’s most impressive win was a double overtime over top-seeded Arizona on Valentine’s Day. On the season, the Sun Devils went 1-3 against ranked opponents, losing games to Creighton, UCLA and Arizona.
Texas comes into the tournament losers of six out of its last seven away from home. The Horns were expected to receive anywhere from a 6 seed to an 8 seed, and will settle for 7th in the Midwest. The Longhorns come into the game ranked 238th in the country shooting 43 percent from the floor on the season. The Longhorns have been dominant down low all season and look to use their size as an advantage over Arizona State.
The Sun Devils have been struggling since knocking of their in-state rivals. ASU is just 2-5 in its last seven. Arizona State features a strong backcourt with two guards who can put up points with ease. Jahii Carson leads the team, putting up 18.6 points and 4.6 assists per game. Jermaine Johnson also adds 15 a night for the Sun Devils. 7-foot-2 big man Jordan Bachynski also throws in 11 a game, and leads the country with his 4.1 blocks per contest. One of the big weaknesses for ASU is its lack of depth. The Sun Devils get an average of at least 28 minutes a game from each starter and no one off the bench averages more than 4.7 points per game.
Predictions around the country have this matchup nearly dead even. The Longhorns enter the game as a 2.5-point favorite to beat the Sun Devils, but many brackets feature a 10-7 upset in the Midwest.
If the Longhorns beat Arizona State in the second-round game tonight, Texas will get the winner of No. 2 seed Michigan and No. 15 seed Wofford. The Wolverines are 14 point favorites to beat the Terriers, and I don’t see Wofford as too much a threat to knock off Michigan. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but here’s a quick preview of what Michigan brings to the table as a potential third-round matchup for the Longhorns.
Michigan finished the season with a 25-8 record, finishing first in the Big Ten regular season standings at 15-3. The Wolverines fell to Michigan State in the
conference championship game; in a contest many thought could boost the Wolverines to a top seed if they came away from a win over the Spartans. Sophomore sharpshooter Nik Stauskas, who averages 17.5 points per game on nearly 48 percent shooting, leads a Michigan team that finished as the runner-up in last year’s tournament. The Wolverines had some rough early-season news, when preseason All-America big man Mitch McGary had back surgery that ended his year. Despite his absence, the Wolverines have been just as good if not better than last year’s Final Four team. Michigan has a lot of young talent, including sophomore Caris LeVert and freshman Derrick Walton Jr.
Michigan beat a Michigan State team that beat Texas in Austin earlier this season two out of three times. The Wolverines lost to Iowa State early in the season. Texas split regular season matchups with the Cyclones this season. The Wolverines lost early-season tilts with Duke and Arizona, but bounced back in conference play in a strong way, winning the Big Ten by three games. The Wolverines are very talented and their ability to spread the floor with talented scorers makes them a very tough potential opponent for the Horns. The Michigan defense holds opponents to 65 points per game, and scoring has been a problem at times for this Texas team. A win against the Wolverines wouldn’t be impossible, but the Longhorns would have to play a near-perfect game to pull off the third-round upset.
Texas has a tough draw in this year’s dance, but the Horns have a chance to make some noise in the Midwest. Arizona State is very beatable and the Longhorns have pulled off a couple of big upsets earlier this season that can be used for motivation in a potential Michigan matchup. The Longhorns have greatly exceeded expectations for this season, but an NCAA tournament win or two would really give this Texas team some momentum going into next season.