Texas schools earned their historic shutout in NCAA field

Posted Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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None and done.

That will be the epitaph for men’s college basketball programs from the Lone Star State as it relates to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, which solidified its Texas-free field on Selection Sunday.

Texas teams officially were shut out of the Big Dance for the first time since 1977 when the 68 participating schools were revealed during CBS’ Sunday announcement show. Although it’s likely to be a one-year aberration, it’s still a permanent blight on the collective basketball résumé of a state that, as recently as 2010, tied an NCAA single-state record by sending seven schools to the NCAA Tournament.

But in 2013, we’ll observe our first Texas Shutout since the NCAA field was limited to 32 teams and no one had coined — much less copyrighted — the term “March Madness.” It’s been 36 years since we found ourselves in this situation, when Arkansas beat eight Texas-based schools for the 1977 Southwest Conference title and no one else stepped up in another league or received an at-large bid.

Yet we’re back in that basketball briar patch today. Despite having 21 Division I programs in the state, none did enough to be among the 68 teams that will play for college basketball’s national championship.

For that, hoops apologists can blame Atlanta: the Final Four destination this year, as well as in 1977. But the real culprits are our highest-profile college teams. Individually, they either cratered or did just enough to extend their seasons in the NIT, CBI or CIT.

No Texas team should have spent Sunday crying about its NCAA bubble bursting because none of them showed the consistency to warrant an at-large berth. That’s simply a fact.

The bottom line shows an ill-timed dearth of Texas teams when the NCAA Tournament makes regional stops in Austin (Friday-Sunday) and Arlington (March 29-31). That loud gasp you heard Sunday came from ticket brokers with inventory at both venues who now have no local team to help inflate prices for the resale market.

For ticket-buying Texans without a school to support when the NCAA South Regional comes to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the logical teams to track would be Kansas, Georgetown, Florida and Michigan. Those are the top four seeds in the South bracket and, if form holds in this topsy-turvy season, they will be the teams taking the floor March 29 in Cowboys Stadium in quest of a Final Four berth.

But when has anything gone according to the form chart in this upset-filled season? That is why Texas (16-17) is sitting out this NCAA Tournament, after making each of the past 14, along with Baylor (18-14), an Elite Eight team in 2010 and 2012. Also locked out are Texas A&M (18-15), Houston (19-12) and UTEP (18-14).

Between them, those five schools have played in a combined 85 NCAA Tournaments during the event’s 75-year history. None boosted their total in 2013, a college season that will live in infamy south of the Red River.

But here’s the irony: For folks who live in the other 49 states, as well as Texans with no local rooting interest, the 2013 tournament promises to be one of the most riveting in recent history. There’s no clear-cut favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta on April 8. And the realistic list of potential champions includes lots of schools omitted from recent BCS/high-dollar conference realignment discussions.

Among them: Gonzaga, Saint Louis, Marquette, Creighton, New Mexico, Memphis, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth. A legitimate 2013 Final Four ballot could include Gonzaga (31-2), Saint Louis (27-6), Marquette (23-8) and VCU (26-8). All are seeded fifth or higher in their respective regions. All are ranked in this week’s Top 25 polls, with No. 1 Gonzaga earning the first No. 1 seed in school history.

Do the Zags deserve it? Absolutely. Tournament committee members should be commended for rewarding Gonazaga, despite its low-profile home in the West Coast Conference, rather than granting another knee-jerk top seed to an ACC or Big Ten also-ran based on reputation.

Kudos also for allowing five teams from the Mountain West, arguably the nation’s best league, into the 2013 field despite the fact that those schools — led by league champ New Mexico (29-5) — rarely make national TV appearances. No doubt, lots of eyebrows were raised in Sunday’s selection show when analyst Charles Barkley said the Mountain West’s top teams “will go farther” than the elite schools from the blueblood Big Ten, which received seven tournament berths. Why?

“The Mountain West is better,” Barkley said. Memo to the masses: Barkley is right.

But that won’t prevent some Big Ten team from winning the title if it gets on a hot streak. In a wide-open field, the hottest team in March — not necessarily the best team overall — will celebrate in Atlanta.

That could be almost anyone. Except, sadly, a school from Texas.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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