Men's Basketball

The A-B-Cs of the NCAAs: Longhorns wait it out, then see their name ‘and we were amped’

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Story highlights
  • Horns had not missed the NCAAs in back-to-back years since 1987 and '88.
  • Shaka Smart: “I’ve been around this long enough to know there’s always surprises on selection Sunday.”
  • Mo Bamba practiced about 30-40 minutes on Sunday but declares his sprained toe a non-issue.

Posted March 11th, 2018

Sunday was a day for childhood sing-a-longs.

The NCAA Tournament selection show was broadcast on TBS for the first time, and network officials decided to unveil most of the field in alphabetical order.

So that meant Alabama was in. Same for Arizona State. All Mo Bamba could do was wait for the T’s.

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“Do you know how many times I sang my A-B-Cs in my head? Six or seven times,” the Texas freshman said. “When we saw Tennessee, it was kind of a weird feeling. Are we in or are we out? The next letter is X, so we might still be in.

“Then we saw the Longhorn logo, and we were amped.”

It’s been a tumultuous season in Austin, and coach Shaka Smart is down to a seven-man rotation. But the Longhorns (19-14) are still going dancing this week as the No. 10 seed in the South Region. Texas will face No. 7 seed Nevada (27-7) in the first round on Friday in Nashville, Tenn.

Tipoff is approximately 3:30 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena, in the heart of Music City.

“I had butterflies the whole time we were sitting there as they got close to T,” guard Jacob Young said. “I was up all night just thinking about it.”

Asked to describe his feelings, guard Matt Coleman said it was a mix of everything. “Relief. Excitement. Unbelievable. A dream come true,” he said.

Texas officials tweeted a photo from inside the room when the players saw their logo onscreen. Players are yelling, Young is practically jumping through the roof, and Bamba looks relieved.

“Part of it was that, but part of that was pure excitement,” Bamba said. “I just looked around the room, and just … this isn’t just for me. It’s for everybody in the program. Last year, we weren’t even in the conversation. It just means a lot being in it now.”

The Horns didn’t have a reason to show up on selection Sunday last year. They finished last in the Big 12 after a frustrating 11-22 campaign. Texas didn’t even remotely qualify for the lower-run NIT postseason tournament. The Horns had not missed back-to-back NCAA Tournaments since 1987 and ’88.

This season featured incredible twists and turns. Guard Andrew Jones, the team’s second-leading scorer, was diagnosed with leukemia in early January. A three-game losing streak triggered a heated team meeting, one that players still talk about as if it’s a radioactive topic.

Bamba suffered a sprained toe against Oklahoma on Feb. 17. Losing the Big 12’s leading rebounder and shot blocker might have crippled other teams. He missed three games, but UT went 2-1 without the 7-footer in the lineup.

Bamba said he’s back to “100 percent” after playing just 14 minutes in the Big 12 Tournament. He said the sprained toe is no longer an issue. “He can play,” Smart said. “He practiced 30-40 minutes (on Sunday), and we said, ‘That’s enough, big fella.’ ”

Guard Eric Davis Jr., who was averaging 8.8 points per game, was sidelined with three games left in the regular season. A Yahoo Sports report about college basketball corruption alleged that Davis, among others around the sport, accepted $1,500 from an agent. UT officials are withholding him from competition while compliance determines the proper course.

Jones, Bamba and Davis make up half of the six players on the UT media guide cover. And this team still managed to finish 8-10 in the toughest league in Division I and get into the NCAAs.

It wasn’t even close, either. Texas was not listed among the final four teams. The Big 12 got seven teams into the field of 68. Oklahoma, fueled by star guard Trae Young, made the cut while Baylor and Oklahoma State did not.

Smart wanted no part of discussing the NCAAs after the Big 12 Tournament last week. “Ask me on Sunday,” he said after the quarterfinal-round loss to Texas Tech.

On Sunday, Smart said, “I didn’t know.

“I’ve been around this long enough to know there’s always surprises on selection Sunday,” the coach added. “I’ve also been around long enough to know that we’re all biased toward the teams that we are a part of and we follow most closely. So sometimes, your view is a little bit slanted.”

Jordan Caroline #24 of the Nevada Wolf Pack and Trey Kell #3 of the San Diego State Aztecs vie for the rebound during a semifinal game of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 9, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The 87-79 win over 20th-ranked West Virginia in the regular-season finale gave Texas a huge boost from an NCAA perspective. The 68-64 win over Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament sealed the at-large bid. Every major bracketologist projected that UT would make the NCAAs.

The draw appears to be favorable, too. If Texas can get past Nevada, the Mountain West champion, that would set up a second-round date against the Cincinnati-Georgia State winner.

Nevada juniors Caleb and Cody Martin are twins Smart tried to recruit to Virginia Commonwealth when he coached there. The Martins went to North Carolina State and transferred to Nevada.

The Wolf Pack have consistent height — six players in the rotation are listed as 6 feet 7 or taller. However, they lost starting guard Lindsey Drew to a torn Achilles on Feb. 14 and he is done for the season.

“Same approach. Nothing’s changed,” Young said. “We’re going to treat it like we’re playing a No. 1 seed.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

Who is Nevada?

Nickname: Wolf Pack

Coach: Eric Musselman (79-28 in three seasons at Nevada)

Conference: Mountain West (15-3, 1st)

About their team: Nevada has four players averaging double figures, including twins Caleb and Cody Martin. Texas coach Shaka Smart tried to recruit both players to Virginia Commonwealth when he was the coach there. They went to North Carolina State and then transferred to Nevada. Caleb Martin is the team’s leading scorer at 19.1 points per game.

Injuries: Guard Lindsey Drew, who averaged 8.1 points and 4.3 assists per game, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles injury on Feb. 14. Cody Martin has handled the point guard duties down the stretch.

Gauging the schedule: Texas Tech beat Nevada 82-76 in overtime on Dec. 5. Then Nevada lost to TCU 84-80. Once conference play started, Nevada didn’t see any team tougher than what the Big 12 offers on a nightly basis. Nevada has not played a team ranked higher than 50th in Kenpom’s analytical rankings since TCU. Texas has played 10 top-50 teams since Jan. 31.

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