To sports fans, nothing underscores the passing of time more emphatically than a round-number anniversary.
Whether set off in Roman numerals or presented in the digits we work with on a daily basis, 20 years have lapsed since the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX.
But that two-decade title drought for Cowboy Nation represents a mere eye blink compared to the half-century shutout endured by Texas’ college basketball fans.
And we’re talking about fans of all teams from all Division I schools in our great state.
With Selection Sunday concluded and five teams from Texas set to compete in the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it is only appropriate to remind everyone that 50 years have passed since the lone team from the Lone Star State cut down the nets to cap March Madness.
It happened in 1966, in historic fashion, and it elevated the championship team from Texas Western (now UTEP) to iconic status in college basketball lore.
Those Miners, coached by Don Haskins, became the first NCAA champion to start five African-American players while winning a title game. All members of that team, as well as Haskins, have been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
50 Years since Texas Western (now UTEP) won the Lone Star State’s lone NCAA title in men’s basketball in 1966.
But no subsequent team from Texas, regardless of pre-tournament pedigree, has been able to bring home another title. Is this the year?
Fans at Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin hope so. Those five schools will be front and center in efforts to end a puzzling dry spell in a round-number anniversary year.
All five landed berths Sunday in the 68-team field, with the added sizzle of a potential matchup next week in Oklahoma City between No. 3 A&M (26-8) and No. 6 Texas (20-12) if both teams win their Friday openers.
Based on sheer mathematics in a country comprising 50 states, history suggests a team from Texas is due for another title. The fact that this year’s champion will be crowned at NRG Stadium in Houston offers the promise of a loud, supportive crowd for any Texas-based team at the Final Four.
3 Texas-based schools in West Region (Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor), which also includes Oklahoma.
Regardless of NCAA seed, a blueprint exists that could carry any of the five hopefuls to Houston for a shot at ending a Texas-sized title drought.
Here’s a rundown of potential breakthrough scenarios:
Texas A&M (No. 3 seed, West Region): The Aggies (26-8), who shared the SEC regular-season title and defeated Texas and Baylor in nonconference games, have the most intangibles. A&M starts four seniors, including two versatile guards/offensive facilitators in Anthony Collins and Alex Caruso. If the shots fall for primary scorers Jalen Jones (15.5 avg.) and Danuel House (15.5 avg.), while 6-foot-10 center Tyler Davis avoids foul trouble, the Aggies have enough depth to thrive in this tournament. A&M opens Friday against Green Bay and, during Sunday’s bracket-reveal telecast, CBS analyst Seth Davis identified the Aggies as his pick to win the West Region. A&M’s strengths are defense and rebounding, which translate well in NCAA play.
Baylor (No. 5 seed, West Region): The Bears (22-11) have the size and inside firepower to overwhelm smaller teams with quality big men Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley. That should help in Thursday’s opener against Yale. But to make a deep tournament run, Baylor will need consistent quality play from guards Lester Medford (9.1 points, 6.5 assists per game) and Ishmail Wainwright (5.9 points, 2.6 assists). Better bench play from backcourt members will be required in the later rounds, too.
Texas (No. 6 seed, West Region): The Longhorns’ two most instrumental players are battling foot ailments, point guard Isaiah Taylor (plantar fasciitis) and center Cameron Ridley, who logged only two minutes in his first game back from a broken foot in the Big 12 tournament. Taylor leads the team in scoring (14.8 avg.) and Ridley was a double-double machine before his injury in December. Texas (20-12) needs both at peak efficiency to prosper and could be pushed in Friday’s opener against Northern Iowa if they are not. If both are productive in NCAA play, rim protector Prince Ibeh and a deep collection of backcourt scorers (Javan Felix, Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis) offer the type of depth that produces upsets in March Madness.
Texas Tech (No. 8 seed, Midwest Region): The Red Raiders (19-12) finished 9-9 in Big 12 play, matching the same conference mark that Connecticut posted as a Big East member in 2011 before rallying to sweep the postseason and claim a national title. Tech would need a guard-fueled hot streak similar to the one UConn enjoyed that season to make a deep tournament run, starting with Thursday’s opener against Butler. Among the sharp-shooters capable of carrying the charge are guards Toddrick Gotcher (11.1 avg.), Devaughntah Williams (10.6 avg.) and Keenan Evans (8.8 avg.). But this team must rebound better to become a March mover and shaker.
Stephen F. Austin (No. 14 seed, East Region): The Lumberjacks (27-5), headed to their third consecutive NCAA berth under coach Brad Underwood, have the type of senior-laden backcourt that springs upsets. But facing West Virginia in Friday’s opener is a tough draw. The offense revolves around Thomas Walkup, the two-time Southland Conference player of the year who leads the team in scoring (17.5 avg.), rebounding (6.9 avg.), assists (4.6 avg.) and steals (63). SFA has more savvy and swagger than most mid-major teams, which could result in some eye-opening upsets if higher-seeded teams overlook the Lumberjacks. A key lineup piece is up-sized guard Ty Charles (6-foot-5, 190 pounds), a Kennedale High School grad who averages 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament brackets