Team: (2) Texas Southern Tigers
Location: Houston, Texas
Record: 17-12 (13-5 SWAC)
NCAA Tournament History: The Tigers have made nine NCAA tournament appearances, including in five of the last seven.
How they got here: Both Texas Southern and Alcorn State played intensely challenging non-conference schedule — all road games, mainly at power conference teams. TSU unsurprisingly started off 0-7 before dominating a then-20th-ranked Florida team on the road in a shocking 15-point win. That started a 17-5 stretch to close the regular season. In the SWAC tournament, they came from behind to fight off a tough seventh-seeded Jackson State team by four points in the quarterfinal, before using a monstrous 40-8 run to put away six-seeded Grambling State in the semifinal.
Team: (1) Alcorn State Braves
Location: Lorman, Mississippi
Record: 17-15 (14-4 SWAC)
NCAA Tournament History: The Braves have made six NCAA tournaments, but only two since 1984, with their most recent appearance coming in 2002.
How they got here: Alcorn won its first regular season SWAC title since that 2002 season, including a very impressive 8-1 mark in conference road games. Along the way, they knocked off Texas Southern twice by four combined points: 73-72 at home, and 75-72 away. However, they nearly let it all get to waste in the quarterfinal against eight-seed Prairie View A&M, trailing most of the game and by six points under two minutes to play before questionable game management decisions by Prairie View and a clutch three-pointer by Dominic Brewton sent the game into overtime. In overtime, Justin Thomas’ free throw with one second left pushed Alcorn into the semifinals, where they came back from an early nine-point hole to defeat fifth-seeded Alabama A&M, 69-64.
The teams are built in a similar style, which lots of depth and balanced scoring. Alcorn State has 12 players on the roster that average double-digit minutes per contest, while Texas Southern has ten – but the leading scorer between both squads is Alcorn State guard Justin Thomas at just 10.6 points per game. The difference appears to be experience – of those ten TSU players, nine are seniors and one is a junior, while Alcorn State has just three seniors on the entire roster. To use a cliché, TSU’s guys have been there before, literally, having just gone to the Big Dance last year and winning their First Four game. Beyond that, Tigers’ coach Johnny Jones has two decades of college coaching experience compared the Braves’ Landon Bussie, who’s fared impressively but is in just his second season coaching at the Division I level.
Metrics appear to favor TSU as well, which ranks roughly even to Alcorn in offensive efficiency but significantly higher on defense, according to KenPom. But the Braves, winners of eight straight, should have confidence in having beat this Texas Southern Squad twice during the regular season and knowing it can do so again. Look out for Thomas, who’s put up double-digit games in 13 out of 17 contests and has seemed to be his best in the biggest spots, including a 26-point game in their one-point win over TSU earlier this year.
Line: TSU -4
ML: TSU -170, ASU +150
Time: 6 pm. ET
Site: Bartow Arena, Birmingham, AL