OK, so we got skunked, what’s the big deal?
The state of Texas got totally shut out of this year’s NCAA tournament for the first time since 1977, and everybody’s making a big fuss over it. Hey, I didn’t see a bunch of teams from Rhode Island in the tournament, and I don’t see anyone calling them out. How about North Dakota? Alaska? Zilch. Join our pity party while we — sniff, sniff — watch the rest of the nation get entranced by the tourney starting Thursday.
But we go a whole year without putting one team in the stinking field, and people flip out. Besides, we only have — gulp — 21 Division I basketball programs in our state. So what if Pennsylvania, North Carolina and California each landed five teams in the NCAAs? The Lone Star state is one of 19 states, not counting Puerto Rico, that were shut out, but we will be back.
Just wait till next season when … when … all right, maybe we’re onto something here.
Maybe we do stink.
And if this becomes a trend, here are the contributing factors: Too much top-tier talent is still leaving the state, emigrating from our borders because of too little passion for basketball. And we have too few name-brand coaches here because there are no more Guy V. Lewises or Don Haskins in Texas.
First, you can’t win without talent.
Of the top 10 Texas prep players ranked by 247 Sports, none of the top seven has committed to an in-state school. Julius Randle, Plano’s 6-9 star, will decide from among the Longhorns, Kansas and Kentucky on Wednesday. The Harrison twins of Fort Bend, who are ranked second and third, will play for the Wildcats, No. 4 forward Jordan Mickey (Dallas) for LSU, No. 6 DeSoto shooting guard Matt Jones for Duke and No. 7 forward Derrick Griffin (Rosenberg) for Miami. Where’s their state pride?
The state had better luck last year when Baylor landed 7-footer Isaiah Austin, the state’s top prospect. But he might be a lottery pick in June. Texas wound up with centers Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh — both ranked in the top seven — but we’re waiting on them to wow us.
Heck, practically Oklahoma State’s whole roster is Texas-bred, and the Cowboys are a fifth seed, for Pete’s sake. Where’s Rick Perry to talk about border security when we need him?
Does the state even care about basketball when it has spring football training to occupy its attention? We wonder.
The NCAA hasn’t compiled attendance figures for this season, but last year Texas, at 30th, was the only in-state school to rank among the top 48 nationally. As strong as Baylor was as an Elite Eight qualifier, it still drew just the 62nd-highest audience on average.
Kansas filled Allen Fieldhouse and led the league by averaging 16,438 this season. The closest in-Texas rival for attendance? Texas with 10,817 — but that’s paid, not turnstile.
And then there’s coaching.
Texas’ Rick Barnes is a good coach who can’t develop offense and whose recruiting has dipped. Remember the CBSSports.com survey of 100 coaches last summer that ranked North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the game’s most overrated coach? Barnes and Baylor’s Scott Drew ranked second and third. Ouch.
No fewer than three of the state’s programs are looking for new head coaches.
Texas Tech’s top spot is open. Texas State and Texas-Pan American have Help Wanted signs out. Doug Davalos had little to show for seven seasons in San Marcos, but had among the WAC’s worst budgets.
Where’s the next up-and-coming team?
Admittedly, Texas is down. The Longhorns couldn’t even crack the NIT field. We assume Myck Kabongo will be cashing an NBA paycheck — or a D-League paycheck — next year, and solid shooting guard Demarcus Croaker committed on Tuesday, but we’re still holding our breath on Randle.
Much like when the Longhorns are hurting, unfortunately, so goes the reputation of the state of basketball. May not be in shambles, to use a word, but not robust either.
“We’re not where we normally are,” Barnes says. “I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just experience, too many young teams.”
Baylor had become an NCAA tournament fixture as well. But the Bears are stuck in the NIT because Drew has yet to prove he’s the next John Wooden and his big men often play way too soft, disguised as small forwards.
“When we get the top kids to stay,” Drew said, “we do a lot better.”
Baylor has lacked offensive discipline and defensive tenacity and may not shake either label, especially after point guard Pierre Jackson leaves.
Even with blockbuster home upsets of Kansas and Oklahoma, TCU was scraping the bottom of the Big 12 barrel, and Texas Tech wasn’t far away. I do like big men Jordan Tolbert and Jaye Crockett, but the Red Raiders have little depth, so expectations will be minimal next year. We’re waiting for Texas A&M to take the hoops-puny SEC by storm as it did in football, but it could be a while.
Texas State still lacks a sincere commitment to big-boy basketball. It’s time to rectify that if it wants more exposure. Ryan Marks, who put St. Edward’s hoops on the map, was let go at Pan Am despite upgrading that program and winning 16 games this year.
SMU has a Hall of Fame coach, but how long before Larry Brown’s wanderlust takes him out of Dallas, since he thought the Mustangs would be competing in the Big East? Houston didn’t sell out with Phi Slama Jama, and Rice cares less about basketball than it does football.
Does UTEP still play basketball? North Texas? Danny Kaspar did a terrific job at Stephen F. Austin, going 27-4 and beating Oklahoma on the road, but still got shut out of an NCAA an at-large berth. Where’s the love?
But, hey, we at least have two teams in the CBI. So there is that.
STATES OF THE NCAA
Thirty-one states — and the District of Columbia — are represented in this year’s NCAA tournament field. A look at which ones are fielding the most teams:
The 5-school states: California, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania
The 4-school states: New York
The 3-school states: Florida, Kansas, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia
The 2-school states: Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma
The 1-school states: Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin
Nineteen states, including Texas, do not have teams in this year’s tournament: