A pair of schools from the state of Texas descend upon Dayton, Ohio, as Texas Southern takes on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. This is the second straight year that the Tigers will play in Dayton, and they are hoping for similar results after beating Mount St. Mary's 60-52 in 2021. Meanwhile, the Islanders' last appearance was in 2007 when they fell 76-63 to Wisconsin in the 2-15 contest. The winner will then return to the Lone Star State to take on Midwest Region No. 1 seed Kansas on Thursday in Fort Worth.
Texas Southern (18-12) went 13-5 in SWAC play, won the conference tournament for the second straight year, and also beat Florida 69-54 on the road back on Dec. 6. The Tigers faced fellow tournament team Saint Mary's (No. 5 seed in East Region) in the second game of the season, losing 67-58 on the road to the West Coast Conference team. Texas Southern was up by four points in the second half before the Gaels pulled away.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-11) went just 7-7 in Southland play in the regular season before getting hot at the right time. The Islanders have won seven of their last eight games, including three in a row to claim the conference tournament title. Their only contest against an NCAA Tournament team was an 83-73 road loss to fellow First Four participant Notre Dame back on Dec. 22. The 11th-seeded Fighting Irish will play Rutgers on Wednesday with the winner taking on No. 6 Alabama in West Region play out in San Diego on Friday.
First Four: No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-11) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern (18-12)
Time: Tuesday, March 15 at 6:40 p.m. ET
Where: UD Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
Spread: Texas Southern -3.5
Keys for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
The Islanders got off to a 10-2 start with the losses coming to Texas A&M and Minnesota. They then stumbled through a 6-8 stretch before turning things around in a big way. Texas A&M-CC won four of its last five conference games in the regular season to finish at .500 (7-7) before rattling off three straight victories to capture the Southland Conference Tournament title.
The Islanders are similar to Texas Southern in that both teams have to work hard for their points. Texas A&M-CC is averaging 77 points per game but ranks 269th nationally in 2-point shooting percentage (47.3) and 277th from 3-point range (31.6), per TeamRankings.com. The good news is that the Islanders can hit their free throws (74.4 percent, 82nd) and are averaging 22 attempts per game. Defensively, the Islanders do a good job of forcing turnovers (16.6 per game, 15th) and are 67th when it comes to defending the 3-pointer (31.5 percent).
Texas A&M-CC is led by Isaac Mushila, the team's top scorer (13.5 ppg) and rebounder (9.5 rpg). He's one of two double-digit scorers with guard Trevian Tennyson being the other at 11.8 points per game. Four others add seven points per contest or more. The Islanders struggle from beyond the arc, with Terrion Murdix leading the way at 38.5 percent.
Keys for Texas Southern
Head coach Johnny Jones has done wonders for this program over his four years with the school. Back-to-back SWAC Tournament champions, this year's Tigers team is strong defensively, holding opponents to just 39.6 percent shooting overall (23rd) and 29.6 percent from 3-point range (18th).
Texas Southern fought back after opening up the season with 11 straight road games, losing seven of them. This team does have some issues, as they are 328th in turnover percentage (20.9) and don't shoot free throws well (67.1 percent, 308th). These two aspects could be an issue when it comes to late-game execution.
The Tigers are the only team in this year's field of 68 without a double-digit scorer. John Walker III leads the way at 9.9 points per game, with seven other players averaging six or more. Walker is the squad's best 3-point shooter, but only a quarter of Texas Southern's total points come from long range. If the Tigers can loosen up the defense a little bit, then that will open up touches in the paint, which should lead to easier baskets.
The offensive numbers for both teams mean that this should be a low-scoring affair. I can see why Texas Southern is favored because of their non-conference schedule battles as well as their previous experience in this situation. I think those two things help get them the win and the date with the Jayhawks later on this week.
Prediction: Texas Southern 67, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 61
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.