Can Texas turn things around in a week?

March, 12, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Not sure when the selection committee has had to deal with this scenario.

How to seed a former No. 1-ranked team in the country that has lost its way, limped into Selection Sunday, having lost three of its past five, with the team's last quality win coming at Oklahoma State on Feb. 1.

The team's body of work will be judged accordingly. It always has been.

Still, it would have to give the 10 members of the selection committee some pause. Texas, regardless of whether it ever plays up to its potential, will be seeded to its résumé, not to its talent. That means the Longhorns will be closer to, if not a lock for, a double-digit seed.

Can you imagine a No. 1 or No. 2 seed seeing Texas in the second round if the Longhorns are able to get out of the first round? It may not sound like much of a challenge based on the way the Longhorns are playing now. But if you watched the way Texas played early in the year, racing out to the top ranking and a 17-0 record, it's hard to fathom.

"I don't think there's a team in the country that will want to play Texas," senior wing Damion James said after the Longhorns lost 86-67 to Baylor in the Big 12 quarterfinals Thursday night at the Sprint Center. "We're so talented. At one point, we were the best team in the country. We lost our focus and enthusiasm and passion, and we have to get that back.

"We're out of the Big 12 now, and we can play some other teams, teams that have never seen us play."

Texas had some bad luck -- guards Varez Ward (quad) and Dogus Balbay (ACL) went down with season-ending injuries. But that doesn't excuse the inconsistent play of Justin Mason, J'Covan Brown and Jai Lucas, the three other lead guards.

The hope among the Texas team and staff late Thursday night was that the switch could still be flipped by next week. But can it?

"You have to have consistent guard play, and we haven't had that all year," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.

The Baylor game crystallized the frustration for Texas. Brown was 1-of-7. Lucas was timid. Mason was solid but got no help from a backup. Just when you want to believe in Gary Johnson, he was 1-of-6 with three turnovers. James got so frustrated that he got a technical foul. Dexter Pittman was large in the middle with 14 points, but he couldn't guard Ekpe Udoh at times. Star freshman Jordan Hamilton didn't do much in 20 minutes with two buckets. The best, although he's still not vocal enough, was freshman Avery Bradley, who scored 14 points with four assists and zero turnovers.

"We are dangerous; we've proven to be dangerous," Barnes said. "I know people think we've had a disappointing season because of the expectations, but that's because of how far our program has come."

Barnes said the top goal for the Horns, who are still relatively new to being a regular in the NCAA tournament, is to reach the Big Dance. There is some truth to that. But Texas has gone beyond that. They are expected to be a regular player for a deep run. And all of that can be salvaged if they get to the second weekend.

"Other than the first two lines in the tournament, I truly believe that in this tournament it doesn't matter," Barnes said. "If you're a 1-seed, if you win that first game, you're going to probably play a team from a power conference. The pressure then shifts to the higher-seeded team."

And it would again, if Texas can get in that position. There was a lot of frustration here in Kansas City, summing up a season's worth of it. Losing to rival Baylor, a team that the Longhorns clearly are chippy with (and vice versa), added to the bitterness over the situation. There were a lot of hanging heads in the locker room, but not the coaches' locker room. Barnes wouldn't have any of it. Just like in losing at Connecticut in late January, Barnes said then what he said again Thursday night, he can see this team turning it around.

The difference, of course, is that after the loss to UConn, Texas had six weeks to turn things around. Now it has one.

"When we see our name come up on Sunday night, I hope there is an excitement from us," Barnes said. "There are a lot of teams that would gladly trade places with us this year. We're happy to be a part of the 65 teams that have a chance to continue to play."

What they do with that opportunity will tell a lot about the mental makeup of this crew of Longhorns.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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