March Madness: Why You Should Cheer for UT-Pan American

University of Texas-Pan American isn't on the forefront of everyone's mind, but their story makes them worth rooting for. 
Sat March 10, 2012 2:39 am
University of Texas-Pan American

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament will not be very Texan this year.

Baylor is the only definite, with the University of Texas looking good after yesterday’s Big 12 conference tournament win over Iowa State. Texas A&M, which broke a streak of five straight first-round NCAA tournament wins last season, will break a streak of six straight tournament bids in this one. And Texas Tech’s season was a disaster (8-23 overall and 1-17 in its conference), which is probably just how first-year coach (and turnaround artist) Billy Gillispie likes it.

Outside of the Big 12, most Texas schools have already exited their conference tournament, including the University of Texas at El Paso, still the only Texas team to win a national championship; North Texas, whose Tony Mitchell was the subject of an ESPN.com profile earlier this week; and the University of Texas at San Antonio, which won its first-ever NCAA tournament game last year in the expanded “First Four” round). 

And Thursday, in a shocker, the University of Texas at Arlington went down in the Southland Conference semifinals. It seems the Mavericks ( it was their name before it was Dallas' ) left too much on the court during Wednesday’s outrageous 96-48 win over Nicholls State, as they fell to McNeese State 92-72 the next day. The loss made for an unhappy end to a stellar UT-A season (24-7 overall, 15-1 in its conference) that included opening a new arena. 

That leaves just Lamar University and Texas Southern still attempting to get in the bracket, which they could do by winning the automatic bid for the Southland and Southwestern Athletic conferences, respectively. Texas Southern (14-16 overall, 12-6 in its conference) must win two more games to dance, while Lamar (21-11 overall, 11-5 in its conference), which is coached by former Texas Tech bench boss Pat Knight, is just one victory away. 

If nothing else, Lamar would be an entertaining presence in the tournament. Last month Pat Knight (son of Bobby Knight) helped draw the spotlight to Beaumont by absolutely ripping on his players in a post-game press conference:

Since Knight lost his cool, the Lamar Cardinals have gone 5-0, including two Southland tourney wins. They take on McNeese State Friday in Katy at 2p.m.

Which leaves us with just one more Texas school that still hasn’t tripped up in its conference tournament, if only because they haven’t played a game--the University of Texas Pan-American has its first Great West contest today against the University of North Dakota, having earned a first-round bye.

The Great West--which is possibly the nation’s most geographically nonsensical conference, what with a team on the Mexican border and a team in North Dakota joined by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Houston Baptist, Utah Valley, and Chicago State--doesn’t even have an NCAA automatic bid. Instead, its champion is guaranteed to play in the CollegeInsider.com Post-Season Tournament , which is either the third or fourth consolation prize tournament after the NCAA and the NIT (depending how you feel about the College Basketball Invitational presented by Zebra Pen ). 

Still, the Broncs are worth rooting for because third-year head coach Ryan Marks (formerly of St. Edward's University in Austin) has ben blogging the entire season for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com, and also maintains a robust Twitter account , rife with food references and rock lyrics ("The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls...or Tweeted!," he wrote in response to one prediction that the Broncs would win the GWC). 

Marks' description earlier this year of what it's like to play a home contest in Edinburg is a priceless "for the love of the game" anecdote.

Built in 1969, our recently refurbished 2,500-seat facility possesses some cozy -- and quirky -- comforts. For instance, after my pregame instructions, the team must funnel into a larger public locker room, where they often encounter the opposing team, refs and a handful of naked professors who have just finished swimming in the adjoining pool.

Following that awkwardness, we continue down a narrow corridor to the court as the pep band plays what everyone assumes is our fight song. (Heck, I did for two and a half years.) Actually, though, it’s “La Adelita,” a folk/love song from the Mexican Revolution.

As for attendance, the Bronc Zoo student group isn’t consistently in full force, but you can bet the Winter Texan section will be buzzin’. These retirees and semi-retirees are largely from the Midwest; they make their yearly pilgrimages to our little slice of paradise so they can escape the cold. Still, they’ve become our most avid supporters. Well, next to university president Dr. Robert Nelsen, whose battle cry of “Go Broncs” is heard above the cheers of roughly 700 other fans. 

Oh, and if you want a hot dog, we’ve got good ones -- at the concession-stand trailer outside. (Don’t worry, it rarely rains here.) 

Root for the Broncs to win its conference and advance to that third- or fourth-rate tourney just so he can write a few more blog posts. The North Dakota game tips off at 2:30p.m. in Chicago. 

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