Three Texas-based, mid majors vie for NCAA bids today

UTEP men's basketball coach Joe Golding at the Miners' game against UTSA at the Convocation Center on Feb. 11, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Joe Golding’s UTEP Miners rallied from a 14-point deficit in the last 13 minutes Friday to stun the top-seeded Sam Houston State Bearkats in the Conference USA tournament. The Miners will play for the conference’s postseason title today against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Huntsville, Ala. — Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

With Selection Sunday looming tomorrow for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the state of Texas is looking good with nine possible entries in the 68-team field.

Not to mention a San Antonio native who coaches an out-of-state program.

Three mid-majors from the state will play for automatic bids today, including the UTEP Miners in Conference USA, the Texas Southern Tigers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the UT Arlington Mavericks in the Western Athletic Conference.

Coach Joe Golding’s Miners will take on the Steve Lutz-coached Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in Huntsville, Ala., for the C-USA title at 7:30 tonight on the CBS Sports Network.

In Birmingham, at Bartow Arena, the SWAC title is up for grabs between Johnny Jones‘ Texas Southern Tigers and the Grambling State (La.) Tigers. Jones’ Tigers are looking for their fourth straight trip to the NCAA’s Big Dance. Tipoff is at 8:30 on ESPN Plus.

Later in the evening, in Las Vegas, the WAC championship will tip off at 10:30 p.m., matching a UT Arlington team coached by former Kentucky and Texas assistant KT Turner against the Grand Canyon (Ariz.) University Lopes at 10:30 p.m., also on ESPN Plus.

Other teams from the state expected to make the field of 68 include the Houston Cougars, the Baylor Bears, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the Texas Longhorns and the TCU Horned Frogs — all from the Big 12 — and the Southeastern Conference’s Texas A&M Aggies.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Kelvin Sampson has led the Houston Cougars to a 30-3 record entering play today against the Iowa State Cyclones for the Big 12 title. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Led by coach Kelvin Sampson, the Big 12 regular-season champion Cougars are in good shape for an NCAA No. 1 regional seed going into today’s postseason conference title game against Iowa State.


Lutz is a San Antonio native who played at East Central High School and in college in Seguin at Texas Lutheran College, now Texas Lutheran University. He is in his first year at Western Kentucky after leading the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders to two straight NCAA appearances. His last two teams at A&M-Corpus Christi went 23-12 and 24-11.

Seeded third in the C-USA tournament, Lutz’s Hilltoppers (21-11) lost four in a row to close out the regular season before turning it all around in the postseason in Alabama, where they rebounded to win tournament games against the New Mexico State Aggies and the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

On Friday, the Hilltoppers demolished the Blue Raiders 85-54 by locking down defensively and then shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 50 percent (11 of 22) from the three-point line.

The Miners, meanwhile, will take their own momentum into the championship match. UTEP (18-15) trailed in Friday’s semifinals by 14 points with 13 minutes remaining. At that point, they rallied to knock off the regular-season champion and No. 1-seeded Sam Houston Bearkats, 65-63.

In his third season in El Paso, Golding is looking to reach the NCAA tournament for the third time in six seasons, making it previously in 2019 and 2021 at Abilene Christian University. A highlight came in 2021 when the Wildcats won the Southland Conference postseason title en route to an NCAA upset of the third-seeded Texas Longhorns. A prominent member of Golding’s staff at UTEP is Jeremy Cox, a former assistant at UTSA.

The SWAC tournament finals features a Texas coaching legend in Jones, who recently won the 400th game in his 25-year career. Jones has also had head coaching stops at Memphis, North Texas and LSU. He led the Mean Green to NCAA appearances in 2007 and 2010. At LSU, he had one NCAA trip in 2015. The coach worked his postseason magic particularly well last spring, when his team rose up as the eighth seed and beat No. 1 Grambling, 61-58, in the SWAC finals.

This year, curiously, Texas Southern won on the road and lost at home for a 1-1 split against Grambling during the regular season.

For UT Arlington, coach Turner’s first season has been a wild ride. His Mavericks lost nine of their first 15 games before gaining some traction and momentum. Right now, they’re on a 14-4 run, and they’ll enter the title game against GCU with a record of 20-13. In a game that started late Friday night and finished early Saturday morning, Brandyn Talbot hit a 3-pointer with five seconds left to lift third-seeded Arlington to a 87-84 victory over No. 2 Tarleton State.

Turner has worked under the likes of Gregg Marshall (at Wichita State), Larry Brown and Tim Jankovic (SMU), Porter Moser (at Oklahoma), Shaka Smart (Texas) and John Calipari (Kentucky).

A&M-Corpus Christi coach Steve Lutz at the UTSA Convocation Center on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. - photo by Joe Alexander

San Antonio native Steve Lutz, an East Central High School graduate, has a chance to reach the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. His Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are playing the UTEP Miners tonight in Alabama for the Conference USA crown and the NCAA automatic bid. – photo by Joe Alexander

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

Seven teams from Texas make the NCAA tournament

A few nights ago, it appeared that the state of Texas might have a chance to get as many as 10 teams in the NCAA tournament. By the time the field of 68 was unveiled on Sunday night, the state had seven representatives in the Big Dance.

Here’s a quick glance:

Baylor — The Scott Drew-coached Bears (26-6) enter March Madness as the top seed in the East Regional, trying to win back-to-back national championships. Baylor will play Virginia-based Norfolk State (24-6) on Thursday at Dickie’s Arena in Fort Worth. Baylor, playing without injured big man Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who is out for the season, finished 14-4 and shared the Big 12 regular-season title with Kansas. The Bears lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

Texas Tech — The Red Raiders (25-9) will play as the No. 3 seed in the West. Tech will take on Montana State (27-7) on Friday in San Diego at Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl. Tech will face its initial NCAA test under first-year coach Mark Adams, an assistant under the Red Raiders’ previous coach, Chris Beard. The Red Raiders finished 12-6 and finished third in the Big 12 regular season. They lost to Kansas in the tournament title game.

Houston — The Cougars (29-5) will compete as the No. 5 seed in the South and will meet the UAB Blazers (27-7) on Friday inside PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. Houston’s coach is Kelvin Sampson, a veteran who has worked previously at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana. Sampson led the Cougars to the Final Four last year. Houston lost stars Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark to injury earlier in December but rebounded to win the AAC regular season (at 15-3) and tournament crowns.

Texas — The Longhorns (21-11) will move into NCAA play under first-year coach Chris Beard as the sixth seed in the East. They’ll play in Milwaukee on Friday against the No 11 seed Virginia Tech Hokies (23-12). Texas finished fourth in the Big 12 regular season at 10-8 and lost to TCU 65-60 in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Virginia Tech won the ACC tournament title as the seventh seed, routing Duke 82-67 in the championship game.

TCU — The Jamie Dixon-coached Horned Frogs (20-12) will take on the Seton Hall Pirates (21-10) on Friday in San Diego. The Pirates are the eighth seed and the Horned Frogs are ninth in the South Region. TCU beat Texas Tech and Kansas late in the regular season and the knocked off Texas in the Big 12 tournament. Seton Hall won seven straight before falling to Connecticut in the Big East quarterfinals.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi — The Steve Lutz-coached Islanders (23-12) will take on the Texas Southern Tigers (18-12) on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. Both teams are seeded 16th in the Midwest Region, with the winner getting a chance to take on the No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks. Lutz, a San Antonio native, is in his first season as a Division I head coach. The Islanders swept three games to win the Southland Tournament, including back-to-back victories over No. 1 seed Nicholls State and No. 2 Southeastern Louisiana.

Texas Southern — The Johnny Jones-coached Tigers (18-12) scheduled their first 11 games of the season on the road. They lost the first seven before steadying the ship to finish in second place at 13-5 in the SWAC regular season. In the SWAC tournament, the Tigers beat Jackson State, Grambling and then toppled No. 1 seed Alcorn State for the conference title and their second straight trip to the NCAAs. The Tigers rely on defense and a big and talented front court to control the game.

Back to back: Texas Southern claims another NCAA bid

The Texas Southern University Tigers on Saturday became the first program from the state to qualify for the 2022 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

Led by a front line of Joirdon Karl Nicholas, Brishon Gresham and John Walker III, the Tigers broke open a tight battle in the second half and stormed to a 87-62 victory over the Alcorn State Braves for the Southwestern Athletic Conference title.

In the game played at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Ala., second-seeded Texas Southern shot 55.7 percent from the field and knocked off Alcorn, seeded No. 1, for its second straight SWAC title and the accompanying NCAA automatic bid under Coach Johnny Jones.

Walker led the Tigers with 17 points off the bench. Gresham, a 6-9, 240-pound transfer from the University of Houston, blocked five shots. Nicholas had eight rebounds as Texas Southern won the boards, 44-35.

Other automatic qualifiers so far on Saturday: Virginia Tech in the ACC, UAB in Conference USA, Montana State in the Big Sky and Akron in the Mid-American Conference.

Also on Saturday: Villanova in the Big East, Kansas in the Big 12 and Boise State out of the Mountain West.

Earlier in the day: St. Peter’s (N.J.) in the MAAC, Norfolk State (Va.) in the MEAC and Vermont in the America East.

Kansas downed Texas Tech, 74-65, at Kansas City for the Big 12’s automatic bid. The Red Raiders are expected to receive an at-large bid when the bracket is unveiled on Sunday night.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., junior guard Hunter Catoor scored 31 points as the seventh-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies upset the Duke Blue Devils, 82-67. Paolo Banchero scored 20 for the Blue Devils.

NCAA automatic bids

Virginia Tech — Atlantic Coast Conference
Alabama-Birmingham — Conference USA
Montana State — Big Sky
Akron (Ohio) — Mid-American Conference
Villanova — Big East
Texas Southern — Southwestern Athletic Conference
Boise State — Mountain West
Kansas — Big 12
St. Peter’s (N.J.) — MAAC
Norfolk State (Va.) — MEAC
Vermont — America East
Colgate (N.Y.) — Patriot League
Gonzaga (Wash.) — West Coast Conference
Jacksonville State (Ala.) — Atlantic Sun
Bryant (R.I.) — Northeast Conference
Delaware — Colonial Athletic Association
Wright State (Ohio) — Horizon League
South Dakota State — Summit League
Chattanooga (Tenn.) — Southern Conference
Georgia State — Sun Belt
Longwood (Va.) — Big South
Loyola-Chicago — Missouri Valley
Murray State (Ky.) — Ohio Valley

Texas Southern upsets 18th-ranked Oregon, 89-84

Chalk up another victory over a power conference opponent for the Texas Southern Tigers.

Led by center Trayvon Reed’s 23 points, the Tigers downed the No. 18 Oregon Ducks, 89-84, late Monday night in Eugene.

“Trayvon did an excellent job,” Texas Southern coach Johnny Jones told the Associated Press. “It was his best game by far all year long. I thought he performed at a really good pace on both ends of the floor.

“Offensively, he was very effective, and he played with a lot of energy on the defensive end. I thought he had them uncomfortable at both.”

Houston-based Texas Southern (2-4) is no stranger to success.

Under former coach Mike Davis, the Tigers won six straight Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and qualified for four NCAA tournaments.

But this year, Texas Southern is winning in November against the name schools.

The Tigers opened the season with a three-point victory at Baylor. After the win at Oregon, it marked the first time since 2014-15 that they’ve won two games in a season against power programs.

Reed and guard John Jones, the coach’s son, led the way against the Ducks.

Battling against Oregon’s Bol Bol, Reed had his hands full, as the Ducks’ freshman produced 32 points and 11 rebounds.

But Reed held his own, connecting on 9-for-9 from the field — all on dunks. Jones hit four 3-point shots and scored 20.

Calling it a “big win,” coach Johnny Jones applauded the team effort.

“We played the 18th-ranked team in the country and a program that has been to the Final Four, and for us to leave here with a win speaks volumes as to how well these guys played tonight,” said Jones, who has coached previously at Memphis, North Texas and LSU.

Six teams in the state alive in NCAA baseball playoffs

Six of the seven Texas-based teams in the NCAA baseball tournament remain alive through three days of regional play. Texas and Texas Tech are 2-0 in their regions. Here’s the breakdown leading into Sunday afternoon competition:

Texas — In the drivers’ seat in the Austin Regional. The No. 13 overall seed in the NCAA tournament is 2-0 and will play at home tonight against either Indiana or Texas A&M. This is a hot team. Might be tough to beat them two straight in Austin. So far, Texas has hammered Texas Southern 10-0 and beat up A&M 8-3.

Texas A&M — The Aggies are 1-1 in the Austin Regional and will play this afternoon to stay alive against the Indiana Hoosiers. A&M needs a quality start to steady the team. Will it be freshman lefthander Asa Lacy from Kerrville Tivy?

Texas Southern — The Tigers were swept out of the tournament in Austin, losing 10-0 to Texas 6-0 to Indiana. Texas Southern is a program on the rise, having played in NCAA regionals at College Station in 2015, at Baton Rouge in 2017 and now in Austin, all under coach Michael Robertson.

Texas Tech — The Red Raiders are 2-0 and playing for the regional title tonight in their own Lubbock Regional. Kent State and Louisville will meet this afternoon to determine Tech’s opponent. Either way, the No. 9 national seeded Red Raiders appear to be in good shape after beating New Mexico State 9-2 on Friday and Louisville 10-4 on Saturday.

Baylor — The Big 12 tournament champions are 1-1 and facing long odds in the losers’ bracket at the Stanford Regional. They’ll play the host and No. 2 overall seed Cardinal this afternoon in an effort to stay alive. Baylor needs to beat Stanford and Cal State Fullerton twice to win the regional. The Bears lost to surprising Fullerton 6-2 on Friday and then bounced back to defeat Wright State, 11-5, on Saturday.

Houston — The Cougars are 1-1 and facing elimination Sunday afternoon against Purdue in the Chapel Hill Regional. Houston must win three straight to advance. It must beat the Boilermakers and the host North Carolina Tar Heels twice. Houston started fast in the regional, knocking off Purdue 9-2 on Friday. The Cougars hit two home runs in their second game but fell to the Tar Heels 4-3 on Saturday.

Dallas Baptist –The hard-hitting Patriots slammed Oral Roberts 18-9 on Saturday to even their record to 1-1 in the Fayetteville Regional. They’ll take on Southern Miss, the Conference USA champions, on Sunday afternoon. If Dallas Baptist can win, it would move into the championship round against host Arkansas Sunday night. One of the hidden gems in NCAA sports in Texas, Dallas Baptist has played in four NCAA regionals since 2011.

UT’s NCAA Regional includes an old rival — Texas A&M

The possibility of a playoff game — or games — between the rival Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies loomed Monday as the NCAA baseball tournament’s 64-team bracket was unveiled.

Texas will host a regional starting Friday that will include A&M, Indiana and Texas Southern University.

On opening night in the double-elimination format, No. 2 seed Indiana will play third-seeded A&M at 4 p.m. and top-seeded Texas will play No. 4 Texas Southern at 8.

If the Longhorns and Aggies both win — or, if they both lose — they would play Saturday.

The tournament games will be held in Austin on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and, if necessary, also Monday, at the UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Other teams from the state that made the tournament include Texas Tech, Baylor, Houston and Dallas Baptist.

Texas Tech is the only other program in the state that will host on opening weekend.

The TCU Horned Frogs, who have played in the past four College World Series, were left out of the 64-team field after they made it to the Big 12 tournament title game and lost to Baylor.

Sam Houston State and Rice were among other notable programs missing from the national bracket.

Last year, the Bearkats made a surprise run to the NCAA Lubbock Regional title and advanced to play Florida State in the Tallahassee Super Regional.

This year, they won the Southland Conference regular-season title but failed to win the SLC tournament.

Rice, under outgoing coach Wayne Graham, posted a losing record in the regular season and failed to win the Conference USA tournament title for the automatic bid.

Thus, Rice had its streak of 23 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances snapped. It was the third-longest streak in the nation.

In Austin, fans will get to see NCAA tournament baseball live for the first time since the Longhorns hosted a Super Regional in 2014.

It’s the first time Texas has hosted on the first weekend of the tournament since 2011.

Tournament time in Texas

Regional openers are set for Friday

Texas — No. 13 national seed, No. 1 regional seed, hosts in Austin and opens against Texas Southern

Texas Tech — No. 9 national seed, No. 1 regional seed, hosts in Lubbock and opens against New Mexico State

Baylor — No. 2 regional seed at Palo Alto, Calif., plays opening day against Cal State Fullerton

Texas A&M — No. 3 regional seed at Austin, opens with Indiana

Houston — No. 3 regional seed at Chapel Hill, N.C., opens with Purdue

Dallas Baptist — No. 3 regional seed at Fayetteville, Ark., opens with Southern Miss

Texas Southern — No. 4 regional seed at Austin, opens with Texas