It’s the last week of December, and Texas Southern hasn’t yet played a home game. They won’t have one, in fact, until next Monday, when the Tigers open Southwest Athletic Conference play against Southern University.
The Tigers are undoubtedly the favorite in the SWAC. This means that a team that is currently 0-13 has a very, very good chance of making the NCAA tournament. How so? The Tigers have to win the SWAC tournament to get an NCAA berth, but, despite their record, they are justifiably favorites to win the league’s regular season title and get the top seed in that tournament.
Texas Southern is coached by Mike Davis, who took Indiana to the 2002 title game. He believes in scheduling hard—very hard. This year his team opened the season with road games against Gonzaga, Ohio State, Syracuse, Washington State, Kansas, Clemson, Oakland, Toledo, Oregon, Baylor, Wyoming, TCU, and BYU. They lost them all. Many were blowouts.
According to college basketball stats whiz Ken Pomeroy, nine of those 13 games were against “A” teams—basically, top-50 opponents. And although the final score was sometimes a blowout, the Tigers were often competitive. Pomeroy’s numbers give Texas Southern a 71 percent chance to win the league.
Davis’s scheduling theory is this: He believes games against big schools, on the road, give his team a better shot to win the league and make a splash in the NCAA tournament.
He says he believes that one day Texas Southern will win the national championship using his system. Here’s what he told the Arizona Republic last year:
“I just want to win a national championship. People are saying there’s no way you can do that at Texas Southern. It’s like when Phil Knight started Nike, when there were Converse and Adidas. People said ‘Why would you do that?’ But look at what Nike does now.”
There’s also a monetary aspect to the schedule. In 2016, Davis said the basketball team only had to give $350,000 of the $900,000 it made from its non-conference schedule to the athletic department. These games help the basketball team’s bottom line. Again, from the Republic:
“To have a home game you’ve gotta pay the officials $4,000-$5,000. The people [working the scorers’] table are another $2,500. So in order to have a home game, we’ve gotta clear $10,000. We’re not gonna clear $10,000. And I don’t want to waste my time playing NAIA teams. If we play a lower team, nobody’s gonna come in and see that. The math is simple.”
Meanwhile, he gives his kids a chance to play against marquee teams in cool gyms. Davis has taken Texas Southern to the tournament three out of the last four years, with a good chance to make it again this season. He hasn’t won a tournament game—though in December of 2014 his team beat Michigan State at the Breslin Center—but plans take a while. With any luck, he’ll get a shot at a tourney win again this season.