TCU’s dramatic victory over Arizona State boosts Big 12 to 5-2 in the NCAA tournament

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

I’m still undecided on whether to buy into the concept that the Big 12 Conference is the best league in men’s college basketball this year.

I know the Big 12 has had more teams jammed into the Top 25 rankings than anyone.

But, I just haven’t seen enough of their games to know for sure.

So far, teams from the conference are doing a pretty fair job of living up to the hype in the NCAA tournament.

The Big 12 has won five and lost two in the tournament’s round of 64, capped late Friday night by the TCU Horned Frogs’ dramatic 72-70 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils.

With the game tied and the clock ticking under 10 seconds to play, Arizona State double-teamed TCU star Mike Miles Jr., who passed across the top of the three-point circle to JaKobe Coles.

Coles dribbled past a defender and lofted a 5-foot runner over the outstretched arm of forward Desmond Cambridge Jr. It swished for the game-winner with three seconds remaining.

Winners out of the Big 12 in the first round of the tournament included West region No. 1 seed Kansas, Midwest No. 2 Texas, South No. 3 Baylor, East No. 3 Kansas State and TCU, the No. 6 seed in the West.

Losers were Midwest No. 6 Iowa State and South No. 9 seed West Virginia. Here’s a glance at how Big 12 teams have fared thus far:

Thursday’s results
Round of 64
South: 8) Maryland beat 9) West Virginia, 67-65
West: 1) Kansas beat 16) Howard, 96-68
Midwest: 2) Texas beat 15) Colgate, 81-61

Friday’s results
Round of 64
South: 3) Baylor beat 14) UC Santa Barbara, 74-56
Midwest: 11) Pittsburgh beat 6) Iowa State, 59-41
West: 6) TCU beat 11) Arizona State, 72-70
East: 3) Kansas State beat 14) Montana State, 77-65.

Saturday’s games
Round of 32
West: 1) Kansas vs. 8) Arkansas, 4:15 p.m., CBS
Midwest: 2) Texas vs. 10) Penn State, 6:45 p.m., CBS

Sunday’s games
Round of 32
East: 3) Kansas State vs. 6) Kentucky, 1:40 p.m., CBS
South: 3) Baylor vs. 6) Creighton, 6:10 p.m., TBS
West: 6) TCU vs. 3) Gonzaga, 8:40 p.m., TBS


Next season, in 2023-24, the Big 12 is shaping up to be a men’s basketball juggernaut.

In July, the Houston Cougars will transition into the league along with Cincinnati and Central Florida from the American Athletic Conference. In addition, BYU will also join. Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma will compete in the league for the last time before they bolt to the Southeastern Conference.

So, how many top four seeds will that give the conference in the 2024 NCAA men’s tournament? I’m guessing four or five, at least.

Hoping to dance: McCullar leads a short list from San Antonio with NCAA dreams

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

With Selection Sunday a week away, we’ll take a minute today to review the list of San Antonio-area athletes on Division I men’s basketball rosters and who might have the best chance to play in the NCAA tournament.

Right now, it appears that Kevin McCullar, Jr. and Zach Clemence at Kansas, Langston Love at Baylor and Micah Peavy of TCU will need to find their dancing shoes and get them shined up and ready to go.

How are we so certain? Because Kansas and Baylor are considered locks to make the tournament based on all projections. TCU probably is, as well, though the Frogs likely will be among the lower seeds out of the power conference schools.

McCullar played at Wagner and Love played at Steele as San Antonio-area prep standouts. Clemence and Peavy lived here but moved on to play elsewhere when they reached high school age.

Others from the Alamo City who could make it? Seven-foot-one Vincent Iwuchukwu of Southern Cal and Austin Nunez of Arizona State could be in.

Neither played Saturday night in Los Angeles when USC edged Arizona State, 68-65. According to national college basketball writer Jon Rothstein, Iwuchukwu was out with back issues. Nunez, according to Devils Digest, suffered a concussion recently, and he has sat out ASU’s last three games.

