As we near the start of the men's NCAA Tournament and everyone locks in their Final Four picks, a few schools will show up repeatedly as the hype builds. Can Kansas repeat? Can Purdue get over the hump and into a Final Four? Could the Zags actually benefit from being a No. 3 seed? What's missing from this hype? How about the Big 12 Tournament champions from Austin. That's right: The Texas Longhorns are in excellent position to make a March Madness run and advance to their first Final Four appearance since the days of T.J. Ford and Royal Ivey.
The Stars at Night are Big and Bright
The Longhorns entered this season with high expectations, ranked 12th overall in the preseason AP Top 25. Even after head coach Chris Beard was arrested in December, charged with a third-degree felony family assault, and eventually fired by Texas in early January, Texas hardly skipped a beat. (Beard, for what it's worth, has already been hired by Ole Miss, because every program in the country cares about its integrity and character, unless that comes at the cost of winning, in which case they'd much rather win, thank you very much. His hiring took place just under a month after the charge against him was dropped.) Rodney Terry stepped into the lead coaching role just eight games into the season, and Texas has gone 19-7 under his sway.
On the floor -- where, you know, games are actually played -- Texas is led by senior point guard Marcus Carr. The 6-foot-2 Toronto native is on his third team and sixth season of college basketball. After spending a season at Pitt, Carr transferred to Minnesota, where he red-shirted for a season. After two productive seasons for the Gophers, Carr made his way to Austin, where he has been an important shot-maker, creator and finisher for the Longhorns.
Marcus Carr weaving a basket through the Kansas defense! pic.twitter.com/VDIsbmjAvi
— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) March 11, 2023
Carr is 23 years old and has played in 126 games in his collegiate career. That's the same age as Jaren Jackson Jr., who's been in the NBA for five seasons. As any self-respecting hack pundit can tell you, that type of experience at the guard position can be crucial come tournament time.
He's joined in the backcourt by sophomore guard Tyrese Hunter, one of the few non-seniors who sees substantial minutes for the Longhorns. Hunter transferred from Iowa State. He's had an uneven season -- and, frankly, career to date -- but is capable of putting up big numbers.
Texas' Sir'Jabari Rice is College Hoops Today's National Sixth Man of the Year.
- Other Finalists
- Honorable Mentionhttps://t.co/ocjTc1Yc6E
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 5, 2023
Off the bench, the Longhorns feature Sixth Man of the Year Sir'Jabari Rice. The New Mexico State transfer is a pump-faking, crafty, smooth-shooting 6-foot-4 guard who checks in, takes a ton of shots, and generates instant offense for Texas. Rice actually started all three games in the Big 12 Tournament as senior forward Timmy Allen sat out with a lower leg injury. A healthy Allen is huge for Texas. He averages just 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but the Utah State transfer is a floor leader and key defensive piece for the Longhorns.
Aside from that injury to Allen, the Longhorns have benefited from remarkable health this season. They've started Carr, Hunter, Allen, Dylan Disu and Dillon Mitchell in almost every game this season, another indication of a team that's comfortable playing alongside one another.
How They'll Get To The Final Four
The key for Texas to get all the way to the Final Four in Houston rests on the defensive side of the ball. All season long, the Longhorns have played tough, stingy defense. It's just the type of hard-nosed, cliche-laden gritty basketball that college coaches salivate over.
Texas also has some fun narrative angles on its potential trip to the Final Four. If it gets past No. 15 Colgate, it may be in for a Lone Star Showdown with old rival Texas A&M. Before A&M followed the money to the SEC, this was one of the best rivalries in college football. Could be fun to see it play out on the hardwood in Des Moines, Iowa, of all places. And if the Midwest No. 1 seed makes its way through its half of the bracket, perhaps we could see a Texas versus Houston matchup to get to the Final Four. Is there a rivalry between Austin and Houston? No clue. But we can fabricate one!
It's been a long 20 years since Texas last appeared in the Final Four, but the pieces are in place and the bracket is set up for a return trip for the darlings of the Lone Star State.
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