March Madness begins on Tuesday and gets into full swing on Thursday. And for the first time in probably forever (technically since 1977), not one single Texas college was invited to play in the NCAA Tournament. No UT. No A&M. No Baylor. No Rice, UH, Sam Houston State or SFA.
Not one. But not all hope is lost. There are several other postseason tournaments, and the Cougars and Longhorns will be facing each off Wednesday night at Hofheinz Pavilion in the opening round of the CBI.
But in essence, as far as the state of Texas is concerned, college basketball is over. So let's take a quick look at the seasons for UH and Rice and see what was learned.
HOUSTON COUGARS (19-12)
5. IMPROVEMENT ON SURFACE
The Cougars finished 19-12, and are hosting the Longhorns on Wednesday night in the opening round of the CBI Tournament. But while that's a nice-looking record, it's kind of deceptive. This UH team had difficulty getting into a groove the entire season, and the Cougars really struggled once Conference USA play started, and no school that claims to be good at basketball should struggle in C-USA play. The Cougars played a weak out-of-conference schedule that helped to build up the win count, and they were the only team in C-USA play to lose to the Owls.
4. LACK OF CONSISTENCY
The Cougars would look fantastic for one half, then would fall apart in the second half. Or it would be the reverse. One night the team would come back from a huge second-half deficit to pull out the victory; the next game, the Coogs would blow a large double-digit lead held late in the second half and lose the game.
3. LOTS OF TALENT
The Cougars are a talented team. Forward TaShawn Thomas was named first team C-USA. Guard Joseph Young made the third team, and Danuel House was named the Conference Freshman of the Year. But all of the pieces never quite seemed to click, and the Cougars struggled throughout the season. Yet it's a young team, with everybody still learning roles, and there should be another influx of good talent joining the team next season.
2. NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME
The Cougars didn't seem to handle pressure well, as in pressure from playing college basketball, and as in difficulties with handling pressure defenses. And the team often struggled against inferior competition, so it's probably a good thing that the Big East, where the Cougars are playing next season, is not only losing its name but is also becoming C-USA 2.0 as most of the basketball schools that have made the Big East the Big East are departing the Big East as it now exists for new conferences.
1. DOES ANYBODY CARE?
If Tom Penders was still coaching the Cougars and they were going to the CBI yet again, there would be a loud uproar from the UH fan base. But the basic uptake this season is that it's nice the Cougars will be able to host an awful Texas team in the CBI. Attendance is down, and Hofheinz can be a very quiet building with the very few people who show up. So that leaves the basic question: Does anybody really care what happens to the UH basketball team, and no, I'm not talking about the uproar that happens whenever Guy V. Lewis and the Basketball Hall of Fame are mentioned.
RICE OWLS (5-26)
5. DIDN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS
The Owls' season didn't have to be like this. And maybe it shouldn't have been like it was. The Owls had a talented core that had some postseason success in the CIT Tournament last year, only to have most of the squad depart for unspecified reasons, though the connection of the departed players to a departed assistant coach probably had a lot to do with it. In some ways, the Owls even being able to field a team this season has to count as some type of success.
4. RICE FIGHT NEVER DIE
The Owls were undermanned, undersized and just not very talented. But the players who played didn't quit on their teammates. The Owls often lost by double digits, yet they often found a way to stay in the game deep into the second half. They executed the offense, they played a tough defense.
3. COACHES CAN ONLY DO SO MUCH
Head coach Ben Braun's offense often got his guys open shots. They didn't always make those open shots. They usually missed. But the shots were there. And the shots were open. The best coaches put their teams in positions to win, to succeed. Braun did this, but he's not the one out on the court taking the shots.
2. NEED MORE SIZE
The Owls not only need more talent and more players, they need more size. The Owls often depended on their small guards to handle the rebounding chores as what few big guys they had were better suited to playing an outside, non-physical game. For the Owls to have success in the future, they've got to get some big guys who will play a physical game and battle inside for rebounds and play some interior defense.
1. TAMIR JACKSON DIDN'T QUIT
Tamir Jackson was the only senior left after the summer's mass exodus. He made it clear that he wanted to be known as the guy who didn't quit his team. And quit he did not. Jackson, a smallish shooting guard, often handled the team's rebounding, and often had to guard the opposition's best offense player. He never wanted to come out of any game, no matter the score, and Braun and Jackson's teammates credited him with holding the team together as the season started.