Arizona State opens Pac-12 tournament play Wednesday in Las Vegas against Oregon State. USC has a bye through the first round and will take on the Arizona State-Oregon State winner on Thursday.

If Iwuchukwu can get past the back problem, and he gets to play in the NCAA tournament, it certainly would be a story to follow for fans who once watched him play at Cole High School.

The 7-foot-1 USC freshman suffered a cardiac arrest at a USC offseason practice last July. His status was uncertain for months until he started workouts and gradually began to ramp up for a return to the court.

Then, after six months of uncertainty, he returned, playing his first game for the Trojans on Jan. 12. Iwuchukwu has played in 14 games. He’s averaged 5.4 points and 2.5 rebounds off the bench.

With conference tournaments heating up this week, other stories tied to former San Antonio standouts will emerge.

Jalen Jackson starts at point guard for the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders, who will be the No. 1 seeded team in the Southland Conference tournament. In addition, Jayden Martinez of the University of North Texas Mean Green, out of Conference USA, also plays for a team that has a chance.

Both the Islanders and the Mean Green will need to win their respective tournaments to make the 68-team NCAA field, but both have a decent chance to do just that.

Jordan Mason of Texas State still has an chance, too, with the Bobcats still alive in the Sun Belt tournament.

The Bobcats have won three games at the tournament in Florida and are two wins away from an NCAA bid. They will play the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns tonight in the Sun Belt semifinals.

Editor’s note: This is all I know as of today. Be advised that there will be developments between now and Selection Sunday, which is March 12, a week from today. With that caveat, here’s my list of players from the San Antonio area on Division I men’s basketball rosters:

Marco Anthony, Utah, a 6-6 senior guard from Holmes, formerly of Virginia and Utah State

Adam Benhayoune, LSU, a 6-5 sophomore guard from O’Connor HS

Trey Blackmore, Cal State-Fullerton, a 6-2 freshman guard from Cole HS

Marques Gates, Houston Christian, a 6-0 redshirt freshman guard from Clemens HS

Vincent Iwuchukwu, Southern Cal, a 7-foot freshman center, formerly of Cole HS, La Lumiere, Ind., Montverde Academy, Fla.

Jalen Jackson, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a 5-11 senior guard from Wagner HS

Ja’Sean Jackson, Abilene Christian, a 6-0 sophomore guard from Wagner HS

Ellis Jefferson, Lamar, a 6-0 senior guard from Brandeis HS

Gerald Liddell, Detroit Mercy, a 6-8 senior forward from Steele HS; transfer from Texas, Alabama State

Carlton Linguard Jr., UTSA, a 7-foot junior center from Stevens HS, transfer from Temple JC and Kansas State

Silas Livingston, University of the Incarnate Word, a 5-9 freshman guard from Cole

Langston Love, Baylor, a 6-5 redshirt freshman guard, formerly of Steele HS, Montverde Academy, Fla.

Jayden Martinez, North Texas, a 6-7 senior forward from Steele; transfer from New Hampshire

Jordan Mason, Texas State, a 6-2 freshman guard from Clark

Kevin McCullar, Jr., Kansas, a 6-6 senior guard, formerly of Wagner High School, a transfer from Texas Tech.

Austin Nunez, Arizona State, a 6-2 freshman guard from Wagner HS

Ze’Rik Onyema, UTEP, a 6-8 sophomore forward from Jay HS

Dre Ray, Incarnate Word, a 5-9 freshman guard from Cole HS

Brendan Wenzel, Wyoming, a 6-7 guard from O’Connor HS; a transfer from Utah

Dalen Whitlock, Texas State, a 6-4 sophomore guard from Clark HS

Players with San Antonio roots who attended high school out of the area

Zach Clemence, Kansas, a 6-10 forward from Findlay Prep (Nev.) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.)

