The Kansas Jayhawks are the cream of the Big 12 crop in this year's NCAA basketball tournament but it should have been the Texas Longhorns. Instead of the Road to the Final Four being paved with fame and glory for the Longhorns its paved with speed bumps and potholes. If Texas is to make it to the Final Four in Houston then it'll be because Rick Barnes has done his best single-season coaching job since coming to Austin.
After beating Oklahoma State 73-55 on February 16th the Longhorns were 11-0 in conference play and cruising their way to a #1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. However, since that time Texas is 4-4 and limping into the tournament as a #4 seed. Their first obstacle is the Oakland. Before you snicker too hard at the obstacle reference to Oakland consider this. The Grizzlies are coming into the tournament on an 8-game winning streak and have won 18 of their last 19 games.
Oakland has a legitimate NBA prospect in center Keith Benson who is the Defensive Player of the Year in the Summit League as well as the back-to-back Summit League Player of the Year. Benson averages a team high 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. Texas is the best rebounding team in the Big 12 and grabbing second chance points while taking them away from an opponent is one of their specialties. Look for the Longhorns to have to fight to control the boards which could in turn control the game.
In addition to Benson Oakland also has the best shooter in the Summit League in Will Hudson. Hudson, a 6-9/235 forward) has an incredible 64.4 shooting percentage from the floor and contributes 12.5 points per game. Look for and expect the Grizzlies to challenge the Longhorns under the basket but they also have two other guys averaging doubel figures in scoring. Guard Reggie Hamilton gives them 17.4 points per game and Travis Baker (another guard) puts in 10.5 points per game.
Texas has to play strong in the paint but they have to play smart as well. Should Tristan Thompson or Gary Johnson get into early foul trouble then it creates an advantage that favors Oakland. The Longhorns also have to slow the game down a bit and be patient when looking for a score. The Grizzlies love to push the ball and run up and down the court. Limiting their shots by slowing down the game and crashing the boards to eliminate second chance points has to be among the top the priorities for Texas.
The Longhorns also need to win with confidence. If the win a close game or are even forced to "escape" into the round of 32 then that could spell doom in the second round where most likely the Pac 10 champions Arizona Wildcats will most likely be waiting. Win that game and its on to probably face Duke in the Sweet 16.
Yep, the Road to the Final Four is usually pretty difficult but more so for some than others.