Longhorns look forward to second chance at Big 12 tournament after year of cancellations

Matthew Boncosky

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 12 issue of The Daily Texan.


For the second consecutive year, the Texas men’s basketball team is gearing up for a postseason run amid unusual circumstances. At least this year the tournament will actually be played.


Last year, the Longhorns took the court to warm up for their opening matchup of the 2020 Big 12 Tournament against Texas Tech before being abruptly yanked off just prior to tip-off. Later that day, the sports world rapidly shut down over concerns that COVID-19 had made its way to the United States.


“I was pretty mad because I wanted to play,” junior guard Courtney Ramey said in a Monday teleconference. “But in the grand scheme of things, I understood why they pulled us off the court.”


As the day unfolded, every conference canceled its individual basketball tournaments, and the NCAA announced the cancellation of its March Madness tournament and all spring sports for the remainder of the academic year.


Now, a year later, the Longhorns are back in Kansas City competing in the Big 12 Tournament in the hopes of capturing the program’s first ever conference tournament championship.


“It’s never been done at Texas,” Ramey said. “So we want to keep doing things that never have been done at the school. We want to approach these three games as like a new season.”


Regardless of how the Big 12 Tournament unfolds, Texas will receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, whether via an automatic bid for winning the conference tournament or an at-large bid due to a strong, top 25 resume.


In previous years, the Longhorns did not have the luxury of knowing their bid to the big dance is secure.


“That is like a deep breath,” senior guard Matt Coleman said. “Now I just feel like it’s just let your hair down and just hoop.”


This year’s 68-team NCAA Tournament will look very different due to COVID-19 precautions. Typically, the tournament unfolds on a regional basis with games held in arenas across the country before converging into one location for the Final Four and National Championship games.


This year, the NCAA announced the entire tournament will take place in Indiana at a handful of arenas in Bloomington, Indianapolis and West Lafayette.


“They took it away from us last year with COVID, so now we get to really go,” sophomore forward Kai Jones said. “I feel like we have a chance to do something special. I’m pretty excited to say the least.”


The revamped structure presents a unique challenge for the Longhorns, who could potentially be away from Austin for almost a month without the opportunity to come home between rounds like previous years.


But after a long regular season defined by COVID-19 disruptions and empty arenas, No. 13 Texas has a chance to end its season on a high note with a strong postseason run.


“We would love to be on the road for the next month,” head coach Shaka Smart said in a March 7 post-game availability. “But it’s one of those situations where, in both of these tournaments, they’re single elimination. So in order to do that, it’s about winning the game in front of us and then quickly turning the page.”