Get Ready For March Madness, Texas

Teams from the Lone Star State are few—but mighty—in the men’s and women’s NCAA tournament fields this season.

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Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. #0 of the Baylor Bears celebrates after beating the Iowa State Cyclones 65-63 at Ferrell Center on January 4, 2017 in Waco, Texas.
Tom Pennington/Getty

March Madness is always an exciting time of the year, but Texans may be a bit disappointed by the way the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket has turned out. Only three schools from Texas are dancing in the men’s tournament this year: Baylor, Southern Methodist, and Texas Southern. Unfortunately, there’s no way that we’ll see all three of them get past the second round.

Texas Southern won the Southwestern Athletic Conference, or SWAC, (is there a college sports conference with a better acronym than the SWAC? No, no there is not) to earn an impossible matchup as number sixteen seed against number one seed North Carolina in the first round. To its credit, Texas Southern scheduled games earlier this season against tough teams like Arizona, Louisville, and Cincinnati, but they were all blowout losses, so there’s no reason to think they can beat the Tar Heels. A sixteen seed has never beaten a one seed. Sorry, Tigers fans, but you can chalk this up as an early exit.

For unaffiliated Texans looking for a Lone Star team to root for in the longterm, you’ll have to pick between Baylor and SMU. They’re both in the same section of the bracket, and with Baylor as a number three seed and SMU as a number six, they’ll play each other in the second round, should all go as expected in the first. Only one will advance.

The Bears might be one of the biggest wildcards in the entire tournament. Led by star big man Johnathan Motley (averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game), Baylor is in the midst of one of its best seasons in program history. But after starting the season with fifteen straight wins and enjoying a brief stay at the top of the AP top 25 poll, the Bears faded late in the regular season, winning just five of their last eleven games and bowing out of the Big 12 Conference Tournament in a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Kansas State.

Baylor certainly has the talent to make a run deep into March, but it also had it in each of the last two seasons, too, and both of those runs ended in first-round upset losses to much lower seeds. Will that happen this year? Probably not, but who knows? March Madness is weird. The Bears play New Mexico State, conquerers of the WAC. The Aggies (but not those Aggies) won an impressive 28 games this season, but they really haven’t beaten anybody good. The Bears should get by.

This year’s tournament field is wide-open, which might work in Baylor’s favor. If the Bears to get to the Elite Eight, which they did in 2010 and 2012, then they’ll probably have to beat a talented SMU team in the second round. The Mustangs are at the peak of a program turnaround, having made the NCAA tournament in two straight seasons for the first time since 1984-1985 season. SMU dominated the American Athletic Conference this year, going 17-1 and winning the conference tournament, finishing the regular season ranked number eleven in the AP top 25 poll (one spot above Baylor). SMU hasn’t won a game in the NCAA tournament since 1988. That streak could end this year, though the Mustangs will have a tough first round matchup, getting the winner of the play-in game between bubble teams USC and Providence.

Regardless of what happens this week, the outgoing class of seniors at SMU is the school’s winningest group ever, with Semi Ojeleye leading the way. Ojeleye has a pretty interesting backstory, ending up at SMU after transferring from Duke. He was a top recruit coming out of high school, and he’s since developed into a complete stud. Ojeleye is six-foot-seven and weighs a muscular 235 pounds, shoots 43 percent from beyond the arc, and leads the Mustangs in scoring (18.9 points per game) while chipping in 6.8 rebounds per contest. He’s a big reason why SMU is a popular dark horse pick to make a long run in the tournament. If the Mustangs go far, Ojeleye could be one of the tournament’s stars.

Both Baylor and SMU will have a difficult path if they want to survive the bracket and make it to the Final Four. They’d probably have to get past top-overall seed Villanova and a red-hot Duke squad first. It remains to be seen if either Texas team would be up for the task. On the women’s side, however, Texas teams are in pretty good shape to make a deep run. Baylor finished the season ranked number two in the AP Poll and is an easy pick to make it to the Final Four. The Bears may be a little worried after losing two games in the last thirty days and star player Alexis Jones day-to-day with a knee injury, but they got a great draw on selection Monday. Baylor earned a number one seed that’ll let them play their first round games at home in Waco before heading to nearby Oklahoma City for the regionals and, if all goes well, Dallas for the Final Four.

Texas and Texas A&M are the other schools from the Lone Star State to make the women’s field, and both teams have the talent and experience to go far in the tournament. Realistically, though, UCONN is probably going to win the championship. The Huskies have won, like, a million straight games—OK, fine, it’s only 107—including an eleven-point win over Baylor earlier this season. The Bears are probably the only team that could knock UCONN from its throne, but they’ll need a miracle to do that.

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