Micah Peavy, TCU, a 6-7 junior forward from Duncanville, transfer from Texas Tech


Vincent Iwuchukwu was one of San Antonio’s best a few years ago. In both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, he led the Noe Cantu-coached Cole Cougars to consecutive UIL state tournament appearances.

Carlton Linguard will have two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the season with the UTSA Roadrunners. Academically ineligible to play when he enrolled last fall, UTSA sought a waiver for the seven-footer but dropped it when the process dragged on into February.

Baseball America: UTSA projected as last team in the NCAA field

UTSA is projected by Baseball America as “the last team in” the NCAA tournament’s 64-team bracket.

The magazine’s website has UTSA pegged to start play this weekend in the Austin Regional against the Texas State Bobcats.

The NCAA will announce the bracket Monday morning at 11 a.m. If the Roadrunners make it, they would become the first team in school history to receive an at-large bid to the national tournament.

That would include men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, softball and baseball. UTSA has reached the NCAA baseball tournament only three times, in 1994 and 2005 out of the Southland Conference and in 2013 out of the Western Athletic Conference.

According to the magazine, the “last four in” include UTSA at No. 64, along with Dallas Baptist at 63, Rutgers at 62 and Coastal Carolina at 61.

On the flip side, the magazine lists the “first four out” as No. 65 Liberty, followed by Wofford at 66, Old Dominion at 67 and West Virginia at 68.

The Roadrunners stated their case for qualification at the Conference USA tournament. At the C-USA event, they beat Florida Atlantic in their opener and followed that with back-to-back victories over 14th-ranked Southern Mississippi.

Southern Miss was the tournament host and the C-USA’s regular-season champion.

In downing the Golden Eagles by scores of 7-6 on Friday and 11-2 on Saturday, the Roadrunners vaulted up the national ratings percentage index into the 30s and made a strong case as an at-large candidate for the NCAA field.

On Sunday, they had a chance to earn the C-USA’s automatic bid, but they lost 9-8, falling to the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on a ninth-inning single.

Conference USA hopes to get four teams in the NCAA field. The RPI standings after Sunday’s games had Southern Miss at No. 18, Louisiana Tech at No. 34, UTSA at 38 and Old Dominion at 41.


UTSA 38-20

Villanova steps up the defense to knock off Michigan, 63-55

Villanova's Jermaine Samuels. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Jermaine Samuels produced 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting to help the No. 2-seeded Villanova Wildcats beat the 11th-seeded Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA Sweet 16. – photo by Joe Alexander

Forward Jermaine Samuels scored 22 points and the Villanova Wildcats, playing aggressive second-half defense, downed the Michigan Wolverines 63-55 Thursday night in an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game at the AT&T Center.

Justin Moore had 15 points and Collin Gillespie 12 for the Wildcats, who took 30 three-point shots and made nine of them.

Michigan's Hunter Dickinson and Villanova's Eric Dixon. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Hunter Dickinson of the Michigan Wolverines (left) battles against Villanova’s Eric Dixon. Dickinson had 15 points and 15 rebounds but was limited to 6 of 16 shooting by Jermaine Samuels, Dixon and others. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Hunter Dickinson led the Wolverines with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Eli Brooks scored 12. Michigan trailed by only three at the half but couldn’t get the offense going in the last 20 minutes.

Villanova held Michigan to 26.5 percent shooting in the second half.

With the victory, the Wildcats, seeded second in the NCAA South region, will move into the Elite Eight round. They will play Saturday against the Houston Cougars. Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 later Thursday night.

For the 11th-seeded Wolverines, the season is over. Michigan had high hopes last fall but couldn’t sustain the success once the season went into late February. The Wolverines (19-15) were 6-6 in their last dozen games, counting the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats (29-7) are rolling. Coach Jay Wright’s team has won eight in a row. In its last 14 games, Villanova is 13-1. Samuels was the man in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader, helping to hold the 7-foot-1, 260-pound Dickinson to 6 of 16 shooting.

