After two decades of missing March Madness, TCU broke through to reach the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. The Horned Frogs were one-and-done, losing in the first round to Syracuse. The school has made back-to-back NCAAs just once in school history and that is in the early 1950s.
Despite having to replace Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky — the two top scorers who sparked the team’s resurgence the past two seasons, the Frogs are likely to emerge as the top Texas team in the Big 12 and make a repeat appearance in the Big Dance.
Senior Alex Robinson and junior Jaylen Fisher (whose recovery from September surgery to his right knee is crucial) comprise the best point guard combo in the Big 12 while 6-foot-5 junior Desmond Bane could make a run at First-Team All-Big 12. The biggest challenge for third-year coach Jamie Dixon is finding new players to rebound and score in the paint.
Shaka Smart’s win-loss record at Texas is an accurate reflection of his three-year tenure, 50-50. But this season will be the first time he returns three of the five top scorers from the previous season. Sophomore Matt Coleman and senior Kerwin Roach II will anchor the backcourt while senior Dylan Osetkowski and sophomore Jericho Sims are solid on the front line.
Two of the main characters in one of Texas Tech’s greatest seasons, ending with a regional final loss to eventual national champion Villanova, have moved on. Senior point guard Keenan Evans and dynamic freshman Zhaire Smith are the two biggest departures. Chris Beard goes into year three having proven his coaching chops but will need several sophomores to step up to support senior guard Brandone Francis and senior post Norense Odiase.
Baylor hasn’t been shut out of postseason play in consecutive seasons since 2007. After last season’s 19-15 finish, the Bears have a lot of obstacles for a successful comeback. Senior guard Jake Lindsey, a steady vet, will miss the season after hip surgery in Austin. Makai Mason, a transfer from Yale, needs to have a big season at point guard. Tristan Clark, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, could be Baylor’s next dominant post.
Texas A&M’s roller coaster season ended with the Aggies’ second Sweet 16 appearance in the last three seasons. Billy Kennedy needs to replace his entire front court but senior guard Admon Gilder is one of the best defenders in the SEC while sophomore guard T.J. Starks started the last 15 games and finished his freshman season on a roll.
UTSA’s 20-15 record was the program’s highest win total since 2010-11 and an indication that coach Steve Henson has the Roadrunners on the right track going into his third year. Four starters return, led by top scorer Jhivvan Jackson, a sophomore guard, while fellow sophomore Keaton Wallace was a double-figures scorer off the bench last season. Adrian Rodriguez, a talented 6-foot-7 forward, returns after missing last season with a knee injury.
Why is Stephen F. Austin favored to win the Southland for the fifth time in six seasons? The Lumberjacks have three players who could be conference player of the year. Coach Kyle Keller (68-46 in two seasons) has senior guard Shannon Bogues, senior forward T.J. Holyfield and junior guard Kevon Harris.
SMU is in its final year of roster limitations due to NCAA sanctions. Two years ago, the short-handed Mustangs and finished 30-5 with an American Athletic Conference title. Last year, karma caught up with SMU and injuries led to a 17-16 finish. Jarrey Foster, a 6-foot-6 senior, missed the last half of the season after tearing his ACL. He’s the only scholarship player on the Mustangs’ roster that has more than one year of playing experience in an SMU uniform. His return to form will be crucial. Junior guard Jimmy Whitt is a returning starter.
Houston absorbed the most gut-wrenching loss of last season’s NCAA Tournament and must also replace guard Rob Gray, the American Athletic Conference’s career scoring leader. Three senior returning starters — Corey Davis Jr., Galen Robinson Jr. and Breaon Brady — should keep the Cougars near the top of the AAC standings.
North Texas won the CBI, the school’s first postseason title, and returns all five starters. Second-year coach Grant McCasland has a team capable of challenging for the top in Conference USA. The Mean Green’s up-tempo, guard-oriented style is headed by junior guard Roosevelt Smart and junior point guard Ryan Woolridge.
Sam Houston State has been consistent winners in eight seasons under coach Jason Hooten thanks to relentless defense and rebounding. The Bearkats were offensively challenged last season so Hooten turned to the junior college ranks, adding four players to boost the scoring. Guards Chad Bowie and Zaqwaun Matthews are the two JUCO additions being counted on the most.
Lamar returns top scorer Nick Garth, a 3-point threat, from last season’s team that finished in a two-way tie for fifth in the Southland. Coach Tic Price has eight newcomers including four transfers from other Division I programs. The Cardinals will need to deal with inexperience but overall the roster is more athletic.
If Houston Baptist improves on its next-to-last finish in the Southland, it can thank the NCAA for granting a medical redshirt to 6-foot-10 senior center Josh Ibarra. Before being injured, he averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds in nine games. He offsets the loss of leading scorer and rebounder David Caraher who transferred after his freshman season
UTRGV won its most games as members of the Western Athletic Conference and appeared in the school’s first postseason tournament (CBI). The Vaqueros, though, need to replace Nick Dixon, the leading scorer in the Western Athletic Conference in order to maintain the positive momentum.
Veteran coach Willis Wilson guided Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to a total of 49 wins in two seasons before last year’s 11-18 overall mark. The Islanders must replace leading scorer Joe Kilgore; that’s not good news considering the team averaged less than under 68 points last season.
Texas State improved its win total in each of coach Danny Kaspar’s first four seasons. That trend ended with last season’s 15-18 record. The Bobcats succeed because of defense but last season, they weren’t as effective. Junior guard Nijal Pearson is one of three returning starters.
If Abilene Christian gets stingier on defense and its 3-point shooting improves, it could be a dark horse contender in the Southland. Three top players and scorers are back from last season’s 16-16 team — seniors Jaylen Franklin and Jaren Lewis along with junior Jalone Friday.
Incarnate Word, which endured a 17-game losing streak last season, welcomes new coach Dr. Carson Cunningham. He coached at NAIA Carroll College the last five seasons. Leading scorer Charles Brown, a 6-foot-7 senior, returns but the Cardinals are likely destined for the Southland basement.
A major transition at UT-Arlington involved the controversial dismissal of Scott Cross, the winningest coach in school history. Chris Ogden takes over in his first head coaching gig. The Mavericks won a total of 72 games the last season but there’s a considerable roster churn. Eight seniors departed, including top scorers Kevin Hervey and Erick Neal.
Veteran Johnny Jones takes over as Texas Southern’s coach, replacing Mike Davis. The Tigers made the NCAA Tournament four of the last five seasons and last March won the first NCAA game in school history. Guard Jalyn Patterson, a grad transfer from LSU (where Jones formerly coached) should make an instant impact.
Rice last made the NCAA Tournament in 1970 — yes, 1970. Don’t expect that drought to end this season. Coach Scott Pera went 7-20 in his first season and will be hard-pressed to improve on last season’s next-to-last finish in C-USA. Junior point guard Ako Adams is the only returning starter for a team that finished 297th in scoring.
Guard play helped Prairie View A&M finish in a three-way tie for second in the SWAC standings and should make the Panthers competitive this season. Seniors Gary Blackston (19.2 points per game) and Dennis Jones (12.5) helped coach Byron Smith, headed into his third season, continue to improve the program.
The slate is wiped clean at UT-El Paso. After three seasons of mediocrity, the school hired Rodney Terry from Fresno State. The Miners have 13 newcomers but only seven scholarship players are eligible this season. Senior Paul Thomas and sophomore guards Evan Gilyard and Kobe Magee are three returning letter winners.
Wendell Barnhouse's Top 10:
- Texas Tech
- Stephen F. Austin
- Texas A&M
- North Texas