March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (7) Texas vs. (10) Arizona St.

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Texas Longhorns 23-10, 11-7

Selection Sunday was a little less comfortable for the Longhorns than they would have liked for it to have been after going 5-6 over their last 11 games. Prior to that stretch, they won seven in a row with quality wins against Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas. Despite their poor finish, they’re dancing for the 31st time in school history, back after a one-year hiatus that ended a streak of 13 straight appearances. They played the 63rd most difficult schedule in the country, scoring 74 points a night while allowing 70. Junior forward Jonathan Holmes has developed into the team’s leading scorer (13 ppg) and second leading rebounder (7.2 rpg). He’s one of four Longhorns to average double figures. At 6’9, 285 lbs. sophomore center Cameron Ridley is one of the most physically imposing players in college basketball. He’s become a much bigger part of the Longhorns’ attack, nearly averaging a double-double on the year at 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds; he also rejects 2.2 shots a contest. Perimeter play is going to be key. Longhorns head coach Rick Barnes primarily plays underclassmen Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland and Javan Felix on the perimeter; all three are streaky and playing in their first NCAA Tournament action. If they don’t play serviceable basketball, the Longhorns’ chances of getting past the opening weekend, something they haven’t done since 2008, are slim.

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Arizona State Sun Devils 21-11, 10-8

On February 14, the Sun Devils picked up one of the biggest wins in school history, upsetting then No. 2 Arizona 69-66 in double overtime. However, they faltered greatly after that statement victory, backing their way into the Big Dance by losing five of their last seven games, including a blowout 79-58 loss to Stanford in the opening round of the Pac-12 postseason tournament. Still, after consistently being on the wrong side of the tournament bubble in recent years, the Sun Devils have to feel good about being in the Big Dance for the 14th time in school history and just the third time since 1995. Sophomore guard Jahii Carson, who has already made it clear he’s NBA bound at the end of the season, has been a star for the Sun Devils this year, leading them in points (18.6) and assists (4.5). He’s also third in rebounds (4), despite being 5’10. Senior center Jordan Bachnyski quietly became one of the best big men in the country this year, putting up 11.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and a nation-leading 4.1 blocks a contest. Few teams in the country have a better point guard-center combination. The Sun Devils played the 57th most difficult schedule in the country and went 8-9 against the RPI top 100. Depth and rebounding are concerns for the Sun Devils, who have won at least a game in each of their last four tourney appearances.