“I wanted to stay mobile,” Samuelson said. “I understand my teammates are right behind me. They’re going to make plays for me. That gave me all the confidence in the world. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s going to get great looks at the basket.

“Knowing I had my teammates behind me, that gave me all the confidence I needed.”

Villanova’s Caleb Daniels supplied some energy and toughness in the second half, when he went off for eight points and four rebounds.

Asked what got him going, Daniels said he knows his teammates will find him on the perimeter if he is open. He also claimed that he wanted to be on the attack, to make things happen.

“That pretty much started defensively,” Daniels said.


Michigan 19-15
Villanova 29-7

First half

Villanova's Collin Gillespie. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Senior Collin Gillespie led Villanova with four 3-pointers. He was 4 of 14 from the field and scored 12 points. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The first 20 minutes were not pretty. The Michigan Wolverines shot 44.4 percent.
The Villanova Wildcats? They were good on 37.9 percent.

Michigan blocked four shots. Villanova made four steals. It was just one of those halves.

Villanova had an edge, though. Faced with a zone defense, the Wildcats fired up 16 three-point attempts and made five of them, taking a 31-28 lead over Michigan.

Wildcats point guard Collin Gillespie knocked down three of them and his backcourt mate, Justin Moore, sank two.

Samuels finished the half with 11 for Villanova, followed by Moore with 10 and Gillespie nine.

For Michigan, Hunter Dickinson produced eight points, four rebounds and a couple of blocks.

He led the Wolverines offensively with four of seven shooting. DeVante’ Jones led a late surge for Michigan. He had seven at the half.

Michigan jumped out to an early lead but Villanova for the most part controlled the action. The Wildcats’ biggest lead was seven at 18-11 with 10 minutes left.

Villanova's Justin Moore. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova guard Justin Moore had 15 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds against the Michigan Wolverines. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Sweet 16 is set to tip off in San Antonio; Michigan-‘Nova up first

Good afternoon, all. I just sat down at press row at the AT&T Center. Time to rap out a few notes on the Sweet 16.

First, the Michigan-Villanova game.

Michigan (19-14) hopes to win and advance to the Elite Eight for the 15th time (16 if you include the 1993 game, which was vacated because of NCAA infractions).

The Wolverines have advanced to the Elite Eight round recently in 2018, when the John Beilein-coached team swept into the Final Four and lost the NCAA title game to Villanova, and last year under coach Juwan Howard. Last year, the UCLA Bruins beat the Wolverines by two in the R8 to deny Howard his first trip to the Final Four as a head coach.

If Michigan wins, it would be the second year in a row that an 11 seed has reached the Elite Eight but only the ninth time since 1985. Since ’85, only five 11 seeds have made it all the way to the Final Four.

The Wolverines started the season with high hopes but fell into a funk during Big Ten competition, going 4-4 leading into the postseason. After losing to Indiana in the first game of the conference tournament, Michigan entered NCAAs as a No. 11 seed and defeated six seed Colorado State (75-63) and three seed Tennessee (76-68).

Villanova (28-7) is shooting for its 16th trip to the Eight, 17 if you count the vacated 1971 tournament. The Wildcats have reached the R8 four times previously under Coach Jay Wright, advancing in 2006, 2009, 2016 and 2018. The Wildcats won NCAA championships in both 2016 and 2018. The ’18 title was claimed at the Alamodome with a victory over Michigan.

The Wildcats enter the Sweet 16 on a high. They’ve won seven straight. They’re also 12-1 in their last 13 games. Seeded second in the South, Villanova downed (15) Delaware 80-60 and (7) Ohio State 71-61.

In the second game of the night, it’s Houston vs. Arizona.

Houston (31-5) is hunting its 14th trip to the Elite Eight. The Cougars made the R8 last season on the way to its first Final Four trip in 37 years. The Quentin Grimes-led Cougars lost in the national semifinals to the Baylor Bears, who went on to claim the NCAA championship. It was Houston’s first Final Four since the 1983-’84 days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Phi Slama Jama.

