The Final Four will be played in Dallas (or at least in Jerry World), further validating the NCAA's crush on Texas, but to college basketball teams in Houston the sport's biggest events might as well be on another planet.
Houston's college hoop scene is as insignificant to the national picture as an associate producer is on a movie set.
It's a sad state of affairs for a city that gave the college basketball world Phi Slama Jama and some of the most iconic stars in the sport's history. But every once in a while, someone has a moment. The University of Houston had a nice little one Thursday, upsetting No. 25 SMU and media darling Larry Brown 68-64 in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament. It could grow into a big moment if James Dickey's Cougars can pull off another upset in the semifinals and somehow give themselves a chance to play for an improbable NCAA Tournament berth.
Of course, that's one monster somehow. Houston's playing defending national champion Louisville — which just routed Rutgers by 61 points — in Friday night's semis.
Twenty seven of the Cougars 68 points came from distance. Somewhere Daryl Morey is smiling.
Houston had its moment on the same day that Rice University finally mercifully rid itself of its Ben Braun basketball nightmare (Braun officially "resigned," which is being kind.) And the contrast was apparent.
SMU's not a super team, but the Mustangs (23-9) are a good one and in truth, they realistically had much more to play for in this game. Brown's boys are in danger of falling deep into the NCAA Tournament's land of double digit seeds. They needed a nice conference tournament run to set themselves up for a satisfying Big Dance experience.
Instead it's Houston — a barely above .500 (now 17-15) American sixth seed — clawing back from a nine-point halftime deficit and shooting 9 of 19 from three. Twenty seven of the Cougars 68 points came from distance. Somewhere Daryl Morey is smiling.
While the threes changed the game (including five from sophomore guard Jherrod Stiggers), defense put it away. Particularly junior forward TaShawn Thomas' block of Markus Kennedy's layup attempt with Houston clinging to a 64-61 lead.
It all left the 73-year-old Brown — the star of numerous feel-good national TV profiles in the last month — moaning in typical Larry Brown style.
"I'm just disappointed because the same stuff happens over and over again," Brown said in his postgame press conference in Memphis. "Things don't always go right. It's how you handle situations that I'm concerned about . . .
". . . I kind of had in my gut what was going to happen."
March is all about guts — and having a pulse. And for at least right now, for at least the moment, Houston basketball has both.