Congratulations to the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Houston Cougars, both representing the state of Texas in the college basketball world in high order by winning their respective conference regular season championships this weekend.
Texas Tech won its first-ever Big 12 Conference championship and its first conference championship of any kind since taking the Southwest Conference championship in the 1996-97 season (the final season of the SWC). UH hasn’t seen this consistent level of success since its “Phi Slama Jama” days of the early 1980s.
Dial the clock back just seven seasons ago to 2011-12, seeing these two programs rise to the two best in the state was almost impossible to imagine.
In 2011-12, the Red Raiders program had hit rock bottom with a last-place finish in the Big 12 standings and were in the middle of what would eventually be an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought.
Meanwhile, the Cougars finished in the middle of the pack of their conference and were bounced in the first round of the conference tournament. At the time, UH had only one NCAA Tournament appearance over the past 20 seasons (and that one only came via a surprise conference tournament championship in the 2009-10 season), and that drought would go on to last for five more seasons after that.
Both programs began to rise to national attention last season after so many years slumming it. Neither Texas Tech or UH were ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll, but certainly didn’t finish the regular season unranked (Texas Tech at No. 14, UH at No. 21), as they each finished tied for second place in their respective conference standings.
It was on the big stage — the NCAA Tournament — last season where the Red Raiders and the Coogs shined brightest. Texas Tech made a run all the way to the Elite Eight, losing to eventual national champion Villanova. UH was a miracle 3-point heave away from defeating eventual tournament finalist Michigan and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
While last season’s performances from Texas Tech and UH were highly encouraging, both teams have continued to blow away expectations this season all the way to the major accomplishments they achieved this weekend.
The Red Raiders (26-5 record) were ranked No. 8 in the latest AP poll, while the Cougars (29-2) were at No. 12. Both will likely move up in the new poll after multiple teams ahead of them were dealt losses this past week.
Both teams are now shoe-ins to enter this year’s March Madness. The potential of what they could do there now should be an exciting prospect for both schools’ alumni, as well as fans who root for Texas teams, in general.