Despite losing two star players around the first of the calendar year, the Cougars are hot coming into the Sweet 16. They have won five straight. In their last 12 games, they are 11-1. Houston won the AAC tournament in Fort Worth with victories over Cincinnati, Tulane and Memphis. Moving into the NCAA tournament, the Cougars drew a No. 5 seed and set out for Pittsburgh, where they downed the UAB Blazers, 68-53, and then knocked off four seed Illinois, 68-53.

Arizona (33-3) hopes to win and claim a 12th berth in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats last made it to the R8 in 2011, 2014 and 2015. Arizona is one of the hottest teams in the nation at the moment. The Wildcats have won seven straight. In their last 18 games, they are 17-1. Arizona defeated Wright State, 87-70, in the first round of the tournament at San Diego. The Wildcats outlasted the TCU Horned Frogs, 85-80, in overtime in the round of 32.

Cougars arrive for a Wednesday workout in San Antonio

The Houston Cougars just arrived for a Wednesday morning/afternoon workout at the AT&T Center. Fifth-seeded Houston will take on No. 1 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament Thursday.

Houston is one of the top defensive teams in the nation. The Cougars lead the nation in field goal percentage (37.5) defense and rank fourth in points allowed (59 per game). They’re 12th nationally in rebound margin per game (seven).

The Michigan Wolverines emerged as the first team on the floor Wednesday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Michigan will take on Villanova and Houston will play Arizona on Thursday night in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA South region. The winners will play Saturday in the Elite Eight, with the survivor advancing to the Final Four in New Orleans next week.

Teams are working out and talking to the media Wednesday morning and afternoon. Please check back for updates.

North Carolina will challenge top-seeded Baylor in Fort Worth

The top-seeded Baylor Bears and the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels will open the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament on Saturday at 11:10 a.m. when they meet in an East Region game in Fort Worth at Dickies Arena.

On Thursday, Baylor, the defending national champions, advanced with an easy 85-49 victory over Norfolk State (Va.), while North Carolina also dominated, taking out ninth-seeded Marquette, 95-63.

First-year Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis suggested on Friday that just because the Bears have lost center Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to an injury, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are vulnerable on the inside, an area where North Carolina excels with big man Armondo Bacot.

“Baylor is the defending national champions and the No. 1 seed because they have more than one guy,” Davis told reporters in Fort Worth. “They’re an outstanding team. And one of the areas that they are terrific at is rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor.

“It’s something that we have talked about, you know, yesterday, today, in terms of trying to limit Baylor to one shot every possession. Because we know that a huge part of their offense is getting second-chance opportunities,” Davis said.

Davis said the same is true for the Tar Heels in terms of how they stress the need to hit the offensive boards.

“I always say, ‘Let’s get shots, let’s get good shots,’ ” he said. “But if we get good shots, we’re either going to make them. And if we miss, because of our pursuit of the offensive glass, we’re going to get second-chance opportunities.

“So it’s a great matchup of two teams that — talented teams that like to get out in transition, they like to get second-chance opportunities, that get after it on the defensive end.”

Baylor coach Scott Drew told reporters that injured guard LJ Cryer, who also sat out the opener, will not play against North Carolina.

“I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can’t,” he said.


The NCAA posts transcripts of all press conferences for credentialed media. The JB Replay gained access to the transcripts Friday afternoon.

Charting the top seeds

After Friday’s games, the top four seeds in each region produced a 15-1 record against lower seeds in the Round of 64. The only one to lose was East Region No. 2 seed Kentucky, which lost to Saint Peter’s Thursday night.

In the South Region, with the games cycling though San Antonio next week, top-seeded Arizona, No. 2 Villanova and No. 3 Tennessee all won in blowouts. Fourth-seeded Illinois was taken to the wire before downing Chattanooga, 54-53, Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

Five from Texas stay alive

Five of the seven teams from the state of Texas that made the 68-team tournament field are still alive going into the Round of 32. After Baylor won easily on Thursday, while Texas Tech, Houston, Texas and TCU all won on Friday to advance.

