Lone Star State Takes Center Stage In March Madness

Written By Rashid Mohamed on March 10, 2023
Both Final Fours of March Madness in Texas this year

The frenzy known as March Madness starts next week, and college basketball fans in Texas are in for an exceptional treat this year: the men’s and women’s Final Four will be in the Lone Star State. 

NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, is where this year’s men’s tournament Final Four will take place. The final stop of the women’s NCAA tournament is at the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, Wings and Stars. 

Will any Texas college basketball teams be playing in their home state?

One thing that would improve the Final Four experience for some Texas fans is placing bets on the games. Unfortunately, Texas sports betting remains off-limits. Legislation at the Capitol could change that, but the odds of getting there this year are a little better than a coin flip.

Men’s tournament begins with 2 First Four games

The men’s tournament starts with a couple of First Four matchups on Tuesday, March 14. The first round begins two days later, on Thursday, March 16. The women’s tournament begins a day earlier, on Wednesday, March 15

The 68-team field for both tournaments will be revealed on Selection Sunday, March 12. 

Until then, hundreds of teams will battle in their conference tournaments as they vie for one of the 32 automatic bids

Spotlights will be on Dallas and Houston

American Airlines Center

The women’s Final Four in Dallas will mark the eighth time it’s been in Texas. San Antonio hosted the tournament in 2002, 2010 and 2021. Austin had the honor twice, in 1985 and 1987.

This will be a first for Dallas. The chosen venue for the tournament is the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas

Opened in 2001, the seating capacity is 19,200 for basketball events. The world-class facility features 105 luxury suites and 78 theater boxes.

Reaching the arena is easy by car, bus or light rail. 

NRG Stadium 

Texas will have welcomed the men’s Final Four 10 times after this year’s games in Houston. Dallas stewarded the semifinals in 1986; Arlington in 2014; San Antonio in 1998, 2004, 2008 and 2018; and Houston in 1971, 2011 and 2016.

And the “Space City” can’t wait for the action to begin, according to Holly Kesterson, president of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Final Four Local Organizing Committee.

“This is all we’ve been working for as a city for years,” Kesterson said.

NRG Stadium, completed in 2002, is a multi-purpose stadium with a seating capacity of 72,220. Home to the Houston Texans, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Texas Bowl, the stadium served as the host facility for Super Bowls in 2004 and 2017.

Located between Kirby Street and Fannin Street, the stadium is easily accessible by car, bus and light rail services. 

Fun fact: NRG Stadium was the first-ever NFL retractable roof football stadium. Also, it is one of 11 US venues chosen to host multiple matches during the 2026 World Cup.

Tailgating OK in Houston, not in Dallas

Tailgating at Houston’s NRG Stadium is not only permitted, but it’s also encouraged. The Men’s Final Four Tip-Off Tailgate, presented by Nissan, will take place in NRG Park-Blue Lot on the following dates:

  • Friday, March 31
  • Saturday, April 1
  • Monday, April 3

More information regarding tailgate guidelines is available here or by calling 832-667-1400. 

As a general rule, tailgating is not allowed at the American Airlines Center or any of its official parking lots. However, there are special bars in the arena that cater to guests: Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Club, The Dump Lounge, El Jimador Tequila Bar and a non-alcoholic Dr. Pepper Bottling Plant for the kids.

The promenade in front of American Airlines Center will surely be the surrogate tailgate hotspot for fans coming to the games or just looking to be in the area. The open-air horseshoe regularly has corn hole, pop-a-shot and other fun activities for the whole family.

Texas squads among top men’s teams

Last month, the Division I men’s basketball committee revealed the current top seeds for this year’s tournament. Here are the top eight teams to look out for:

  1. Alabama Crimson Tide (26-5)
  2. Houston Cougars (29-2)
  3. Purdue Boilermakers (26-5)
  4. Kansas Jayhawks (26-6)
  5. Texas Longhorns (23-8)
  6. Arizona Wildcats (25-6)
  7. Baylor Bears (22-10)
  8. UCLA Bruins (28-4)

On Selection Sunday, Alabama and Houston should take top seeds. Purdue and Kansas are in position for the two remaining No.1 seeds. 

Three Texas teams are represented in the top 8: Houston, UT and Baylor. Houston has a better overall record than Alabama with a marquee road win over Virginia on Dec. 17. However, Alabama holds a head-to-head victory over the Cougars from Dec. 17.

Baylor shooting guard Keyonte George is considered by many a top player to watch during this year’s March Madness. The native-born Texan is a solid scorer and brings high energy to each game. 

Houston small forward Jarace Walker is one player NBA scouts will be keeping a close eye on. A highly versatile player, Walker is a top rebounder with great shot selection. 

Longhorns the only women’s team currently in the top 16

On the women’s side, the current top 16 seeds for this year’s tournament are:

  1. South Carolina Gamecocks (32-0)
  2. Indiana Hoosiers (27-3)
  3. Stanford Cardinal (28-5)
  4. Utah Utes (25-4)
  5. LSU Tigers (28-2)
  6. Maryland Terrapins (25-6)
  7. UConn Huskies (29-5)
  8. Virginia Tech Hokies (27-4)
  9. Iowa Hawkeyes (26-6)
  10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-5)
  11. Duke Blue Devils (25-6)
  12. Ohio State Buckeyes (25-7)
  13. Texas Longhorns (23-8)
  14. Villanova Wildcats (28-6)
  15. Arizona Wildcats (21-9)
  16. Michigan Wolverines (22-9)

The Longhorns could be the lone team representing Texas in this year’s tournament. 

The Return of Phi Slamma Jamma?

Anyone who watched college basketball in the 1980s remembers the Houston Cougars basketball teams from 1982 to 1984. The talent on display was so remarkable, and for its time, so unconventional that Houston Post sportswriter Thomas Bonk coined the term Phi Slama Jam to describe the team.

Led by Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon and a hometown kid named Clyde ‘The Glide” Drexler, the Houston Cougars not only electrified the NCAA Final Four with three straight appearances (1982-194), but they also transformed the game. 

Phi Slama Jama had a playground-influenced style of play that differed vastly from the polished and methodical style espoused by basketball traditionalists, who disapproved of dunking.

“Texas’ Tallest Fraternity” had a reputation for slam dunking and an explosive, fast-break style of play. They had been heavily influenced by the flamboyant style of play pioneered during the 1970s by the defunct ABA and its most famous player, Julius Irving, better known as Dr. J. 

This year’s Houston Cougars team is creating a stir reminiscent of the 1980s powerhouse. Could we see the birth of a new on-court fraternity this year?

NCAA men’s basketball viewership

For the past few years, interest in March Madness has been down. But the good news is, it will pick up again.  

As with all sporting events, COVID-19 put March Madness on ice for two years. Before that, public interest in the tournament was reaching peak levels

It was thought that the 2022 viewership would be about the same as 2021. Instead, an average of 10.7 million viewers tuned in to watch March Madness games, a 13% increase from the previous year’s figures. 

The fact that both tournaments are being held in Texas, perhaps the most sports-crazed state in the country, could very well boost viewership.  

Photo by Colin E. Braley/AP Photo
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Rashid Mohamed

Rashid Mohamed is an international journalist with a special interest in sports writing. He contributes regularly to PlayTexas, focusing on both the pathway to gaming legalization and the underground market in the state. He is a Poli-Sci graduate of Ohio University and holds an A.A.S in Journalism. He has worked in a number of countries and has extensive experience in the United Nations as well as other regional, national, and international organizations. Rashid lives and writes out of Denver, Colorado.

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