Texas Basketball: Can Horns Avoid the Curse of the Sixth Seed?

I’ve never seen an ocelot in the wild, the inside of a tornado, or anything funny by Carlos Mencia. But one thing I may check off my bucket list soon is watching a Rick Barnes team playing in the Big 12 tournament like its post-season life depends on it . . . which it very well does unless the Horns get scorching hot in the final games of the regular season.


Whatever, it likely will take some combination of regular season and Big 12 tournament magic for Texas to extend Rick Barnes’ perfect NCAA tournament attendance record to 14 in a row. This week’s sweep of Texas A&M and Kansas State probably puts Texas in a better position than it was at the beginning of the week when two prominent bracketologists couldn’t decide on which side of the bubble Texas resided:

  • CBSSportline’s Jerry Palm has Texas as one of the first four out.
  • ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Texas as one of the last four in.

But if nothing else, the events of the past week enable Texas fans to focus on four teams down the stretch: Texas (naturally), Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor. Unless the Horns win 5 of their last 6, they’ll likely need at least one win at the Big 12 tournament to make the NCAAs. That’s where those other three teams come in.

Texas and Kansas State are currently tied for fifth, with one team likely to be the fifth seed and the other sixth come Big 12 tournament time. Baylor and Iowa State, meanwhile, are currently tied for third and it appears one will be seeded third in the tournament and the other fourth.

Texas will be in much better shape, historically speaking, if it can finish ahead of the Wildcats in fifth instead of sixth. Here’s why you want to avoid the sixth seed. In the 15 years of the Big 12 tournament, the third seed is 12-3 in quarterfinal games against the sixth seed (or a lower seed). Sixth-seed Oklahoma upset third-seed Colorado in the very first Big 12 tournament. The only other 6 vs. 3 upsets were in 2006 (Nebraska over Oklahoma) and 2008 (A&M over Kansas State).

Contrast that with the 4 vs. 5 matchup where the fourth-seed’s edge is only 9-6.

Assuming that Kansas and Missouri hold on to the top two spots, and Oklahoma State doesn’t make a surprising surge up from seventh, the Big 12 quarterfinals should feature the four schools mentioned above (Texas, Kansas State, Baylor, and Iowa State) taking all four of the slots in the 3 vs. 6 game and the 4 vs. 5 game. (Even though Oklahoma State is only a game back of Texas and K-State, the Cowboys finish with three tough games: @Kansas State, @Missouri, and Kansas at home.)

How Does Texas Get the Five Seed?

With six games left, Texas has a decent shot at a 9-9 conference record. This is based on adding the following results to the current 6-6 record:

Probable wins:

Probable losses:

Split of toss-up games:

@Texas Tech, Oklahoma

@Kansas, Baylor

@Oklahoma, @Oklahoma State

Although Baylor stumbled a bit this past week, there only a few teams (Missouri, Kansas) that give Baylor matchup problems. Texas, with a small, young front court, isn’t one of them.

As for Kansas State, I’m projecting an 8-10 conference record based on these results:

Probable losses:

Split of toss-up games:

@Missouri, Kansas

Iowa State, @Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, @Baylor

Some may argue that K-State's road game to A&M or a home game against Oklahoma State are probable wins. If so, that would get Kansas State to 9-9 as well.

How Does Texas Upset a Higher Seed?

One way is if either Baylor or Iowa State mails it in. Teams who already have a ticket punched to the NCAA tournament sometimes prefer an early exit from a conference tournament and the rested legs that accompany it. Roy Williams resides in that camp. His Tar Heels have won two national championships (2005, 2009) and didn't win the ACC tournament either year.

There are plenty of examples of the inverse relationship of conference vs. NCAA tournament performances. Consider two case studies from Texas Big 12 tournament history.

  • 2007 - Texas’ best Big 12 tournament showing was followed by one of its worst NCAA tournament appearances under Barnes. As you know, Texas has never won a Big 12 title, losing six times in the finals. However, the kiddie corps of Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams and Damion James came closest, losing 88-84 to Kansas in OT despite 37 from Durant. Texas rode the momentum of that showing to . . . well . . . not much of anywhere. Seeded fourth in the NCAA’s East Regional, Texas got routed in its second game by 5th-seed Southern Cal 87-68. Much like Memphis did the following season, USC was able to stifle Texas’ offense by surrounding the 6-foot Augustin with lots of length in the backcourt. The Trojans played three guards that were 6-4 or better. D.J.’s line: 1-8 from the field with 4 FTs for 6 points, 5 assists, 6 turnovers . . . and he fouled out. It seems like Augustin was a little banged up but don’t have a clear recollection.
  • 2003 - Texas’ worst Big 12 tournament showing was followed by its only Final Four under Barnes. After a bye in the opening round of the Big 12 tourney, 2nd-seed Texas needed only one half to show it wasn’t going any farther. Texas Tech jumped out 50-32 and cruised to a 92-81 victory. For the game, Tech shot 10 of 14 from behind the arc. The devastation of this early exit didn’t linger as T.J. Ford led the Horns to NCAA wins over UNC-Asheville, Purdue, UConn, and Michigan State before falling to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse in the national semifinals.

But what about Baylor and Iowa State?

Three weeks out, it’s hard to project just how motivated either of those teams will be in the Big 12 tournament. However, it’s reasonable to expect somebody will be flat as only 3 of 15 Big 12 tournaments have featured the top four seeds in the semifinals.

About the only thing to do now is consider the possible matchups. If Texas does edge Kansas State for fifth place, the Horns would probably be better served if Baylor grabbed the third seed. That would put Texas in a 5 vs. 4 quarterfinal game with Iowa State, a team that split with the Horns this season and doesn’t dwarf the Horns in the paint.

So when the smoke settles in four weeks, the best I would expect would be finishing the regular season 5-1 and then splitting two games in the conference tournament. That would give Texas a 22-11 record and wins over at least four members of the RPI top 50. While that would probably be good enough, that’s not what I expect to happen.

I think 21-12 or 20-13 are more realistic and I’m not sure whether that will be good enough to punch a ticket for the Big Dance or not. What do you think?

Be excellent to each other.

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