Shaka Smart is back in the NCAA Tournament, but for the first time it isn’t with VCU. Considering that Texas was without its best player, Cameron Ridley, for the entirety of Big 12 play, one could say that Shaka and the Longhorns overachieved this season — especially after beating Oklahoma, Iowa State, Vanderbilt and West Virginia, twice. Ridley is back and planning to play in the first round against the upset-hungry Northern Iowa Panthers.
No. 11 Northern Iowa Panthers (22-12) vs. No. 6 Texas Longhorns (20-12)
When: 9:50 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City)
Line: Texas -4.5
Keys for Texas
It’s great that Ridley has returned, but how effective he will be is the big question. The Longhorns may not need Ridley to get back to his scoring (11.8 ppg) ways, but his rebounding (9.2 rpg) will be huge as Northern Iowa is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the nation. Another advantage for the ‘Horns is their depth, as 11 players average 10 minutes a game or more.
Keys for Northern Iowa
Sadly, Ali Farokhmanesh has long since graduated, but the Panthers are still primed for another upset and blast your bracket into shambles. With Ridley back, the Longhorns boast probably the best shot-blocking combo in college hoops with him and senior center Prince Ibeh in the middle, so outside shooting will be key for the Panthers to pull an upset. Northern Iowa is extremely well rounded and has great depth as four players average at least 10 points and eight players average at least eight minutes per game.
The Panthers enter this matchup as one of the hottest teams in college hoops, on a six-game winning streak and winners of their last 12 of 13. Bur for as well as the Panthers have played the last month of the season, they still haven’t seen a front line like that of Texas’. With Ridley back, the Longhorns have to like their chances against the surging Panthers — but beware the bracket buster!