NCAA (and WNIT) Tournament Preview: Does the state have a chance?

It's a quiet year for the state of Texas in the NCAA Tournament, with just two teams from the state making an appearance in the Big Dance this year. Texas enters as a four-seed, while Baylor is an seven-seed. It's a shame the NCAA Tournament won't have much Lone Star flavor this year in particular since the Final Four is happening in Dallas. But Texas in particular is a team that's built to win in March, with its emphasis on defense, so don't count out a Longhorns appearance in Dallas in a few weeks.

And while the NCAA is missing Texas teams, the WNIT has plenty of them. Rice, SMU, Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas State, Texas Tech and UTEP will all make appearances in the tournament, setting up an interesting month there. Rice is the only Texas team to win the WNIT, taking the 2021 title. Can a second Texas school etch its name in the WNIT record book?

Let's start by looking at the NCAA Tournament, then I'll briefly touch on the WNIT.

All stats come from Her Hoop Stats unless otherwise noted.

Texas (4)

If the Longhorns had won Sunday against Iowa State, they probably would have moved a line. I think you can also make a good argument that they should have been a three-seed anyway, but I don't want to spend all my time ranting about the selection committee's issues with the Big 12 this year. I'll just say that only one Big 12 team hosting in the first round seems off to me—Texas could have been joined by either Iowa State or Oklahoma.

Anyway, Texas is hosting the first weekend in Austin, with East Carolina facing the Longhorns in the first round, and then Louisville taking on Drake in the other game.

The Horns should be in good shape here. Last time I watched ECU play, the Pirates won the ugliest game I've seen in a long time, a slugfest against Houston. Now, they take on an even more talented defensive squad, but with the added problem of Texas (usually) being a good offensive team. Never count anyone out, but I'd be shocked if Texas lost in the first round.

A potential meeting with Louisville is where things get intriguing. The Cardinals don't necessarily stack up well against the Horns—the teams are virtually tied in offensive rating with Texas averaging 101.7 points per 100 possessions and Louisville just behind at 101.5, but there's a big gap defensively, as the Longhorns rank 17th in defensive rating and the Cardinals 96th. Texas should have a pretty big advantage here.

The concern is that this Texas offense has had some issues lately. Two of its three worst single-game offensive ratings—excluding that Rori Harmon-less part of the season—came during the Big 12 tournament. Was that just a fluke, or is Texas entering an offensive slump at the absolute worst time?

We'll find out this weekend. If Texas can get its offense back on track, it should be able to handle Louisville with relative ease. But if the offense gets stalled out again, we'll have a close one.

Baylor (7)

Only once before has Baylor been seeded lower than a five, which was back in 2001, when the team made its first NCAA tournament appearance. Before this season, the Bears had been a one or two seed in 11 consecutive tournaments.

But this was about as bad a season as Baylor could have had. After losing stars like NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo to the WNBA, the team tried to rebuild through the portal, but one key addition, Aijha Blackwell, barely played because of injury and the other, Dre'Una Edwards, wasn't awarded immediate eligibility by the NCAA. That left the team weak on the interior, which partially accounts for its worst two-point field goal percentage since the 2013-14 season.

Still, there's talent here. Sarah Andrews is one of the nation's best point guards. Darianna Littlepage-Buggs is a talented player who can contribute at multiple positions and in a variety of ways. Caitlin Bickle brings needed intensity on both ends.

The Bears begin tournament play against Alabama on Saturday against Alabama. That should be an interesting one. You've got two really different teams there—Baylor's 65th in pace while Alabama is 235th, while Alabama is 39th in three-point attempt rate and Baylor is 144th. The Crimson Tide play slow, find their shots, and usally make those shots: their 38.0 percent mark from deep ranks sixth in Division I. Baylor, meanwhile, works the ball inside more, ranking 47th in points in the paint while Alabama ranks 145th.

If Baylor gets past the Crimson Tide, it'd likely face UConn. The Huskies are finally healthy, with Azzi Fudd returning for the Big East tournament. With Fudd on the floor, UConn has a +30.4 net rating with a 56.7 effective field goal percentage per CBB Analytics.

Some WNIT Thoughts

With seven Texas-based teams in the WNIT, a full breakdown would take awhile, so let's just look at what the first round games from around the state are. All times are Central.

UTEP @ Texas Tech: 3/16, 6 p.m.

Texas State @ Stephen F. Austin: 3/16, 6:30  p.m.

Little Rock @ SMU: 3/16, 7 p.m.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi @ Wyoming: 3/17, 7:30  p.m.

Rice @ BYU: 3/17, 8 p.m.

Two of those are all-Texas clashes, and the one I want to highlight here is Texas State/SFA.

The Bobcats just had their best season since 2017-18, winning 20 games and coming up a game short of an NCAA tournament berth. (That game happened to be a 30-point loss to James Madison.)

Led by the veteran presence of Kennedy Taylor and Da'Nasia Hood, this Bobcats team finished in the top 100 in defensive rating and net rating, and went 5-1 to end the year, if we include the conference tournament. This is kind of a last go at it for this era of Texas State basketball—can they make a WNIT run to end Hood and Taylor's careers?

Meanwhile, SFA will be on the other side of the floor, and is in the same situation. The Ladyjacks have been a great offensive team lately and the loss of Stephanie Visscher to Michigan State didn't change that, as the team was 23rd in offensive rating and 14th in field goal percentage.

But this is Aiyana Johnson's final season. While a lot of other good players should be back, this month closes out that Visscher/Johnson era that had so much success. And one also has to wonder if this might be a good time for head coach Mark Kellogg to move on to a bigger opportunity: both The Athletic and Dave Campbell's mentioned him as a potential option in TCU's coaching search.

For what it's worth, Her Hoop Stats gives SFA an 88.5 percent chance of winning this game at home, with a projected margin of 14.2. But that margin definitely feels a little wide. SFA's the better team, but Texas State was on a tear before that JMU loss.

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