Basketball Hangover Follows March Madness®, Sadness

by BoCarter | Posted on Sunday, May 20th, 2018

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CARROLLTON, Texas – I’m missing the sound of the bouncing basketball after March Madness®, March Sadness and April Gladness in men’s and women’s college basketball.

With the NBA divisional playoffs going at full tilt, it’s just a reminder about one of the most momentous in DFW Metroplex history from an area collegiate and area conference standpoint.

For starters, Irving-located Conference USA had a breakthrough year in men’s hoops with seasoned head coach Dan D’Antoni (the 70-year-old brother of Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni) guiding sharpshooting Marshall to the C-USA postseason title over favored WKU at the imaginative venue of The Star at Ford Center in Frisco, Texas.

That 67-66 edging of the Hilltoppers also gave MU a boost to pull a NCAA first round shocker over Wichita State 81-75 before the Thundering Herd dropped a 94-71 decision to cross-state rival West Virginia, which was ranked No. 1 nationally for part of the season.

WKU, meanwhile, played with new determination in advancing to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Coach Rick Stansbury’s Toppers eliminated Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference 79-62 at Chestnut Hill, Mass., Southern California of the Pac-12 Conference 79-75 in Los Angeles and thumped Oklahoma State of the Big 12 84-75 in Stillwater, Okla., before falling to Pac-12 traditional power Utah 69-64 in the last contest before the NIT finals.

Regular-season C-USA men’s champ Middle Tennessee probably deserved a NCAA at-large bid at 24-7 overall through the league tourney where the Blue Raiders fell 71-68 to upstart Southern Miss. Coach Kermit Davis’ crew closed the season with a 25-8 final mark (most wins among C-USA squads) after pummeling Vermont 91-64 and then falling 84-68 in a rugged, second-row draw at Louisville.

UTSA also made the postseason field with a CIT victory over former Southland Conference foe Lamar 76-69 and a 76-69 (same score) ousting by SLC power Sam Houston State. The 20-15 final mark for the Roadrunners was the school’s best mark in that sport since the 2010-11 UTSA squad won the Southland Conference tourney, advanced to NCAA activity and finished the year at 20-14.

Perhaps the “feel good” story of the year in C-USA men’s basketball was North Texas’ march from a 15-17 overall worksheet to a final mark of 20-18 and the school’s first-ever national crown in the CBI tourney. Coach Grant McCasland’s bunch almost made it look easy with an opening 90-77 downing of homestanding South Dakota, a 96-67 romp over Mercer, a 90-68 win over Ohio Valley Conference stalwart Jacksonville State in the CBI semis, and then a clutch 2-of-3 series triumph over longtime West Coast national contender San Francisco.

After a 72-62 setback to three-point-happy USF on the road, the Mean Green returned to Denton’s friendly Super Pit and topped the Dons by double digits in both title-series finals – 69-55 and 88-77.

C-USA women’s basketball had similar national success with fewer teams advancing to postseason but numerous intersectional victories throughout the season.

Regular-season champ UAB (27-7 overall), conference tourney winner (over UAB) WKU (24-9) and Rice (23-10) all eclipsed the 22-win barrier, and the Hilltoppers lost a 82-58 decision to national seed Oregon State 82-58 in the first round of the NCAA Championship.

UAB topped Chattanooga 60-50 in the first round of the WNIT before falling 91-47 at Georgia Tech. Rice also moved to NIT play and stopped Texas State 71-60 in Houston before losing 93-73 at New Mexico. Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee also received coveted WNIT bids to give the C-USA women a hearty five postseason invitations.

The Irving-based Big 12 Conference had another year to remember as well with four teams – Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia – in the men’s Sweet 16. K-State won a pair of games over upstart UMBC and perennial power Kentucky before falling to Cinderella Final Four participant Loyola-Chicago. Tech advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in school annals as well.

Unfortunately, three Big 12 schools had the dubious honor of tangling with and dropping verdicts to Villanova – the first team since the 64-team (later 68) NCAA draw in 1985 to win every NCAA tourney contest by 10-plus points, including a 79-62 title game triumph over Michigan. KU, WVU and Texas Tech all were eliminated by the Wildcats (Kansas in the Final Four semifinals after a three-point barrage), but KU won a classic, 85-81 thriller in overtime over Duke to advance to the San Antonio finale.

Kansas (31-5 overall), Tech (27-10), WVU (26-11), and K-State (25-12) joined Oklahoma, TCU and Texas as NCAA bid recipients, and nine of the 10 Big 12 men’s teams notched 18 wins or more.

Big 12 women’s outfits also made ample national noise with Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma receiving NCAA berths, and Kansas State, TCU and West Virginia joining them in the WNIT.

