After missing the NCAA tournament last season for the first time under head coach Rick Barnes, No. 7-seeded Texas is set to face No. 10-seeded Arizona State in the Midwest region of the tournament Thursday in Milwaukee, Wisc.
“We felt great seeing our name up there [on the bracket], especially after last year,” sophomore guard Demarcus Holland said. “It’s just an opportunity to keep playing basketball and play at the highest level. Every team that is in this tournament has a chance to win.”
This is just the fifth time Texas and Arizona State have faced each other, and the first time in the NCAA tournament. The last time these two schools matched up was in 1999.
The Longhorns (23-10, 11-7 Big 12) and the Sun Devils (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12) are evenly matched heading into the second round of the tournament. Both teams possess a strong defensive front but are prone to struggle on offense. Additionally, neither team finished its season strongly: Texas lost five of its last eight games, while Arizona State fell in five of its last seven contests.
“We’ve been struggling lately, but I promise you coming into the NCAA tournament we’ll be ready,” freshman guard Isaiah Taylor said. “We’re ready to face anyone.”
Only junior forward Jonathan Holmes, the lone upperclassman on the team with a scholarship, has played in the tournament previously. Texas fell to Cincinnati two years ago in its first game, 65-59.
For the rest of Holmes’ young teammates, this will be their first chance at the tournament.
“It’s exciting,” Taylor said. “Especially going against a Pac-12 team. I think I can speak for the rest of the team, that everybody is excited.”
Sophomore center Cameron Ridley will provide one of the most interesting matchups of the game when he faces the Sun Devils’ 7-foot-2-inch center Jordan Bachynski, who leads the nation with 4.1 blocks per game. Ridley comes in three inches shorter, but leads his team with 8.2 rebounds per game.
Barnes uses Texas’ win against UNC earlier this season to describe how he thinks his team is ready for its opening matchup.
“If you go back to the North Carolina game, there is a great picture of them,” Barnes said. “They are walking off the court arm in arm, but not too emotional. Not jumping around like we didn’t expect this. They know they can win.”
The game will start at 8:40 p.m. CST and will be broadcast on CBS.