If you like Texas hoops teams, you'll need to leave your dance shoes at home
The Big Dance begins Tuesday when four teams look to punch their ticket to Thursday's second-round action that marks the unofficial start to the NCAA Tournament. Although that's usually enough to give anybody college basketball fever, fans across Texas may have to fake it this time around.
No Texas team will appear on NCAA Tournament brackets this year for the first time since 1977 -- two years before the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird showdown that shaped the tournament's evolution into March Madness. This year's tournament marks the end of the Texas Longhorns' 14-year appearance streak, the absence of the Baylor Bears after a regional finals appearance last year, and a stunning lack of any other Texas university among the 68-team field.
So South Texas fans will look elsewhere.
Freddy Solis will root for North Carolina State to make a long-odds, Jimmy Valvano-like run through the tournament. A reformed Longhorns fan who started following the Wolfpack once his girlfriend attended the school, Solis said NC State can improve upon its Sweet 16 performance of a year ago if they get hot.
"With their wins against Duke and UNC (this season), I know they could be very good contenders," Solis said. "And if they play their game right against No. 1 Indiana and take that win, I feel they could very well be on their way to a championship once again."
Not to say there won't be college basketball action from Texas teams this month.
Baylor, which was picked to finish second in the Big 12 conference in preseason polls, will play host to Long Beach State on Wednesday in first-round action of the National Invitation Tournament. After finishing the season with an 18-14 record, Baylor was likely the closest to an NCAA Tournament bid from any of the state's teams in power conferences.
With a few wins in the Big 12 tournament, Baylor could have played its way into the field, but the Bears lost in the first round of the conference tournament.
Baylor will be joined in the NIT by Stephen F. Austin (27-4), which lost in the Southland Conference tournament final with an automatic NCAA berth on the line. Both Prairie View (Southwestern Athletic Conference) and Texas-Arlington (Western Athletic Conference) made it to their respective conference tournament championships but lost in the final game.
Texas (15-16), a perennial dance team under head coach Rick Barnes, improved after suspended point guard Myck Kabongo returned, but the team still suffered its first losing season since 1997-98. In its first season in the SEC, Texas A&M (18-15) finished near the bottom of the conference standings.
The results weren't much better in Lubbock or Fort Worth. Texas Tech (11-20) and TCU (11-21) both finished as the two worst teams in the Big 12 Conference under interim and first-year coaches, respectively.
Under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, SMU (15-17) also finished last in Conference USA by losing 16 of its last 23 games. And at the University of Houston, the Cougars finished a respectable 19-12 but still had a losing record in conference play.
Houston was rewarded with an opening round home game in the College Basketball Invitational against the Longhorns, to be televised Wednesday at 8 p.m. on AXS TV.
The final tally? Texas will be without an NCAA Tournament team, just three years after matching an NCAA record by sending seven teams.
While that typically wouldn't be ideal for Rio Grande Valley bar owners who want to see crowds of people playing hooky Thursday or Friday to see their favorite team play, most didn't seem concerned Monday about the potential impact on their sales.
It definitely won't affect the viewing habits of Frank Gonzales, who figured he would watch most of the tournament regardless. Gonzales, an Edinburg native who usually roots for the University of Texas, said he would watch opening round action but fill out his bracket with a scientific approach, not a sentimental one.
"I'll watch until my bracket is busted," he said at lunch Monday at Buffalo Wild Wings, where the television later this week will be turned to tournament action spread across four different networks. "The first weekend is most fun with the upsets."
But if you're a Texas hoops fan choosing to sit this March Madness out, here's one consolation: With spring practice here, football is right around the corner.
Jared Janes covers Hidalgo County government, Edinburg and legislative issues for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4424 or on Twitter, @moncounty.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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