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Golden: Texas Longhorns in the Final Four? You bet

Horns open with Abilene Christian

  • Golden projects Texas to beat ACU, BYU, Alabama and Florida State en route to the Final Four.
  • Golden projects teams from Texas to finish 11-7 in the tourney.

Texas to the Final Four.

Gulp.

After some soul searching over the last 24 hours, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the  Longhorns will make their second appearance in the Final Four during the modern era 

Shaka Smart’s team is playing its best ball at the best time of the year and while some national pundits agree that the Horns will represent the East Region in early April, I say so with the full understanding of what can keep them from being there.

More on that later.

Now, before you take a cell phone photo of my bracket for your own use, take a deep breath and consider the source.

Watch:Breaking down Texas’ Big 12 tournament championship, NCAA hopes and picking a winner

Texas guard Andrew Jones picks up head coach Shaka Smart after winning the Big 12 Conference Tournament final against the Oklahoma State Saturday. Jones and fellow back court mates Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman could propel Texas to the Final Four.

I haven’t filled out a great bracket since the Tyus Edney and the O’Bannon brothers led UCLA to a national championship in 1995. I was working at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and was carrying  50 fewer pounds with a full head of peppery curly hair.

America was a few months removed from O.J. beating the rap and office pools were conducted by hand and not on the web.

Spin ahead and to 2021 and America is just plain happy to be having a March Madness as a pandemic continues to play in the background while some states dare lift mask restrictions.

Before we get to our state, here’s a little primer on my bracket philosophy. Each year, I come up with a theme before I make a single pick and try and ride that thought all the way through.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Take 2019 for instance. I sat down at my desk — that was back in the good old days when we were actually working in offices — to fill out my bracket with the understanding that the Big 12 would be a monster.

The league sent six teams to the Big Dance, including the always steady Kansas Jayhawks and up-and-coming programs in Baylor and Texas Tech. Longhorn fans were coming to grips with Texas accepting an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament — boy, they had no idea about the magic that awaited — and coach Shaka Smart was once again the subject of hot-seat talk.

Anyway, Chris Beard’s Red Raiders were one of the best stories of the tourney after knocking off No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Michigan State en route to their first appearance in a national championship game.

More:Texas basketball: See the March Madness 2021 bracket, schedule

Problem was, they were nowhere to be found in my bracket. Even though I had homered up for the Big 12, I only had the Red Raiders winning two and losing to the Florida State in the Sweet 16.

Tech went 5-1 in an historic run but the other Big 12 teams I placed faith combined to go a mediocre 3-5. So it comes as no surprise that only one team (Virginia) made it to the Final Four in the Golden bracket.

Which brings us to 2021. I could easily go with a Big 12 theme this time because it’s been a banner year for the conference but for the sake of this discussion — and the fact that Bohls’ column was all about the Big 12 — I’m taking a slight detour.

I’m going with some Texas flavor this year. Seven teams — Baylor, Texas, Houston, Texas Tech, Texas Southern, North Texas and Abilene Christian — made it into the field. I would have loved to have seen the Texas State Bobcats  — a real fun bunch under new coach Terrence Johnson — make it to the Dance but those automatic qualifiers are a tough reality for conferences like the Sun Belt.

As for the entrants, our state produced some great hoops this year, particularly the Baylor Bears who were my pick for best team in the country before the ravages of COVID-19 slowed down Scott Drew’s crew. The No. 1 seed will hopefully regain their sea legs in time to take out Hartford and North Carolina before an epic matchup against the powerful Ohio State Buckeyes, which represent 25 percent of my Final Four.

March Madness 2021:How to watch, stream Texas basketball vs. Abilene Christian

Texas' Jericho Sims dunks during the Longhorns' win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament final Saturday. Sims would play a key role in any deep NCAA tournament for the Longhorns.

Call me the Kool-Aid monster but I’m pouring a few gallons of the burnt orange flavor and why not? If ever there was a time for the Horns to make a serious run at a national title, it’s now. Yes, a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 2 Alabama — the third best three-point shooting team in the nation — and SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones is as good as anybody but the Horns have answered most every challenge down the stretch of Smart’s most decorated Texas team to date. The Horns, winners of five straight, haven’t won an NCAA game under his watch but they have gotten used to hoisting a little hardware with that NIT win, the Maui Classic title and the biggest, the scintillating Big 12 title win over Oklahoma State.

Texas should handle Abilene Christian and either BYU or Michigan State before going nose to nose with the Crimson Tide, that is, if they keep big man Jericho Sims fed and if point guard Matt Coleman continues to do his best impression of T.J. Ford. The Horns will make it to the semifinals before Gonzaga tramples over its glass slipper.

I also love the balanced Houston Cougars who I expect to make a run with wins over Clemson and West Virginia before they lose to my eventual champion, the Illinois Fighting Illini, who will beat Gonzaga for the title.

If things go my way, our state will finish up at 11-7, not a bad run for us office geeks.

Let’s all give thanks for the Madness. I look forward to comparing notes when the smoke has cleared or when Texas gets knocked out, whichever comes first.

Happy bracketing.