It wasn’t supposed to be like this. At least not according to the plan set out by Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis.
Texas Southern would play a ridiculously tough out-of-conference schedule. It would play all of those games on the road. The goal was to build up a high RPI and strength of schedule so that when TSU got into conference play, the numbers would stay semi-respectable.
The reward would come at the end of the season, after winning the SWAC regular season title and conference tournament. Then when TSU went into the NCAA Tournament, it would not be a No. 16 seed with no chance to win. The school would be a No. 14 or a No. 15 seed or maybe even a No. 13. A win would be difficult from those slots, but not impossible because upsets happen from those seeds every March.
So of course the TSU Tigers are a No. 16 seed being sent out to South Carolina as the sacrificial lamb for the North Carolina Tar Heels, one of the NCAA's most storied teams. Sure, TSU has played some very difficult basketball games this season — like highly seeded tournament teams Arizona and Louisville as well as Baylor and Cincinnati. But TSU lost all of those games, and the scores weren't close. And none of those teams are as good as North Carolina.
But the rest of the college basketball teams in the Houston area are envious of TSU, despite the Tigers being just a No. 16 seed. The Houston Cougars are off to the NIT for the second season in a row after the Cougars lost their first game in the American Conference tournament for the second year in a row. Only through winning the AAC tournament would the Cougars get a bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Cougars had no quality wins this year, no significant victory that the NCAA selection committee could look at as absolute evidence that this team needed to be included in the tournament. It’s strength of schedule was only ranked in the 70s, and that’s just not good enough for a team sitting on the bubble of the tournament. For a team like UH, playing in a conference where it has proven unable to beat SMU and Cincinnati on a consistent basis is always going to mean NIT.
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Houston will be hosting Akron on Wednesday night in a game to be played at TSU’s arena because Hofheinz Pavilion is unavailable as the renovation that will turn it into Fertitta Center has already begun. But H&PE Arena, which is supposedly hosting some UH games next season during that renovation, is not in use this week as TSU is on the road for the NCAA Tournament. And as the No. 2 seed in its bracket, the odds are that Houston would be in place to host at least one more game should the Cougars win on Wednesday.
The Rice Owls will also be hosting a basketball game on Wednesday night as it hosts San Francisco in the first round of the CBI Tournament. And while the Cougars are in the NIT for the second straight season as the continue to rebound from the James Dickey era, this is the first postseason appearance for the Rice Owls since the 2012 CIT.
The CBI isn’t the NCAA Tournament, and it doesn’t hold the history of the NIT (which actually predates the NCAA Tournament), the CBI is quite the step-up for a rapidly rising Rice squad that has been down and out for many, many years. And as UH fans should expect the improving Cougars to get to the NCAA Tournament next season, Rice fans should be expecting a very young, very young talented Rice team to compete for the NIT next year with the outside shot for a NCAA bid if it can find a way to win the weak Conference USA.
But that’s not all as for the first time in memory, four Houston-area college basketball teams will be in a postseason tournament as Houston Baptist University will be playing in the CIT on Tuesday night. HBU is a bit under the radar, but it’s an improving team in a minor conference, which means that it’s only a conference tournament championship away from the NCAA Tournament next year.