For Texas schools, dreams of NCAA tournament glory are history for another season.
Houston fell to Villanova in the Regional Finals, one round after Duke knocked out Texas Tech. Everyone has had a good run. Now it’s over.
Same for women. Texas was unable to replicate its November upset at Stanford and fell to one Final Four victory in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Yet one school still harbors hopes of hoisting important gear and cutting the nets before all is said and done.
After being snubbed by the NCAA Men’s Selection Committee and having voiced their grievance out loud, Texas A&M (26-12) heads to the Final Four. Well, the NIT Final Four. Either way, the Aggies are still playing and meet Washington State (22-14) at Madison Square Garden in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday.
The winner will face the winner of Xavier and St. Bonaventure in the NIT Championship game on Thursday.
“Obviously it’s a real [good] feeling,” Lancaster first-year goaltender Wade Taylor IV said Saturday. “Words cannot explain how grateful we are to be in this position at the end of March. Playing at the end of March is a dream come true.
Truth be told, A&M had a different mindset when Draft Sunday came and went without being part of the NCAA’s 68-team field. After a run to the SEC Tournament Finals, which included wins over Florida, Kentucky and Arkansas, most thought the Aggies were a lock. No.
“It makes no sense,” sporting director Ross Bjork said on social media. “It’s hard to understand. It’s a flawed selection process if we don’t reward teams that deserve an opportunity.
Coach Buzz Williams was even more adamant. In a prepared 760-word opening statement after NIT’s first win over Alcorn State, Williams said he considered all angles of the NCAA selection committee’s decision without satisfaction. He said the A&M snub “defies logic” and called the process “obviously flawed” while suggesting the system was down.
“We were and are completely devastated and heartbroken,” Williams said. “‘Sad’ is the wrong word because it doesn’t fully express all of our emotions.”
While Williams said A&M would move on to what it could control, the statement sounded like a team more focused on the light past. Most teams that complain about NCAA selection historically have a short lifespan in the NIT.
In fact, A&M followed the Alcorn State game with 15-point home wins over Oregon and Wake Forest. The Aggies have won 10 of their last 11 games.
Now the Aggies are in a position to tie the school record for wins with two more wins and likely earn a spot in the AP Top 25. With just two seniors, A&M is setting the stage for next year, on the pitch and in perception.
And there is personal experience. None of the Aggies have ever played in the Garden, a basketball-rich environment if there is one.
“All the coaches and players would say they want to play in the other tournament,” Williams said on Saturday, “but if you’re going to play in this tournament, do your best.”
So how did the Aggies flip the switch?
“It’s like you have different challenges in life,” Taylor said. “You can’t just sulk not to play tournaments. We just used it as fuel to get into the NIT and show what we’re really made of.
“So just going to New York to show how much work we’ve put in this year – and hopefully it pays off.”
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