The beauty of college basketball is that no matter how ugly a season your favorite team has had, it is tossed one last life preserver in the month of March.
A lot of Texas teams will try to grab hold. Less than two weeks out from Selection Sunday, only four state teams — Baylor, SMU, UT-Arlington and Texas Southern — are in line to make the NCAA Tournament field, according to Planting The Seeds, the American-Statesman’s weekly projection.
Houston, TCU and Texas Tech have a lot of work to do with the clock ticking, and the other 16 NCAA Division I programs in the state are the longest of long shots.
For most, the only hope is to win the conference tournament. The lower- and mid-major tournaments begin this week while most of the big boys tip off next week, and all 32 champions earn their NCAA credentials. Of 347 Division I programs, about 300 still have a chance, in theory at least, to win the national championship. Or at least punch a ticket to The Dance.
Even Texas. Four wins in four days next week in Kansas City, Mo., salvages a dreadful season for the Longhorns (10-19, 4-12 Big 12). Right now the computers at teamrankings.com put that chance at 0.3 percent. The reality is that no team seeded fifth or lower has ever won the Big 12 Tournament.
OK, so maybe not Texas. What about Texas A&M? The Aggies (15-13, 7-9 SEC), a Sweet 16 team a year ago, simply failed to fire in league play this season, but four wins in four days next week in Nashville would wipe that away. A&M, a projected eighth to 10th seed, is given a 0.9 percent shot of topping the SEC field, according to teamrankings.com.
The Aggies, who lost to Kentucky in overtime in last year’s SEC title game, can look to the 2007-08 Georgia Bulldogs for inspiration. The Bulldogs tied for last in the league then won the SEC Tournament. It can be done, and A&M has some premier talents in center Tyler Davis and power forward Robert Williams.
Baylor and SMU don’t need any miracles.
The 11th-ranked Bears (23-6, 10-6), with 12 wins over the RPI top 50, own the portfolio of a No. 2 or No. 3 NCAA seed, depending on whether they beat West Virginia on Monday night.
The 14th-ranked Mustangs (25-4, 15-1) are a rising No. 5 seed. They carry a one-game lead on Cincinnati with two to play in the American Athletic Conference. The league’s tournament is in Hartford, Conn.
UT-Arlington (22-6, 12-3 Sun Belt) and Texas Southern (17-11, 13-2 SWAC) need to win their conference tournaments, although the Mavericks merit an at-large look with a 34 RPI. UTA is a projected 12 seed; TSU is a 16th seed.
Texas State (16-11, 9-6 Sun Belt) has improved and owns a win over UTA.
Houston (19-8, 10-5), third in the American Athletic Conference, is in the at-large conversation, one of our “first four teams out.”
TCU (17-12, 6-10) and Texas Tech (17-12, 5-11) are drifting badly.
Now, three state teams to keep an eye on during the conference tournaments:
- A&M-Corpus Christi (18-9, 11-5 Southland) was 9-9 before rattling off nine wins in a row.
- UTEP (13-15, 11-5 C-USA) endured a 12-game losing streak but grew healthy, jelled and won eight of nine, including five in a row.
- Rice (20-9, 10-6 C-USA) has taken seven of eight to raise its profile.
PLANTING THE SEEDS
American-Statesman staff writer Kevin Lyttle, an Associated Press Top 25 voter, projects the 68-team NCAA Tournament field each week until Selection Sunday arrives March 12.
Overview: Gonzaga lost its perfect season but did not drop its place on the one line. A deeply talented team with a 29-1 record deserves the proper respect. However, the Zags need to win the West Coast Conference Tournament, which starts this weekend, and hope the Pac-12 champion doesn’t overtake them. It’ll be a close call. Stay tuned.
Big 12 outlook: Kansas virtually locked up the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Otherwise, it was the worst week of the season for the top-rated RPI conference. TCU and Kansas State both fell out of the field and aren’t even among the “first four out,” meaning the Horned Frogs and Wildcats have lots of work to do with precious little time remaining. That lowers the Big 12 to five bids. Meanwhile, Baylor dropped from a one to a two and would fall to a three if it lost to West Virginia on Monday night. On the bright side, Iowa State (No. 5 seed) and Oklahoma State (No. 6 seed) are moving up.
Yes, it’s time: Small conference and mid-major tournaments begin this week. The first NCAA automatic bid will be rewarded Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., with the conclusion of the Ohio Valley championship game. Belmont, a familiar face in March, is the heavy favorite.
How to read: Teams listed first on each seed line go to the East Regional, second teams to the Midwest, third teams to the South and fourth teams to the West. Last two teams on lines 11 and 12 and the last four on line 16 are assigned to First Four games March 14-15 in Dayton, Ohio.
Regional sites: East (New York City); Midwest (Kansas City, Mo.); South (Memphis); West (San Jose, Calif.)
Note: Records, seedings through Sunday’s games.
*indicates projected conference champion/automatic qualifier
1 — *Villanova (27-3), *Kansas (26-3), *North Carolina (25-5), *Gonzaga (29-1)
2 — *Kentucky (24-5), Louisville (23-6), Baylor (23-6), *Oregon (26-4)
3 — Arizona (26-4), Florida (23-6), UCLA (26-3), West Virginia (23-6)
4 — Florida State (23-6), Purdue (23-6), Butler (23-6), Duke (22-7)
5 — *SMU (25-4), Notre Dame (22-7), Iowa State (19-9), Cincinnati (25-4)
6 — Oklahoma State (20-9), Virginia (19-9), Saint Mary’s (26-3), Wisconsin (22-6)
7 — Creighton (22-7), *Dayton (23-5), Minnesota (22-7), *Wichita State (27-4)
8 — Miami (20-8), South Carolina (21-8), Maryland (22-7), Michigan (19-10)
9 — Virginia Tech (20-8), VCU (23-6), Xavier (18-11), Arkansas (22-7)
10 — Northwestern (20-9), Michigan State (17-11), *Middle Tennessee (25-4), Syracuse (17-13)
11 — Illinois State (25-5), California (19-9), Southern Cal (21-8), Marquette (17-11), Vanderbilt (16-13)
12 — *UNC Wilmington (26-5), *UT Arlington (22-6), *Nevada (23-6), Rhode Island (19-9), Seton Hall (18-10)
13 — *Princeton (19-6), *Vermont (26-5), *East Tennessee (24-6), *Monmouth (26-5)
14 — *Akron (23-6), *Winthrop (23-6), *Bucknell (23-8), *Belmont (22-5)
15 — *Florida Gulf Coast (23-7), *South Dakota (21-10), *Oakland (24-7), *CSU Bakersfield (21-7)
16 — *North Dakota (18-8), *North Carolina Central (22-6), *Texas Southern (17-11), *New Orleans (17-10), *UC Davis (18-11), *Mount St. Mary’s (16-15)
Last four in: Marquette (17-11), Vanderbilt (16-13), Rhode Island (19-9), Seton Hall (18-10)
First four out: Providence (18-11), Houston (19-8), Wake Forest (16-12), Georgia Tech (16-13)
Multi-bid conferences: ACC (9), Big Ten (7), Big East (6), Big 12 (5), Pac-12 (5), SEC (5), Atlantic 10 (3), American (2), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2)