When you think of powerhouses in DI men's basketball, your mind may quickly jump to Duke, Kentucky or Kansas. Yet in recent years, Texas Southern, an HBCU based in Houston, Texas has become a powerhouse of its own.
The Tigers have won three NCAA tournament games in the last five years, becoming a dominant force in the HBCU basketball landscape. But the 2022-23 season could be the best season yet for Texas Southern, with the Tigers on the verge of making history.
What's at stake in 2022-23?
No HBCU has ever won more than three NCAA tournament games. If Texas Southern makes it to the 2023 NCAA tournament and wins a game, whether the First Four or first round, it would have the most NCAA tournament wins of any HBCU, ever.
Texas Southern became only the second HBCU to ever win three tournament games with its 76-67 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the First Four last year. Alcorn State was the first program to achieve the feat, winning three tournament games from 1980-1984.
The Tigers have won NCAA tournament games in each of the last two years. Texas Southern also won an NCAA tournament game in 2018. In total, Texas Southern is only the second HBCU to win three games in five years and the second HBCU with three tournament wins overall.
While all three Tiger wins have come in the First Four compared to two Preliminary Round wins for the Braves, a win is still a win, and to be fair, there wasn't a Preliminary Round in 1980.
It would continue a climb in which Texas Southern has been one of the best HBCU basketball programs over the last decade. The Tigers have won 10 conference regular season or tournament titles, more than half of the available opportunities.
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Can Texas Southern make history?
Three things have Texas Southern capable of making history entering the year. Let's break them down.
Texas Southern returns three of its four leading scorers from last year's First Four-winning team in guard PJ Henry and forwards Karl Nicholas and John Walker III.
Nicholas is the top dog of the trio, earning preseason First Team All-SWAC and Defensive Player of the Year honors. He is an elite defender that averaged nine points per game last season. He should be improved entering another year, especially after learning from current and retired NBA players at the NBPA Top 50 Basketball Camp during the offseason.
Walker joined Nicholas with preseason honors as he was named to the All-SWAC second team. Walker led the Tigers in scoring with 10.2 points while shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Walker scored 16 points during Texas Southern's 2021 tournament win.
All of that talent has Texas Southern predicted to finish first in the SWAC again this year, a sign the conference's head coaches and sports information directors foresee good things coming for the Tigers.
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In the last decade, Texas Southern has won the SWAC regular season or tournament title eight times. The Tigers have advanced to the NCAA tournament six times, including tournament appearances from each of the last two years.
Winning the conference tournament is the best way for a school like Texas Southern to make the NCAA tournament, with conference champions guaranteed a bid into the 64-team field. A team can't win an NCAA tournament game without making the tournament, and Texas Southern's recent conference success bodes well entering a potentially record-breaking year.
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Texas Southern has played in the First Four in back-to-back years under Jones. That means the Tigers have experience playing early in the tournament, making the quick turnaround from Selection Sunday to a Tuesday or Wednesday game. The Tigers know how to prepare for a First Four game and have shown how to win a First Four game. That experience is valuable.
But what if Texas Southern doesn't play in the First Four this year, playing in the first round instead?
It's a possibility, given Texas Southern's strength of schedule. The Tigers play five games against 2022 NCAA tournament teams this year, the second-most games of any HBCU. An upset or two, plus a strong run during regular season conference play, could boost Texas Southern from its typical 16 seed.
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If Texas Southern makes the NCAA tournament but plays in the first round instead of the First Four, the previous tournament experience will still come in handy. So will a strong non-conference schedule that will produce a battle-tested team. Throw in added rest from not playing on the Tuesday or Wednesday after selections, and Texas Southern could have the perfect recipe for another NCAA tournament win.
A win that would etch the Tigers into the history books.