Record: 23-11 (16-2)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 16, South
How they got to the Big Dance
The Tigers struggled through their non-conference slate, losing eight in a row during one stretch. A tough schedule was one of the main issues as Texas Southern dropped games to major conference powers Louisville, Arizona, Baylor and Cincinnati, all of which were ranked in the top-25 when they played the Tigers. Once the SWAC season started, though, Texas Southern got rolling, ripping off win streaks of six, four and six games en route to a three-game edge over every other team in the conference standings. In the conference tournament, the Tigers picked up 15-point victories over Grambling and Alabama State before facing Alcorn State in the final. In a game that was close almost the whole way, the Tigers did just enough, despite shooting only 39 percent in the game, to win 53-50 and clinch a trip to the Big Dance.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Tigers are a very balanced offensive team. Four players average in double figures and eight players average at least seven points per game. When the Tournament starts and some players inevitably tighten up, others will be able to step up and carry the scoring load. Also, such a diverse cast of scorers makes it difficult to gameplan for the Tigers, because taking away opportunities for one or two top players will not stop them from having success. In addition, this is not a team that is simply happy to be in the Tournament. This is Texas Southern’s third inclusion in the field of 68 in the last four years. After losses in the first two appearances of the Mike Davis era, the Tigers will be ready to play and hungry to pick up a win in the tournament for the first time in program history.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
It’s tough to envision this team making much noise in the tournament even if they catch a major power on an off day in the opening round. The Tigers only shoot 29.6 percent as a team from beyond the 3-point line, so it’s unlikely that they’ll get hot and hit a bunch of triples to carry them to victory. Furthermore, they allow 107.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranks near the bottom of Division I. Finally, as their string of losses in games against elite teams early in the season showed, the Tigers will struggle to win at the level required to make a run into the tournament’s second weekend. Four top-25 matchups all led to losses of 22 points or more.
Player to watch: G Zach Lofton
Lofton is an interesting player not only because he’s Texas Southern’s leading scorer, averaging 17 points per game, but also because of how he got to that number. The junior had five games of at least 25 points and six games with fewer than 10 points, including three in which he had fewer than five. He struggled to get shots against some good teams, taking just six against Baylor and seven against Louisville, while shooting 24 times against Alcorn State on March 2 en route to a 30-point performance. In essence, Lofton runs unpredictably hot and cold, and the Tigers’ tournament fate might rest on which version of the Minnesota native shows up. If he comes out aggressive from the opening tip, Texas Southern could put a major conference team on upset alert.