The Texas Southern Tigers clinched their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance with a victory in the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) tournament, but this year's team is a little different from the last two — and different from almost any team that has ever played in the long history of March Madness. They have 20 losses.
Only two other teams in NCAA Tournament history have ever made the tournament with 20 losses - 2013 Liberty and 2008 Coppin State. Both of them lost in the First Four round in Dayton, a fate that Texas Southern will look to avoid tonight when they face off with fellow No. 16 hopeful Fairleigh Dickinson.
Texas Southern wins its 3rd consecutive SWAC Championship to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
At 14-20, the Tigers are the 3rd 20-loss team in Division I history to make the tournament, joining 2013 Liberty and 2008 Coppin State. pic.twitter.com/JvHeYokufW
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 12, 2023
Despite entering the 2022-23 NCAA men's basketball season as the two-time defending conference champions, the Tigers struggled mightily during the regular season. They lost seven of their first eight games and endured another five-game losing streak before finally stringing together three straight victories between Jan. 16 and 23.
The Tigers entered the SWAC tournament as the No. 8 seed but upset top-seeded Alcorn State (18-13) in the opening round. They defeated No. 5 Alabama A&M in the semifinals, and then knocked off No. 2 seed Grambling (24-9) to win the championship for the conference of primarily HBCUs.
Texas Southern is Actually a SWAC Powerhouse
The Tigers have won 11 SWAC championships, the most of any team in the conference, and have been in the seven of the past nine NCAA Tournaments that have been played. Last year, they were 19-12 heading into March Madness. In 2021, they were 17-8. They had 23 wins in 2017.
But it hasn't always been pretty.
In 2018, the Tigers won the SWAC with a 15-19 record (44.12%), becoming the 18th team to make the Big Dance with a losing record since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and the first since Holy Cross in 2016. They became the third team to reach the tournament with 19 losses.
Despite now being just the third tournament team with 20 defeats, Texas Southern does not hold the worst winning percentage in tournament history. That honor is co-held by a pair of Atlantic Sun teams from the Sunshine State — 1995 Florida International and 1996 Central Florida — as well as Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Fairfield (Connecticut) in 1997. Those three teams were all 11-18 (37.93%).
Texas Southern's 41.18% this year is actually sixth worse, also trailing 1985 Lehigh and 1999 Florida A&M, which were each 12-18 (40%).
Being Bad Has Helped the Tigers Collect Tournament Wins
It's no surprise that as one of the worst automatic qualifiers in the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers have been sent to the 16-seed play-in game in each of their last four appearances.
Technically, this has led to three tournament wins, as they have advanced out of the First Four round into the bracket proper in the last three seasons. Last year, they defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, who won their own play-in game last night over Southeast Missouri State. This year Texas Southern will tangle with Fairleigh Dickinson (19-15), champions of the Northeast Conference, for a chance to matchup with #1 Purdue.
History, however, is not on the side of TSU if and when it gets into the bracket. Of the 19 teams with a losing record and six with a .500 record, none have won a game, with an average margin of defeat of 25 points.
Each of those teams was a No. 16 seed, save for one. Penn was a No. 15 seed in 1985, with a 13-13 record; it lost 67-55 to No. 2 seed Memphis State, which eventually reached the Final Four.
The Ultimate Cinderella
Villanova University has the distinction of being the program with the worst record to both win an NCAA Tournament game in the field of 64 and have the worst record of any NCAA champion.
It was not, however, in the same season. The Wildcats of 1991 were a No. 8 seed, with a record of 16-14; they pulled off a mini-upset, beating ninth ranked Princeton 50-48 before getting blown out by top-seeded North Carolina.
The 1985 Wildcats were a No. 8 seed with a mark of 19-10 (65.5%) and pulled off a dream run on their way to securing the title as the lowest seed in tournament history.
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