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March 11, 2007

Horns earn a four seed

The Texas Longhorns finished the regular season on a roll, winning six out of seven games. Texas beat Baylor and Oklahoma State to advance to the Big 12 tournament finals before losing to Kansas 88-84 in overtime in Sunday's championship.

While there was a question among Longhorn fans of whether Texas would receive a four seed or a three seed, the question was answered Sunday when the Longhorns were slotted fourth in the East Region. Though Texas is in the East Regional, the Longhorns will travel out west to Spokane, WA for the first round match-up against 13 seed New Mexico State.

The NCAA tournament appearance will be a ninth straight for the Longhorns under head coach Rick Barnes. Texas is 10-8 in the big dance under Barnes. It will be an 11th straight tournament appearance for Rick Barnes dating back to his time at Clemson.

The Longhorns enter the NCAA tournament as one of the teams no one wants to play due to the walking miss-match that is Kevin Durant. Durant is the leading candidate to take home every major national player of the year award.

New Mexico State comes into the NCAA Tournament with a 25-8 record coming off winning the WAC Tournament on its home court in Las Cruces. The Aggies beat Utah State 72-70 Saturday night in the conference tournament final to punch a ticket to the big dance.

New Mexico State is a team made up largely of transfers from more notable Division I programs. Junior forward Justin Hawkins leads the Aggies in scoring at 15.7 points per game. Former Hempstead High forward Tyrone Nelson is second on the team at 11.8 points per game.

The leader of the Aggie team is 6-1 senior guard Elijah Ingram. The St. John's transfer averages 10.4 points per game.

Texas and New Mexico State will play Friday with the time yet to be dertminted. The winner will advance to the round of 32 to be played on Sunday and face the winner of five seed Southern California and 12 seed Arkansas.

NO. 4 TEXAS LONGHORNS

Texas enters the NCAA Tournament with a 24-9 record, winning eight of 10 games with both losses coming against No. 1 West seed Kansas by a total of eight points.

The Longhorns have a 4-7 record against NCAA Tournament teams on the season. Texas' four wins are against Arkansas (80-76) in Austin, at Texas Tech (76-64), Texas Tech (80-51) in Austin and Texas A&M (98-96) in Austin.

The seven losses are against Michigan State (63-61) neutral, Gonzaga (87-77) neutral, at Tennessee (111-105), at Villanova (76-69), at Texas A&M (100-82), at Kansas (90-86) and Kansas (88-84) neutral.

In the 11 games against NCAA Tournament teams, the Longhorns have been out rebounded by 50 or -4.5 per game.

The Longhorns and New Mexico State Aggies have one common opponent. Texas beat Chicago State 92-66 in Austin, while New Mexico State beat Chicago State in Las Cruces 80-74 and at Chicago State 88-78.

The Longhorns will have a successful tournament run if the rebounding is close to even, if the freshman get past any nerves they feel and if Durant performs at the level he has this season.

Texas will find trouble if Durant or D.J. Augustin have to spend a large chunk of time on the bench with foul trouble at some point and the three-point jumpers don't fall.

NO. 13 NEW MEXICO STATE

The Aggies enter the big dance with a 25-8 record coming off of the WAC tournament championship played in Las Cruces. New Mexico State finished 11-5 in WAC play, good for second place behind Nevada.

The Aggies beat Utah State 72-70 in the WAC tournament championship game.

New Mexico State has a 1-2 record against NCAA Tournament teams this season. The win came against No. 7 South seed team Nevada 80-73. The losses came at the hands of Arizona 102-87 in Tuscon and at Nevada 69-65.

The Aggies are an athletic team that plays its best when pushing tempo and forcing turnovers and rushed shots. The roster is made up of several transfers from power conference programs that have big game experience.

The Aggies can make a tournament run if they create turnovers consistently with the half court trap and full court presses as well as having a hot game from the 3-point line and creating second chance points on the offensive glass.

The Aggies will make a quick out if Texas rebounds the ball well, doesn't turn the ball over against the pressure defense and makes open 3-pointers that will be available against the Aggies defense.

NO. 5 USC TROJANS

Southern California enters the big dance with a 23-11 record. The Trojans are 2-3 in the last five games, including an 81-57 loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament championship game.

USC has a 9-7 record against NCAA Tournament teams this year. Wins have come against Long Beach State 79-61, George Washington 74-65, at Oregon 84-82, Arizona 80-73, Oregon 71-68, at Arizona 80-75, Stanford 69-65, Stanford 83-79 and Washington State 70-61.

The Trojans have dropped games against Kansas 72-62 on the road, Washington State 58-55, UCLA 65-64, at Stanford 65-50, at UCLA 70-65, at Washington State 88-86 and Oregon neutral 81-57.

The Trojan team features five guards that range in height from 6-foot-4 to 6-6, led by 6-6 junior Nick Young, who averages 17.4 points.

The Trojans will make noise in the tournament if they take advantage of their size in the backcourt on both ends of the floor and get double-double performances out of power forward Taj Gibson.

USC will be in trouble if Arkansas dominates the glass and Patrick Beverley and Gary Ervin create dribble penetration with consistency and success.

NO. 12 ARKANSAS

The Razorbacks enter the tournament with a 21-13 record, but the selection to the big dance has come as a surprise to many after finishing just 7-9 in the SEC West. The Razorbacks run to the SEC Tournament finals was the difference as was winning five of the last six games.

The Razorbacks' only loss in the last six games was Sunday afternoon to No. 1 Midwest seed Florida 77-56. The loss came at a cost as big man Charles Thomas injured his ankle in the opening minutes of the loss to Florida. Thomas' availability for Friday is not known at this time.

The Razorbacks have a 3-6 record against NCAA Tournament teams on the season. Arkansas has wins over Southern Illinois 61-53 on the road, at Vanderbilt 82-67 and Vanderbilt neutral 72-71.

Losses came at the hands of Texas Tech 71-56 in Lubbock, at Texas 80-76, at Florida 79-72, Kentucky 82-74, Tennessee 83-72 and Florida neutral 77-56.

Arkansas will have a shot to beat USC if Thomas can come back to play and the Razorbacks dominate the glass putting pressure on the USC backcourt to make perimeter jumpers, knowing second chance scoring opportunities are not available.

Arkansas is in trouble if Thomas can't play and 3-point jumpers are settled for. Arkansas is at their best when putting the ball on the ball on the floor and attacking the paint with Gary Ervin and Patrick Beverley.


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