Hey Darling, Do You Gamble?
They say the Las Vegas lights change men. Some lose it all to the tables and bookies, others stumble into a drunken life of depravity (this might have been me the past week). A select few luck their way into fortunes, despite overwhelming odds against their favor. The Las Vegas lights have clearly changed this UTSA basketball team for the better. Lead by brilliant performances from seniors Kannon Burrage and Mike Hale, the Roadrunners have strung together their two best games of the season in the Orleans Arena by knocking off SJSU, causing them to fire their coach just a few hours after the game had ended, and top-seeded Louisiana Tech. This tied the conference’s biggest tournament upset, as it was the first 9 seed-over-1 seed upset since 1990. Coming into the tournament with just eight wins, UTSA may be the nation’s second least-likely cinderella after Liberty who won the Big South tournament with just 11 regular season wins.
I know a lot of folks are shocked at what UTSA has done, but if you know the character of the team then it should be no surprise that the team has ascended to their potential here on the biggest stage of the season. The team is full of fighters and toughness. Lead by a great coach in Brooks Thompson, the team’s defense and rebounding have suddenly become great strengths. JUCO transfer Edrico McGregor has begun to blossom into a stud. Assuming NMSU beats Texas State, UTSA will have to go through Jordan Reeves (6’10”) first, before getting to Sim Bhullar (7’5″). Depending solely on 6’3″ starting center Larry Wilkins certainly won’t be enough to get the Roadrunners into the NCAA tournament. McGregor still has a long ways to go as a basketball player, but if he is able to body up on UTA’s and NMSU’s bigs, UTSA has a legitimate chance of pulling off the impossible.
The match-up with Arlington will be an interesting one. I’ve long held the position that UTA is a better basketball rival for UTSA than TXST, as the series is extremely competitive and UTA is a much more successful program than Texas State. UTSA has played more games against UTA, and the stakes are usually higher when the two teams meet, as TXST is generally a lower-ranked team than the Roadrunners. The series against UTA is in UTSA’s favor 7-12 over the last 10 years, though UTA won both games this season with just a twelve point differential between two games.
As you can see above, UTA and UTSA match up with each other really, really well. While the Mavericks rebound much better than UTSA, the Roadrunners could make up some ground here if Kannon Burrage rebounds even remotely as well as he did against La Tech. UTSA shoots a touch better than UTA (47% eFG vs 46.1% eFG) and is .02 points per possession more efficient. My verdict? Five or more rebounds from Burrage and six or more points from McGregor and the Roadrunners play for a WAC championship in basketball on Saturday. It will take a team effort and everything I’ve seen from UTSA this week has given me the confidence that the team’s seniors will push the team to victory with hustle and selfless play.
Aside: Just wanted to publicly state how impressed I was by the team’s conduct in Vegas. I saw a lot of different athletes out gambling and drinking and smoking and womanizing but never once saw a UTSA athlete, manager, trainer, or coach out in the casino or bars at the Orleans. This was strictly a business trip for our men. The team’s results so far speak for themselves. I’m a proud Roadrunner.
A UTSA alumnus that has been cast away to Austin, Jared enjoys live music and a craft beer. He thinks four verts is the best play in football but loves a QB sneak on fourth and inches. Twitter