We know where the Longhorns will begin their March Madness experience in 2016:
Texas earns a No. 6 seed in the West region. The Longhorns will face No. 11 Northern Iowa. Texas could face A&M after that …
— Horns247 (@Horns247) March 13, 2016
This Horns team is one that has endured a lot of growing moments under first-year head coach Shaka Smart but have proven to be a formidable team when they buy into his teachings. A lot of people will talk about the fact that Texas could face their old rivals in the second round but this team needs to focus on a good Northern Iowa team that will not fear the Horns.
Northern Iowa has defeated North Carolina, Iowa State, and Wichita State during the 2015-16 season. This Panthers team is not as dangerous as previous versions but are just as capable of upsetting the #6 seeded Longhorns. Once the tournament starts all bets are off. 2004 was the only season since 2000 that all 6 seeds defeated the 11 seeds just to give you an idea of how unpredictable the tournament is. This is a one-game tournament every game for every team so there are so many factors that go into it. Higher seeded teams to get into their own heads no doubt about it and when they see that scoreboard and they are not playing well they will stress themselves out and try to press things. The reason it gets so intense is because there is no rest of the season or conference play to get things figured out there are two halves and the entire nation is watching.
Northern Iowa comes out of the Missouri Valley Conference where they finished 5th but got hot towards the end and won their conference tournament to get to this point. They lost the first matchup to the Missouri Valley Conference regular season winners Wichita State, but UNI ended up taking the last two matchups including in the MVC tournament. They score well below average at 68 points per game but their defense is on point at 62.9 points per game allowed and that ranks 11th in the country. The Longhorns will have to find a way to stop Tennessee transfer Wes Washpun who averages 14.3 ppg (leads team) and 5.2 assists per game (leads team). The Panthers are feeling good after that buzzer beater in the MVC tournament final.
The Longhorns finished 20-12 and 4th in the Big 12 which makes a lot of people in Austin very excited for the Shaka Smart era. To win 20 games and make the tournament in your first year with none of your own players is a very good sign for Longhorn fans. Texas had some very impressive wins this season, including wins over North Carolina, West Virginia (twice), Baylor, and Iowa State to round out their resume. At the same time the Longhorns looked very lost and unwilling to stay the course under Shaka. Games like the TCU game come to mind and then following up impressive wins with blowout losses to Baylor or Kansas are examples of how up and down this season has gone for the Longhorns.
Texas is in the region with Oregon as the #1 seed and Oklahoma as the #2 seed. The Texas/UNI winner would face the winner of A&M/Green Bay. Everyone is salivating over the Longhorns-Aggies potential matchup but neither Northern Iowa nor Green Bay are pushovers in the first round so they need to face the present danger. The winner from the second-round matchup of any of these teams would most likely face VCU or Oklahoma in the sweet 16. For Texas, they know they can play with the Sooners but the matchup with VCU would be must-see TV because the Longhorns coach is the former coach of the VCU Rams. Who doesn’t want to see Shaka versus VCU? Oregon is on fire and a worthy #1 seed but if you look at the bracket overall you would have to say they are the most vulnerable #1 seed. This is why I think the West region is up for grabs. Texas has just a shot as any team in the West to reach the Final Four in Houston.
The game between Texas and UNI tips off at 9:50 on TBS Friday March 18th.