NIT bid is a letdown for UTA

The Sports Xchange

--Thanks to winning the Southland Conference regular season, UT-Arlington finds itself playing in the postseason just the third time in school history. The Mavericks will play at top-seeded Washington in a first-round NIT game on March 13. UTA has played in one NCAA Tournament and one prior NIT.

It's hard for some to understand why there is a such sense of disappointment around the program, but this is a team that won 16 consecutive games between Dec. 21 and Feb. 15 before going 4-3 in its next seven games. Those three losses were all painful ones, too.

First came a setback to Weber State in a BracketBusters nonconference game on Feb. 18 -- a game that came in a week when the Mavs were actually receiving votes in the Top 25 coaches poll. That ended the overall winning streak, but the team still carried a 15-0 conference mark into a March 3 regular-season finale at UT-San Antonio before losing and failing to become the Southland Conference's first 16-0 regular season team.

The most painful of the recent losses, though, came March 8 when McNeese State blasted the Mavs 92-72 in the SLC tournament semifinals.

An NIT bid wasn't exactly how the storybook season was supposed to end.

The Mavs have a solid all-around team with four all-conference players -- G LaMarcus Reed (a first-team selection), F Bo Ingram (second team), F Kevin Butler (third team and the league's Newcomer of the Year after transferring from TCU) and F Jordan Reves (honorable mention). Scott Cross was also selected the SLC Coach of the Year this season, a distinction only one other UTA head basketball coach has had (Bob LeGrand in 1981).

Reed was hot the second half of the season, leading the league in scoring in SLC games (20.4). The Mavs were also the Southland Conference's top scoring team this season at 76.4 points per game while allowing just 64.9 (No. 5 in league). For the Mavs to upset Washington, they'll have to get past their late-season frustrations and hope Reed can get hot against a very athletic Huskies squad.

--McNeese State has played in back-to-back postseasons with this year's invitation to the postseason tournament (CIT). The Cowboys have never played their first-round opponent, Toledo, but they don't seem to care. A postseason berth at all is a bit of a shocker to many for this 17-15 team.

The Cowboys were last year's Southland Conference regular-season champion and played in the NIT, losing in the first round to Boston College. This year, the Cowboys impressed nobody with their 6-9 nonconference record and a late-season stumble, losing their last four regular-season games to squander a chance at the league's regular-season title. Wins over last year's Conference tournament champion UT-San Antonio in the SLC quarterfinal and a shocking win over UT-Arlington in the semis seemed to get the Cowboys back on track. Then Lamar blasted McNeese State 70-49 in the tournament title game.

Looking past the team's 2-5 record in the seven games leading into the CIT, it's cleat this is still a dangerous team. The main reason for that is Southland Conference Player of the Year Patrick Richard, a senior guard who led the league in scoring for the season (18.1 points per game overall and 19.1 in SLC games). Richard has 1,600 career points and can score against anyone.

Fellow guards Dontae Cannon and Jeremie Mitchell add a combined 22.4 points per game, and senior center Rudy Turner, a Louisiana-Monroe transfer, gives the Cowboys a rugged and physical post presence. Turner averaged 6.6 rebounds per game.

--Richard (6-foot-4, 208 pounds) finished 10th in the SLC in rebounds (6.3), ninth in assists (3.2), seventh in free-throw percentage (.769), eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3-to-1) and first in minutes played (36.5).

--Three teams -- Texas State, UT-Arlington and UT-San Antonio -- have played their final basketball games in the Southland Conference and will join the Western Athletic Conference for the 2012-13 seasons.

Two schools -- Houston Baptist and Oral Roberts -- will fill two of those spots starting next season, but the Southland will still be left as an 11-team conference for next year's hoops season.

3 -- Three teams, an extreme rarity for the Southland Conference, were invited to postseason tournaments this season. Lamar won the Southland Conference tournament and earned the coveted automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. UT-Arlington, by virtue of the league's regular season title, earned an NIT automatic berth. McNeese State, which played in two consecutive league title games and was last year's regular-season champion and NIT participant, accepted an invitation to play in the postseason tournament.

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