Jimmy Burch

Texas teams fight history, Kentucky in NCAA title quest

Royce O’Neale and Baylor upset Iowa State in Ames in February. The Bears, 17-4 in their past five postseasons, are seeded third in the West Region.
Royce O’Neale and Baylor upset Iowa State in Ames in February. The Bears, 17-4 in their past five postseasons, are seeded third in the West Region. AP

For the Fearsome Fivesome of men’s college basketball teams from the Lone Star State that begin their NCAA Tournament journeys, the ultimate prize is daunting: find a way to be the last school standing instead of top-ranked Kentucky when CBS plays One Shining Moment to conclude its telecast of the April 6 championship game.

That is a shared burden for all 63 the teams that will be in pursuit of the Wildcats, who begin the event as an overwhelming favorite to become the first undefeated NCAA champion since 1976 and the first men’s team in history to cut down the nets with a 40-0 record.

History and expectations will be working against the Texas teams, all of which play games Thursday. Baylor has the highest seed (No. 3). Texas Southern has the lowest (No. 15). In between are SMU (No. 6), Texas (No. 11) and Stephen F. Austin (No. 12).

By midnight, the Texas schools could be out of the event. Or all five could reach the round of 32 in quest of becoming the first men’s team from Texas to win an NCAA title since UTEP (then Texas Western) in 1966.

Each school has its unique set of strengths, weaknesses, expectations and limitations. Here are five storylines to track for the Lone Star State’s five entries in this year’s Big Dance:

Baylor (24-9). No 3 seed, West Region: The Bears are one of the nation’s most relentless rebounding teams. They rank seventh nationally in offensive rebounds (14.7 per game) behind an inside tandem of Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince, Royce O’Neale and Johnathan Motley. That gives Baylor a matchup mismatch against Georgia State (12:40 p.m., TBS) but that edge will disappear against comparable teams from Power 5 leagues in subsequent games. The Bears have been one of the nation’s most successful postseason teams in recent years under coach Scott Drew. In Baylor’s last five postseason tournaments (three NCAA, two NIT), the Bears have posted a 17-4 record with an NIT title (2013) and three deep NCAA runs: Elite Eight finishes in 2010 and 2012, with a Sweet 16 finish last season.

SMU (27-6). No. 6 seed, South Region: Few teams have waited longer for this opportunity than the Mustangs, who last participated in the Big Dance in 1993. No coach has had a longer gap between NCAA Tournament appearances than SMU’s Larry Brown, who led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title the last time he participated in March Madness. Brown, 74, squeezed in a memorable NBA and U.S. Olympic coaching tenure before returning to the college ranks at SMU. The Mustangs play against UCLA (2:10 p.m., truTV), one of Brown’s many prior coaching stops, and enter as one of the tournament’s hottest teams. SMU is 25-3 in its last 28 games, probably is under-seeded, and definitely features an elite point guard (Nic Moore) and a powerful, athletic inside tandem (Markus Kennedy, Yanick Moreira, Cannen Cunningham, Ben Moore).

Texas (20-13). No. 11 seed, Midwest Region: On paper, the Longhorns project as one of the most talented teams in the country. But that talent rarely has jelled in crunch time for a team that has dealt with multiple injuries, headed by the 10-game absence of point guard Isaiah Taylor (fractured wrist). Texas lost more than half of its Big 12 games but features a veteran nucleus complemented by forward Myles Turner, a Euless Trinity graduate who was the Big 12 freshman of the year. Texas leads the nation in blocked shots but struggles to score consistently from the perimeter. The Longhorns’ size advantage will benefit them against Butler (1:45 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11). If they advance, the Longhorns must improve their perimeter shooting to make a deep run in an NCAA Tournament that begins with coach Rick Barnes given one final opportunity to salvage what has been a disappointing season to this point.

Stephen F. Austin (29-4), No. 12 seed, South Region: The Lumberjacks return most of the players who were instrumental in last season’s 77-75 upset of VCU, the first NCAA tournament triumph in school history for the Southland Conference champions. Among national analysts, SFA is a trendy pick among under-the-radar teams to beat Utah (6:27 p.m., truTV) and reach the Sweet 16. The Lumberjacks play pressure defense and rely on their quality depth and balanced scoring to wear down opponents. Forwards Thomas Walkup (15.7 points per game) and Jacob Parker (14.1) handle most of the scoring load, with lots of points coming in transition. SFA is used to success. Second-year coach Brad Underwood has a career mark of 61-7, making him the first Division I coach to reach 60 wins in his first two seasons at that level.

Texas Southern (22-12). No. 15 seed, West Region: The Tigers, led by former Indiana coach Mike Davis, won the SWAC conference tournament for a second consecutive season. They scored road victories this season over Michigan State, the No. 7 seed in the East Region (71-64), and Kansas State (58-56), which upset second-seed Kansas during Big 12 play. But the perimeter game is inconsistent outside of guard Madarious Gibbs, the team leader in scoring (14.1 points per game) and assists (4.3). Texas Southern probably will need to improve on its season shooting percentage from 3-point range (32 percent) to threaten or upset Arizona (1:10 p.m., TNT).

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

Tall task for Texas teams

Top-ranked Kentucky (34-0) is an even-money favorite to take the NCAA title. Five schools from Texas seek to alter that script, although oddsmakers at Bovada Sports Book downplay their chances.

Team (Seed)

Odds to win title

Baylor (3)

50-1

SMU (6)

75-1

Texas (11)

100-1

SFA (12)

300-1

Texas Southern (15)

500-1

Thursday’s games

Baylor vs. Georgia State, 12:40 p.m., TBS

Butler vs. Texas, 1:45 p.m., KTVT/11

SMU vs. UCLA, 2:10 p.m., truTV

Arizona vs. Texas Southern, 1:10 p.m., TNT

Utah vs. Stephen F. Austin State, 6:27 p.m., truTV

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