Texas Tech, Houston and Texas all hit double-digits in 3-pointers made on Friday. The Red Raiders had 12 and the Cougars and the Longhorns both made 10. Texas Tech hit 12 of 20 from beyond the arc in a 97-62 victory over Montana State in the West Region.

In the South Region, fifth-seeded Houston opened the tournament in Pittsburgh and nailed nine from long distance in the first half alone. The Cougars held off the UAB Blazers, 82-68, on Friday night to set up a Sunday game against Illinois.

Also in the South, the ninth-seeded TCU Horned Frogs blew out the Seton Hall Pirates, 69-42. With the victory, TCU earned a Round of 32 game Sunday in San Diego against Arizona.

Sixth-seeded Texas won its first tournament game since 2014 with an 81-73 East Region victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Longhorns will also play next on Sunday, drawing the third-seeded Purdue Boilermakers.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was eliminated from the tournament on Tuesday. The Islanders lost to the Texas Southern Tigers.

The Tigers advanced to play Kansas on Thursday. The Jayhawks won, 83-56.

Illinois, a No. 4 seed in the South, escapes Chattanooga

Coleman Hawkins blocked a shot and then rebounded when the last shot of the game misfired, boosting the fourth-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini to a 54-53 NCAA tournament South region victory over the No. 13 seeded Chattanooga Mocs.

Illinois led for only 25 seconds in the Round of 64 game played at Pittsburgh but managed to survive and advance to the R32. The Illini will play the No. 5 Houston Cougars on Sunday. The Cougars defeated the 12th-seeded UAB Blazers, 82-68.

Another victory would boost the Illini into a Sweet 16 game in San Antonio next week at the AT&T Center.

“It’s relief,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s relief. I told (Chattanooga coach) Lamont (Paris) they played better than us. And we just happened to have more points than them at the end, and we led at the right time.

“But it’s also encouraging, and very encouraging to be very honest, to know that, let’s see, Trent Frazier is 0 for 6, (Andre) Curbelo is 1 of 7, Da’Monte (Williams) was 1 of 3, and (Alfonso) Plummer was 5 of 12.

“And to know that we’re really good shooting team, and you guys all sat there and watched us shoot yesterday. You know we’re a really good shooting team, and we had a bad day, Kofi (Cockburn) is 50 percent from the free throw line, and we found a way to win.

“We held them to 20 second half points.”

Hawkins, a 6-10 sophomore from Sacramento, came up with some big plays at the end to bail out a team that tied Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten Conference’s regular-season race.

Chattanooga blasted out of the chute to take a 20-6 lead nine minutes into the game. An upset looked likely until Hawkins and Cockburn, an All-America center, helped rally the Illini.

With two minutes remaining, Hawkins ran the floor and took a lob pass from Trent Frazier that he dunked to bring Illinois within one point of the lead.

With 48 seconds left, Hawkins missed a free throw but Cockburn rebounded and tossed in an 8-footer in the lane, putting his team up 52-51 with 46 seconds left.

On the next possession, Chattanooga’s Malachi Smith was fouled, hit two free throws and boosted the Mocs back in front, 53-52.

Illinois came back down court and got the ball to 3-point specialist Alfonso Plummer on the perimeter. Plummer drove, drew contact and sank two free throws with 12 seconds left for the last points of the game.

Trying to win on the last possession, Chattanooga went to Smith who drove and hoisted a shot that was blocked by Hawkins.

Smith retrieved the ball and shot again but missed. Hawkins snared the game-clinching rebound, and the final horn sounded.

It was sweet relief for fans of the Illini, who suffered last year when their team had an elite team and a No. 1 seed and was beaten by Loyola-Chicago in the second round.

