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Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Texas among bubble teams hoping to dance

By Mackenzie Kraemer

For more than seven years, Texas, Pittsburgh and Villanova have been staples in the NCAA tournament. However, as of now, none is in Joe Lunardi’s bracket. Texas, Pittsburgh and Villanova each have at least eight losses and RPIs of 59, 75 and 90, respectively.

Currently, the Longhorns are the fifth team out as they hope to extend their 13-year streak of making the tournament. As for Pittsburgh and Villanova, both schools likely will not be so lucky.

Texas Longhorns (13-9, 3-6, RPI: 59; 13-year NCAA tournament streak)

What’s gone wrong: Many of Texas’ problems can be traced to the offseason. Between graduation and Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton leaving for the NBA, the Longhorns lost 84.6 percent of their minutes and 83 percent of their scoring from last season. No returning player started a game last year, and only J'Covan Brown averaged more than 2.3 PPG. As a result, Texas is the 324th most-experienced team in the nation, averaging less than a year’s experience per player, according to kenpom.com. That inexperience manifests itself in the team’s 1-6 record in road/neutral-site games. It also forces Brown (19.7 PPG, 3.9 APG) to shoulder most of the scoring load. He takes the most shots per game (16.1) among major conference players (minimum 16 games).

Reasons for hope: With a .207 adjusted points per possession advantage over its opponents (24th in D-I), Texas statistically should be a tournament team. However, one reason Rick Barnes’ squad is the fifth team out is Texas’ 0-7 record in games decided by six points or fewer, including Monday's one-point loss vs fourth-ranked Missouri. With an RPI of 59 and no bad losses on their résumé, the Longhorns can easily make the tournament if they can win close games. Road games against Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech give the Longhorns several opportunities to improve their record away from Austin.

Pittsburgh Panthers (14-9, 3-7, RPI: 75; 10-year NCAA tournament streak)

What’s gone wrong: Pittsburgh already has its most losses since it last missed the tournament in 2000-01. Like Texas, Pittsburgh is forced to rely on one player to take most of its shots. Ashton Gibbs is averaging 16.4 points per game on 14.3 shots. However, Pitt’s biggest issue has been its defense, which has allowed 66.6 PPG and 1.02 points per possession (199th in D-1), most since that 2000-01 season.

Reasons for hope: After losing its first seven Big East games, Pittsburgh is coming off back-to-back-to-back wins against Providence, Georgetown and West Virginia. Point guard Tray Woodall, who has missed 11 games this year with a groin injury, had 22 assists and 10 turnovers in those three games. In five Big East games without Woodall, Pittsburgh was 0-5, posting 60 assists and 77 turnovers. In five conference games with him, the Panthers have 82 assists to just 62 turnovers. The opportunity is there for Pittsburgh to make a run with five straight games against unranked opponents.

Villanova Wildcats (10-12, 3-7, RPI: 90; 7-year NCAA tournament streak)

What’s gone wrong: Villanova is in danger of its first losing season since 2002-03. Without any scholarship seniors, the Wildcats are 2-9 in road/neutral-site games. The defense (0.98 points per possession) is the worst in the Jay Wright era, and forces turnovers on only 16.7 percent of possessions, worst among major-conference teams. Offensively, no team in the Big East shoots worse than Villanova (42.1 percent). Like Brown and Gibbs, Maalik Wayns (18.4 PPG, 13.7 FGA per game) is forced to carry a heavy offensive burden.

Reasons for hope: Despite its reputation as “Guard U,” Villanova is seventh in the nation in rebounding at 40.8 rebounds per game. With 12 losses, the Wildcats may need to run the table to have any shot at the NCAA tournament.