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Checking in on Texas’ Quest for March Madness

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NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

As with most fanbases, when the calendar flips to February, Texas Longhorns basketball fans are starting to eye March. With the Texas season having ups and downs — both of the expected and unexpected variety — there is plenty of discussion as to whether or not the Longhorns will be dancing in March. Given that I’m now on day two of some weird fever and patiently waiting for the icy grip of death, I have time to write up a brief rundown of where Texas sits and most likely outcomes. Who said nothing good ever came from a case of monkeypox?

As things stand this morning, Texas is on the right side of the bubble. A few examples:

TeamRankings.com has Texas with a 65% chance to make the NCAA tournament.

Lunardi has Texas as an eight seed.

Bracket WAG shows Texas as a seven seed.

BracketMatrix.com has Texas hovering around the lowest eight/highest nine seed with a few seven seeds sprinkled in here and there. Maybe more importantly, Bracket Matrix has Texas listed in all 78 brackets they’ve sampled which means nobody is leaving Texas out of the field. Compare that to Kansas State, who is only in 45 of the 78 brackets. Bruce Weber is sweating bullets right now. Alright, he’s always sweating bullets, but he’s sweating more bullets than normal. He’s sweating bulletsss.

This is all pretty good news, though it’s with the obvious caveat that these ratings are as things are right now. Texas is far from assured of making it to March, they still have work to do in the Big 12 to cement their status as an at-large tournament invite. (We’re all on the same page that Texas isn’t winning the conference this year, yes?)

This is the list of Texas’ remaining games, sorted in order of win probability per Pomeroy:

Texas’ Remaining Games

Date Opponent Win Probability
Date Opponent Win Probability
2/24 Oklahoma State 73%
2/7 Kansas State 69%
2/12 Baylor 67%
3/3 West Virginia 51%
2/21 @ Kansas State 44%
2/10 @ TCU 34%
2/17 @ Oklahoma 34%
2/26 @ Kansas 25%
Ken Pomeroy

It’s probably not surprising that Texas is favored to win at home — I feel like we should be making a bigger deal about the Drum actually being a difficult place for teams to win this year — and not favored to win on the road. This is basically how the Big 12 is this year for many* teams.

(*Of course, this doesn’t fucking include Kansas.)

Texas holding serve at home would put them at 9 wins in conference play, 19 wins overall, potentially the #1 strength of schedule in the nation, and wins over at least 4 ranked teams. With the absence of bad losses, this is probably enough to get Texas into March Madness. However, if they lose one or more of these games, they need to make it up on the road which won’t be easy but will actually boost their resume somewhat. A Texas team that loses to Kansas State at home but beats TCU or Oklahoma on the road might actually look better to the selection committee, as odd as it sounds.

The holy grail here is winning at Kansas, which would be a hell of a resume booster and probably enough to cement Texas in the tourney even if they have a misstep elsewhere. It’s also pretty unlikely, though maybe a tinge more likely than most years considering Kansas has been surprisingly mortal at home this season.

For Texas to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday, having at least 9 wins in conference play is probably necessary. Nine wins probably puts Texas in the top half of the conference, and with most Bracketologists (how do I get this job) picking the Big 12 to get seven teams into the NCAA tournament it seems like the safe side of the bubble discussion. 8 wins in the Big 12 might get Texas in, but it should probably be accompanied by at least 1-2 wins in the Big 12 Tournament. On the other side of the coin, if Texas can pick up an unexpected (aka road) win or two out of the last four games they play, they might manage to bump themselves up into discussion of a six or seven seed. The only thing really missing from the Longhorns resume is a high-level conference road win. They almost had it in Lubbock, and they could still notch one of these in Fort Worth, Norman, or Lawrence. If you’re looking for a sign Texas might be rounding into a postseason team capable of making a run, a win at one or more of those three venues is a positive data point. Alternatively, missing out on all of those three combined with some home losses could portend an NIT appearance. The window of available outcomes is narrowing, but there are few teams with this much of their fate in their own hands as Texas.