NCAA tournament opener has a San Antonio flavor

A&M-Corpus Christi guard Jalen Jackson playing at the UTSA Convocation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

San Antonio’s Jalen Jackson leads the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders into the NCAA tournament today. Jackson is a junior guard from Wagner High School. — File photo by Joe Alexander

When the first game of the 2022 NCAA tournament tips off at 5:40 p.m. today, a couple of familiar faces from the Alamo City will step into the spotlight for the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders.

A little more than 30 years ago, the coach of the Islanders, Steve Lutz, was scrapping around in a high school gym and playing for the East Central Hornets.

Only three years ago, Jalen Jackson, the Islanders’ starting guard, was playing in the backcourt for the Wagner Thunderbirds.

Today, they will try to make history when the Islanders face the Texas Southern Tigers in an NCAA First Four game at Dayton Arena in Ohio.

They’ll try to lead the Islanders in their 23rd year as a basketball program to their first NCAA victory. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi started basketball in 1999-2000. The Islanders were independent until 2006-07, when they made their debut in the Southland Conference.

That season, the Islanders also made their NCAA debut and lost a heartbreaker, falling 76-63 to Wisconsin.

Taking the floor at the United Center in Chicago, the 15th-seeded Islanders were led by another Alamo City standout — center Chris Daniels from Sam Houston High School — and they stunned the crowd by surging to a 25-7 lead with five minutes left in the first half.

The lead didn’t last long. The Badgers rallied behind All-American Alando Tucker’s 23 points to win going away. At the time, the NCAA tournament consisted of 64 teams. Today, it is a 68-team field.

That is the reason that the Islanders and the Tigers are playing, essentially, in a bracket outside of a bracket. The four winners in the First Four games move on to play in the Round of 64.

In the case of the Islanders and the Tigers, the winner will fly out of Dayton on Wednesday and head to Fort Worth, where they will face the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks in an R64 game on Thursday.

According to rosters examined by The JB Replay, 10 players from the San Antonio area are on NCAA men’s basketball tournament rosters.

Jackson, Texas Tech’s Kevin McCullar (Wagner), Arkansas’ Stanley Umude (Warren) and Wyoming’s Brendan Wenzel (O’Connor) have started games this year, though Wenzel has been coming off the bench lately.

Freshman Langston Love (Steele) was projected to play a significant role this season for the top-seeded Baylor Bears, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in October.

Love is sitting out as a redshirt.

S.A. players to watch

Adam Benhayoune, a 6-5 LSU freshman from O’Connor.

Jalen Jackson, a 5-11 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi junior from Wagner. Jackson averages 6.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.

Kijana Love, Baylor, 6-1 senior guard from Steele; transfer from New Hampshire and St. Edward’s

Langston Love, Baylor, 6-5 freshman guard from Steele and Montverde Academy (Fla.).

Kevin McCullar, Texas Tech, 6-6 redshirt junior guard from Wagner. McCullar averages 9.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.

Stanley Umude, Arkansas, 6-6 senior from Warren; transfer from South Dakota. Umude averages 11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.1 steals.

Ethan White, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 6-3 grad student guard from East Central

Brendan Wenzel, Wyoming, 6-7 sophomore guard from O’Connor; transfer from Utah. Wenzel averages 5.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals

Players from San Antonio area who attended high school out of the area, now on rosters for NCAA tournament teams

Zach Clemence, Kansas, 6-10 freshman forward, hometown listed as San Antonio, from Findlay Prep (Nev.) and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.)

Micah Peavy, TCU, 6-7 sophomore forward, hometown listed as Cibolo, from Duncanville; transfer from Texas Tech

Arizona draws No. 1 seed, favorite’s role in the NCAA South

The NCAA South Region will cycle through San Antonio, with second-weekend games scheduled on March 24 and 26 at the AT&T Center. Here is a look at the top four seeds in the South:

(1) Arizona

Record: 31-3

Streak: Won six straight

Last 10: 9-1

At a glance: Arizona won the Pac-12 regular season and postseason tournament championships en route to the No. 1 seed in the South.

