Today, the Texas Tech basketball team received a bid to the 2016 NCAA Tournament marking the program’s first appearance in the sports biggest event in nine years. Head coach Tubby Smith and his team are the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region and will face No. 9 seed Butler on Thursday at 11:40 CST.
After being picked in the preseason polls to finish last in the Big 12, Texas Tech ended the year seventh in the league with an impressive 9-9 conference record. The Red Raiders’ journey to the NCAA Tournament is one of the more surprising stories of the 2016 NCAA basketball season so let’s look at five of the main reasons that Texas Tech surpassed expectations this year.
Reason No. 5: Competitiveness in the Big 12
When a team such as Texas Tech is on the bubble for an NCAA bid, its fate cam come down to the quality of the conference in which it plays. In 2016, Texas Tech played in the conference with the top RPI ranking in the country, the Big 12.
Of the 10 teams in the conference, seven are in the NCAA Tournament field. Link That number is tied with the Big 10, Pac 12 and ACC for the most number of teams in the tournament. However, the Big 12 has a higher percentage (70%) of member schools in the field than any other conference.
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The NCAA clearly respected the Big 12 as a basketball league this year. The fact that Texas Tech finished 9-9 in the conference was a testament to the quality of the team.
Had Texas Tech gone .500 in a lesser conference, Sunday could have been far different for the Red Raiders. In fact, it appears that this year’s selection committee seemed to value teams from major conferences.
Of the teams that barely missed out on the tournament, many came from mid-major leagues. Monmouth University from the MAAC went 17-3 in league play and 27-7 overall but was left out of the tournament after being upset in the MAAC Championship Tournament.
Other deserving mid-major teams to be left on the outside of the party include San Diego State (25-9) and St. Mary’s (27-5). But while these teams have a better record than Texas Tech’s 19-12 mark, the committee valued the Red Raider’s top-5 strength of schedule.
As St. Mary’s was playing teams like Portland (12-20), Pacific (8-20) and San Diego (9-21), Texas Tech was beating top 25 teams like Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor. Of the 10 teams in the WCC which St. Mary’s calls home, only five finished with winning records this year whereas eight of the 10 Big 12 teams had records over .500.
Texas Tech played n the toughest league in America and as a result it earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament over teams from inferior conferences.
Next: Reason No. 4: The non-conference schedule