As Longhorns approach March, their focus stays on the present

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Photo Credit: Ryan Lam | Daily Texan Staff

With only four games left on their schedule, the Longhorns are preparing for their final push before the start of the postseason. At 15–12, including a 7–7 mark in Big 12 play, Texas still needs to add to its NCAA Tournament résumé.

Texas is currently on the fringe to make the tournament based on analysts’ projections. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi placed the Longhorns as a 9-seed in his latest bracketology predictions, while CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has Texas as one of the first four out of the tournament.

But at this time of the year, those projections are particularly fluid with teams across the country shuffling in and out after significant conference wins and losses. And with Texas losing two of its last three conference games, combined with the indefinite suspension of guard Kerwin Roach II, the tournament picture has muddied recently for the Longhorns. 

The position is similar to last year’s when the Longhorns were right on the tournament bubble for most of the season. But unlike last year, players insist they’re not focused on what the latest projections say or what teams are doing across the country. They’re only worried on what they can control. 

“I think compared to last year, the culture is emphasizing not worrying about what’s going on with March Madness,” guard Elijah Mitrou-Long said. “We still have a league to finish and a really tough league to finish. We’re really focused on the opponent we’re playing next.” 

There are positive aspects to Texas’ tournament hopes. The Longhorns can claim quality wins over North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas and Kansas State. But there are also difficult losses to reconcile, like Radford, Georgia and Oklahoma State, and a mediocre overall record to go along with them.

The Longhorns, however, still believe in themselves, which has been an unwavering theme for this unit all season despite the ups and downs. Based on the wins they have recorded and how competitive they are on a consistent basis, they believe they deserve a chance to play in March.   

“We’ve had games where we showed we can compete and beat anybody,” forward Dylan Osetkowski said. “You get into a one-game scenario with us, we have a lot of different things offensively, a lot of different things defensively that are hard for teams to play against us in one-game situations.” 

Plenty of chances to prove that will come in the upcoming games. With Baylor, Texas Tech and Iowa State remaining on the schedule, the Longhorns will play three teams who are all within two games of the conference lead. 

During head coach Shaka Smart’s press conference Monday, the inevitable question of where the Longhorns feel they are in the NCAA Tournament picture came up. But like his players, Smart employed his game-to-game mantra. He is worried about only one thing, which is going to Waco on Wednesday night and coming away with a win against Baylor. 

“Going into a game against Baylor, they’re playing very well,” Smart said. “We’re going to work our butts off to prepare. Be a defensive team we need to be on the road and put enough points on the board to win.”