Column: The key to Texas’ ‘One Shining Moment’

Jori Epstein

There are few things more exciting than watching David Barrett’s rendition of “One Shining Moment” each April. It’s a moment many fans miss if they dare switch off the television before postgame festivities conclude — or if they don’t watch the title game at all. But the montage of sparkling cheerleaders, slam-dunking NBA prospects, devastated fans whose teams just suffered an upset and a remaining myriad of emotions truly encapsulate what the NCAA Tournament is all about.

Because come March, all expectations fade. The top seeds hold a tenuous advantage beyond maybe the first round. Upsets pile on upsets. The Big Dance doesn’t favor the most glamorous slippers — it’s made for those who clean the floor, able to work its magic on a hot streak.

So what prevented Texas from making a run to Arlington?

For one, the Longhorns peaked early and faded late. A January mid-conference explosion did wonders for their ranking. Texas jumped from 25th to top-15 just by shutting out Kansas’ freshman guard Andrew Wiggins — who didn’t fare any better in the tournament than the Longhorns did. They used their youth as an excuse for not knowing how to lose. But after winning nine of 10 games in the midst of their rise, the Longhorns dropped five of their last eight entering the tournament, including getting run over by Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament.

Once in the tournament, Texas did exactly as was expected of a team that stagnated in the lower half of the Big 12 last year, missing the madness altogether and putting head coach Rick Barnes’ job security in question. The Longhorns won the game they should have and were silenced by powerhouse Michigan.

But come next year, Texas can do more. With all five starters returning and increased experience, Texas seems posed to be nothing but bigger and better for next season. The team might not be a top-five seed next year, but does seeding really matter?

With No. 7 Connecticut topping No. 8 Kentucky on Monday, it’s clear that seeding only dictates so much. The seeding process is well-analyzed, methodical and relatively fair just don’t ask SMU or Minnesota. Both the Wildcats and the Huskies started the season strong, and both dropped just enough games to be underestimated in postseason play.

But Texas must not only aim to improve from this year. In the regular season, the Longhorns proved respectable. They didn’t lose that in the tournament. But it takes more than fundamentals to be a national title contender. It takes a springtime hot-streak, bursts of energy, the mentality that anything can happen and a bit of magic.

UConn’s road to the championship wasn’t smooth. Every tournament game but one was double digits. The Huskies even needed overtime to best 10th-seeded St. Joseph’s in the round of 64. Had Hawks senior guard Langston Galloway hit his jumper with five seconds left, the 2014 national champions would have been knocked out by a relatively unknown team.

Texas’ first matchup didn’t play out too differently, except that sophomore center Cameron Ridley made the winning buzzer-beater against Arizona State. For a night, the Huskies and Longhorns were dancing to the same beat. Both were No. 7 seeds, elated just to be able to play another day.

So next year, the Longhorns need to take that momentum a little further. It’s time for Texas’ “One Shining Moment.”