MURRELL COLUMN: No Aggies or Longhorns this year, but … Cardinals?
Published 4:19 pm Saturday, February 11, 2017
**UPDATES with Arkansas’ win over LSU**
Following Thursday night’s convincing win over North Carolina, the Duke Blue Devils didn’t really need any assurance they’re headed for what Dick Enberg and Curt Gowdy used to call the National Collegiate Basketball Championship.
The NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee Saturday released, for the first time ever, a mid-season look at the regions for next month’s tournament, but only revealing the top four in each if the First Four were to tip off now. Duke was rightfully listed as the 16th overall seed and fourth in the Midwest Region, so there’s a chance Kansa could blast the Devils in Kansas City, Mo.
Or, a chance the Jayhawks choke again, like they almost did at Texas Tech on Saturday.
The Red Raiders weren’t going to get a top-16 seed by upsetting the Jayhawks, who are ranked third by the Associated Press, but they would have made a serious push. Right now, those losses to Texas, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are not too sexy on their résumé. Their last two losses each have come within a point.
To whom? Kansas and … wait for it … TCU.
And can we consider TCU safely landing from the proverbial bubble into March Madness? I would have, had the Horned Frogs had a much better showing at Baylor on Saturday.
TCU lost four straight games last month, three of them to unranked teams, but is still a much improved program under Jamie Dixon. Before Saturday’s 70-52 squishing in Waco, these Froggers — much like the 1980s video game protagonist — had changed lanes and won three straight, even grinding out a win against Texas Tech.
The Big 12 is known for parity, and I respect that. But one year removed from Texas and Texas A&M almost meeting in the second round, we can conceivably see neither make the Big Dance, let alone Texas dancing anywhere at 10-14.
Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State, the Big 12’s top four, are shoo-ins. But that low number of teams for a Power Five conference only opens the door for a third team out of the West Coast Conference. That is, if the committee will consider the winner of Saturday night’s San Francisco-Brigham Young showdown.
Or, the fourth-place team in the Southeastern Conference. Take your pick: Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss or Vanderbilt.
Arkansas beat Alabama head-to-head by 19 points in Fayetteville, but with dumb losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks might play Mike Anderson out of a job, even with a winning record. Arkansas, which has only been to the NCAAs one in Anderson’s six seasons at the helm, is 18-7 and 7-5 in the SEC, tied with Alabama for fourth after Saturday night’s win at LSU.
A second team out of the Southland? Hardly, if at all.
The Southland is another case of a conference where teams top to bottom beat each other up. That’s how we should want conferences to go.
That Lamar is still in the mix for a regular-season title, which will guarantee the Cardinals an NIT berth at least, is quite a story. But it’s no secret Tic Price got the right weapons to make a case.
The awesome thing about the Southland this year is that the tournament, which only takes the top eight teams (Central Arkansas, of all teams, has a chance to make it) in Katy, is wide open. The Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament will be unfolding in Houston at the Toyota Center at the same time.
The basketball suspense in this part of Texas will take us to selection weekend. But the state will miss a bunch of its heavy-hitters.
I.C. Murrell can be reached at 721-2435 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews