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

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