Cal Poly was officially the bottom team in the field. That can't feel good, but at the same time, they were in.
The Mustangs made it through by totally dominating Alan Williams and UCSB, squeaking by UC-Irvine and battling Northridge to the very end. They made it, with an unlikely 13-19 record, and a 6-10 conference record. They were the Big West Champions.
For their troubles, they have been sent to Dayton, as you would expect of the bottom team into the bracket, and now have to go up against SWAC Champion Texas Southern.
What is odd about this is that there might be no better team set to deal with the Tigers than Cal Poly. Remember that Texas Southern has the Game Changer, a bulk a center in the middle of the paint named Aaric Murray, and he can be unstoppable for teams that aren't used to playing against size.
But Cal Poly doesn't have to be afraid because they have taken away the size advantage before, especially when it is concentrated around a single player.
The Mustangs shut down Alan Williams during the Big West Tournament, or at least they contained him enough that the rest of his team struggled to find the basket. They stayed away from the long arms of Irvine's Mamadou Ndiaye, who managed just one block during the semifinals against Cal Poly.
The Mustangs are not a great defensive team either which makes this run more impressive. But they do one thing well, and that is cause turnovers. Texas Southern is not one to hold onto the ball either, which could turn this game quickly in favor of Cal Poly.
What's more, the Mustangs have actually been scoring from the 3-point arc over the last several games. After a season long percentage in the low 30s, the Mustangs shot over 40 percent against UCSB and Irvine. The percentage dropped off against Northridge, but Cal Poly held the Matadors to just a single 3-point basket of their own.
Is this the perfect storm? Could Cal Poly, a team with a below-.500 record overall actually win a game in the NCAA Tournament with the great joy of getting to face Wichita State in the second round?
But there is also the matter of trying to contain a Texas Southern team that is not just a single player, as UCSB is. There is the matter that Murray is a much better offensive threat than Ndiaye. There is the matter that this Texas Southern team might not want to play at the slow, plodding pace of the Mustangs.
And when you consider those factors, the Tigers suddenly become much more likeable.
They have a point guard in Madarious Gibbs who can distribute the ball to the open man better than anything Cal Poly has seen lately, and who also has the ability to score, which is why he is often playing in the two-guard spot, instead of at the head of the offense.
Don't be taken in by the league that Texas Southern comes from. They are not your typical SWAC team. They have the talent to get a win here, and would have been a pesky matchup for a lot of teams in the second round, although maybe not Wichita State (oh the turnovers we could see!).
Prediction: It stays close, but Texas Southern ultimately comes out on top, 65-60.
No. 16 Cal Poly vs. No. 16 Texas Southern
Where: Dayton, Ohio
Time: 6:40 p.m. Eastern, Wednesday