Texas Southern, the No. 2 seed going into the tournament was not in this position just one long season ago.
TSU, like four other schools this year, were banned from postseason play by the NCAA last year due to sanctions.
The Tigers now find themselves one win away from punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament after knocking off Alabama State 73-61 in the semifinal round.
Entering the field of 68 is a trip that head coach Mike Davis yearns for even under the cloak of dexterity in pre and postgame press conferences.
“It’s amazing how the team last year bought in when we couldn’t go anywhere,” Davis said. “(This year) they’ve been great.”
TSU has won eight straight since getting off to a 6-6 start in conference play, and after dropping two of three in mid-February that included a 85-77 loss to Prairie View.
Prairie View heads into Saturday playing with house money after a regular season that saw them drop 22 games in the loss column. No one, maybe not even themselves, expected to be playing on the final day of the SWAC basketball season.
Wednesday night was the high of the Panthers season upsetting No. 1 seed Southern in the quarterfinal round before topping Alabama A&M in the semifinal Friday.
While much of the talk will be about SWAC Player of the Year Aaric Murray and attempting to contain him, Prairie View did not find this route by accident. They might not have the best player, team or coach, but they must be doing something right.
And that right is holding opponents to under 37 percent shooting from the field in their three wins, which was the best of any team in the tournament.
Also what has, or in this case, who has worked well has been guard Tre Hagood. Entering the tournament Hagood only averaged 6.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. Through three games in the SWAC tournament, Hagood has unexpectedly averaged 15.5 points per game and 7 boards.
Hagood won’t be able to beat Texas Southern alone, though. Not with the formidable Tigers frontline that is a chore on both ends of the floor, and against a coach who has Final Four experience.
Considering that the teams split the two-game season series, the championship game could be a thriller or a Texas-sized mismatch.