BU and Texas later advanced into the NCAA Women’s Sweet 16 before falling to Oregon State and UCLA of the Pac-12, respectively. Baylor (winner of the Big 12 regular season and tourney crowns) closed 33-2 overall while Texas (28-7), OSU (21-11), Oklahoma (16-15), West Virginia (25-12), TCU (23-13) and K-State (18-16) stood out among postseason contenders. Baylor had a 30-game winning streak between a 82-68 setback at UCLA on Nov. 18 until the season-ending defeat by OSU.

On the Division II level in the Metroplex the historic Lone Star Conference sent three teams to NCAA Regionals – all at the Canyon, Texas, tourney hosted and captured by West Texas A&M. Texas A&M-Commerce, LSC tourney champ WTAM and regular-season and tourney runnerup UT Permian Basin competed well.

In fact, UTPB battled Regis (Colo.) in a four-overtime encounter resulting in a 130-124 win by the Falcons, who lost two days later to host West Texas A&M in a 95-87 regulation shootout. WT eventually fell in the DII Elite Eight for Final Four participant Ferris State 85-79 in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The LSC women garnered three NCAA bids after West Texas A&M clinched the automatic bid with a 80-66 victory over Tarleton State at Frisco’s Dr Pepper Arena – site of three of the four days of the LSC dual postseason meets. The teams had to move quarterfinal tests to Texas Woman’s University’s Kitty Magee Arena for the Friday, March 2, slate after the Dr Pepper Arena developed a water leak over the court area.

WT later advanced through two rounds of the NCAA joust before being edged 56-53 by host Lubbock Christian in the third outing. The Buffaloes closed the year at 29-5 overall while Angelo State advanced to the NCAAs with a final mark of 22-7. Tarleton State added an at-large bid at 20-12 while the Texas A&M-Commerce women finished 18-12.

On the local NCAA Division III front, little LeTourneau (enrollment 3,003) out of Longview, Texas, advanced two rounds deeply into the NCAA men’s tourney and closed 24-5 after capturing the American Southwest Conference regulation crown. ASC standout Sul Ross downed East Texas Baptist 68-65 to gain the loop’s automatic NCAA bid and dropped a 88-75 decision to St. Olaf to end the year at 22-7.

On the American Southwest women’s side, East Texas Baptist, which closed third in the circuit’s East Division, eked past Mary Hardin-Baylor 71-70 to win the conference tourney in Richardson, Texas, and then worked into the third round of the DIII Championships before falling to homestanding Wartburg 65-61 in the national title run. UT Dallas earned an at-large bid and fell to MHB 64-51 in the second round to finish 25-7 overall. UTD closed at 24-5 after posting a conference-best 16-2 mark and the No. 1 seeding in the ASC tourney.

Finally on the NAIA front, defending NAIA champ Texas Wesleyan made it back to the NAIA nationals at Kansas City’s historic Municipal Auditorium but had the misfortune of meeting eventual champion Graceland (Iowa) in the opening round of the 82nd annual NAIA meet and lost 70-61. Coach Brennen Shingleton’s crew position itself for the national by advancing to the semifinals of the Sooner Athletic Conference tourney and had a 14-6 league record in one of the country’s top small college basketball circuits. Wesleyan’s 22-11 full-season worksheet also helped the Rams compile a two-year record of 51-18 after a 29-7 NAIA-winning mark in 2016-17.

While TCU had one of its best combined men’s and women’s hoops’ records in school history (44-25 with both teams making postseason competition), SMU showed amazing fortitude in competing with as few as seven scholarship student-athletes for most of the season due to NCAA sanctions. Coach Tim Jankovich’s men’s squad had a 17-16 full-season record and was 6-12 in the nail-tough American Athletic Conference. The SMU women of coach Travis Mays showed some late-season promise despite a 10-20 overall ledger and 4-12 AAC slate.

“It had to be one of the most eventful seasons in college basketball in the Metroplex,” said one longtime observer. “Besides having six conference championship tournaments here (C-USA men and women, LSC men and women and ASC men and women), there were so many great individual performances and team improvement by just about every area school.”

And a bit of a Texas women’s hoops’ note: head coach Vic Schaefer, daughter Blair Schaefer (named after longtime Texas A&M, Arkansas and Stephen F. Austin Naismith Women’s Hall of Fame head coach Gary Blair) and Brenham, Texas, All-Southeastern Conference star Teira McCowan came within seconds of helping Mississippi State win its first NCAA team championship in any sport before the Bulldogs lost to Notre Dame 71-68 on a buzzer-beater in the NCAA finals at Columbus, Ohio. Schaefer’s and the Bulldogs’ near-miss was the second NCAA women’s championship appearance in succession after State fell to SEC rival South Carolina in 2017 at Dallas.

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