Texas Begins Tourney vs NewMexico St

Four years ago, freshman Carmelo Anthony helped lead Syracuse to the national championship. This year, Texas hopes a trio of freshmen led by Big 12 player of the year Kevin Durant can help it do the same.

With Durant set to make his NCAA tournament debut - and possibly his last appearance in a college uniform - the fourth-seeded Longhorns meet No. 13 seed New Mexico State on Friday in the first round of the East Regional in Spokane, Wash.

Oddsmakers have made Texas -8 point spread favorites (College Basketball Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 154.5 total points (View College Basketball Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 82% of bets for this game have

been placed on Texas -8 (View College Basketball Bet Percentages).

Durant, a 6-foot-9 forward, put together one of the most dominant freshman seasons ever, finishing fourth in the nation with 25.6 points per game and third with 11.3 rebounds. His 20 double-doubles tied him with Nevada's Nick Fazekas for the Division I lead.

Those numbers helped earn Big 12 player of the year honors, but he saved some of his best games for the conference tournament, setting records with 92 points and 31 field goals over three contests.

Durant tied a career high with 37 points, added 10 rebounds and blocked a career-best six shots in the Longhorns' 88-84 overtime loss to Kansas on Sunday.

"He does a lot of great things for our team," Texas guard A.J. Abrams said. "He's an inside and outside player. When he has it going like that, we've got to look to get him the ball like we did."

Though he's considered a top-two pick in the upcoming NBA draft with fellow freshman Greg Oden of Ohio State should they make themselves eligible, Durant is focused on bringing the Longhorns (24-9) their first national title.

"Our ultimate goal is to win a national championship," he said. "We've just got to focus on the first game and take them a game at a time and hopefully we'll get there.

"It would be great to (win the national title), but like I said, I'm just worried about the first game."

With all the hype surrounding Durant and Oden, Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said it's hard to overlook his player.

"He clearly has proven all year up to this point that he's the best player in college basketball. He means a lot to our team," he said.

But Durant is not the only talented freshman on Barnes' team. Guard D.J. Augustin ranks fourth in the country with 6.7 assists per game. Swingman Damion Jones, meanwhile, has reached double figures in rebounds 10 times, including 14 in the loss to Kansas.

Texas is 17-1 this season when outrebounding its opponent.

This is the ninth straight NCAA tournament for the Longhorns, who have failed to make it out of the first round three times in that span, losing to Purdue in 1999, Temple in 2001 and Nevada in 2005.

Two years after taking over a team that was coming off a 6-24 season, former NBA All-Star Reggie Theus has New Mexico State (25-8) back in the tourney for the first time since 1999, when it lost a first-round matchup to Kentucky.

The Aggies clinched their bid after defeating Utah State 72-70 on their homecourt Saturday night to win their first WAC tournament championship.

"It's all about matchups from this point on and it don't matter where we go, I'm just happy and proud that we're in," Theus said.

Tournament MVP Justin Hawkins scored 20 points and Elijah Ingram added 18, including four 3-pointers. Hawkins twice appeared in the NCAA tournament while playing for Utah.

"I want to go there every year that I'm in college and it is what I've dreamed of as a kid," said Hawkins, a junior forward who leads NMSU with 15.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Junior forward Tyrone Nelson also will try to build off momentum from the WAC tournament, when he shot 57.6 percent from the field and led NMSU with 17.3 points and 5.6 boards.

The Aggies are 2-1 all-time against Big 12 schools in the NCAA tournament, posting wins over Kansas State in 1970 and Nebraska in 1993 before falling to Oklahoma State in 1994.

This is the third meeting all-time between Texas and NMSU. The teams split their first two games, but haven't met since the Longhorns posted a 101-82 home win in December 1981.

The winner of this contest faces either fifth-seeded USC or No. 12 seed Arkansas in the second round Sunday.

by: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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