Route to San Antonio: The Wildcats are playing in San Diego on the opening weekend, taking on either Bryant or Wright State on Friday. Both are 16 seeds vying for a spot in the Round of 64. If the Wildcats reach the second round, they’ll play either (8) Seton Hall or (9) TCU in the Round of 32.

Names to watch: Tommy Lloyd, in his first year in Tucson, was named Pac-12 Coach the Year. Guard Bennedict Mathurin was Pac-12 Player of the Year. Seven-foot-one center Christian Koloko is the Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and first-team all conference. Six-foot-11 forward Azuolas Tubelis is first-team all conference, while guard Pelle Larsson is Sixth Man of the Year. Guard Dalen Terry made the all defensive team.

(2) Villanova

Record: 26-7

Streak: Won five straight

Last 10: 9-1

At a glance: Villanova drew the No. 2 seed in the South. The selection came after it finished 16-4 and a game and a half behind Big East regular-season champion Providence in the regular season. Villanova went on to win the conference’s tournament title at Madison Square Garden with victories over St. John’s, Connecticut and Creighton.

Route to San Antonio: Villanova will play in Pittsburgh on the opening weekend of the tournament. The Wildcats will take on 15th-seeded Delaware (22-12) in the first round on Friday. If they advance, they’ll draw either (7) Ohio State or (10) Loyola-Chicago in the Round of 32.

Names to watch: Coach Jay Wright led Villanova to the 2018 NCAA title at the Alamodome. Point guard Collin Gillespie is the Big East Player of the Year. Averaging 15.9 points and 42 percent from 3-point territory, he came up big in the tournament final, sinking a couple of threes in the last few minutes to secure a 54-48 victory over Creighton. All-Big East, scond-team member Justin Moore averaged 15 points and 5 rebounds. Other starters are Jermaine Samuels, Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater.

(3) Tennessee

Record: 26-7

Streak: Won seven straight

Last 10: 9-1

At a glance: The Volunteers finished 14-4 in the SEC regular season to tie Kentucky for second place, one game behind Auburn. After winning the SEC tournament title last weekend in Tampa, Fla., defeating Mississippi State, Kentucky and Texas A&M along the way, they earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA South.

Route to San Antonio: They’ll play in Indianapolis on Thursday against 14th-seed Longwood, Va. (26-6). Two days later, the winner of that game will face either (6) Colorado State or (11) Michigan.

Names to watch: Former Texas coach Rick Barnes has led Tennessee to a fourth NCAA appearance in his seventh season at the school. Barnes reached the round of 32 in 2018. He made the Sweet 16 in 2019 and then lost in the first round last year. Guard Kennedy Chandler leads the team at point guard, averaging a team-best 13.8 points and 4.6 assists. Chandler was MVP of the SEC tournament. Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi were named to all-tournament.

(4) Illinois

Record: 22-9

Streak: Lost one

Last 10: 6-4

At a glance: Illinois tied with Wisconsin for the best record (15-5) in the Big Ten regular-season. The Illini opened in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament and lost by two to the Indiana Hoosiers. Illinois on Sunday earned the No. 4 seed in the South.

Route to San Antonio: The Illini are on their way to Pittsburgh. They’ll open the tournament Friday against No. 13 seed Chattanooga (27-7). If they win, they’ll move on to the round of 32 against either the (5) Houston Cougars or the (12) UAB Blazers.

Names to watch: Fifth-year Illinois coach Brad Underwood has had 20-win seasons in his last three seasons in Champaign. This is his second-straight NCAA appearance after last year when the top-seeded Illini were upset by Loyola-Chicago in the second round. Junior Center Kofi Cockburn made first-team all conference. Guard Trent Frazier was a second team pick. Forward Alfonso Plummer shoots 40 percent from 3-point territory.