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AUSTIN, Texas -- Call it intuition, 35 years of coaching experience or just a flat out lucky guess, but as Texas coach Rick Barnes sat and watched Cincinnati go up against Louisville in the Big East Championship Saturday he turned to his wife Candy and told her the Bearcats would be Texas' first round NCAA tournament opponent.
And then, just as quickly, the TV was back to the Nationwide series.
Hey, basketball is his job. Racing is his passion. He is from Hickory, N.C., after all. As it turns out, maybe Barnes should have watched just a tad more of Cincinnati, because after an are-they-or-aren't-they-in season, the Longhorns (20-13) drew the No. 6-seed Bearcats (24-10) in the first round on Friday in Nashville.
"From where we started, they earned it," Barnes said. "They certainly played their way in."
It was the play in the first game of the Big 12 tournament that earned the Longhorns the No. 11 seed.
Branded with a 9-9 conference record and only three signature wins, Texas had to come up with an upset over Iowa State to catch the selection committees' attention and gain admission to the tournament for the 14th straight year.
"You never know," point guard Sterling Gibbs said. "But after that Iowa State game, I was as close to knowing as you could be. But you never know until you see your name come up."
That Texas' name came up at all might have been a shock to anyone who watched this team play in January. The Longhorns, saddled with six true freshmen, one potent scorer and two role-playing seniors, went 3-6 with losses by one to Missouri, three to Kansas, four to Kansas State, five to Baylor and six to Iowa State.
But, as Barnes said, this was a team with some resiliency about it.
Aided by an easier schedule and some resolve, Texas set out to make sure this year's team was not the one to snap the streak of NCAA appearances.
"When you have that 'Texas' across your chest, the NCAA is something that is expected," senior Clint Chapman said.
So too, though, is a team with future NCAA talent and possibly even a lottery pick in tow. But that is not this bunch. J'Covan Brown has the ability to make money playing basketball somewhere. Maybe Myck Kabongo could develop into professional player, as well. Beyond that, Texas is a team of decent college players who spent most of the season coming to grips with the fact they were no longer high school superstars.
That's why Barnes drove this team harder than any he has ever had. They were young. They were inconsistent. They were headstrong. They were without direction or purpose. Barnes and the staff had to get rid of the bad and instill their own philosophies into the six freshmen and three upperclassmen. It worked because the team worked.
"As hard as they worked, I just don't think they were willing to give in," Barnes said. "Even up until the last game, all we have talked about is getting better."