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Friday, May 20, 2022

Men's Basketball

Cougars look to use CBI as a springboard


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The Cougars and Longhorns were rivals in the old Southwest Conference. | 1995 Houstonian

Before the season began, the Cougars wore black shirts with M.O.D. — March or Die — emblazoned in red letters made for players and coaches. The shirts were a symbol of their goal to reach the postseason.

The Cougars are a part of March Madness, though not in the capacity they would have liked.

After losing in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament, the Cougars did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. UH accepted the opportunity to participate in the College Basketball Invitational — a 16-team postseason tournament.

Associate head coach Alvin Brooks said the experience of playing in the CBI could be the linchpin that sets the Cougars up for a future NCAA tournament appearance.

“It’s a great sell to your young kids. It’s a springboard to give us a chance to get back into the NCAA tournament as we move into the Big East,” Brooks said. “The teams that have been in the CBI have done that.”

UH’s basketball history proves the CBI has a chance to springboard the team.

The Cougars made the CBI in 2008 and 2009 and made the NCAA tournament in 2010 after running the table in the C-USA tournament. The Cougars have not made the postseason since.

Other schools have had NCAA tournament success after participating in the CBI.

Virginia Commonwealth University won the CBI in 2010. The following season VCU made the Final Four, where they lost to Butler, another former CBI participant. Including this season, VCU has made the NCAA tournament three consecutive times.

Butler, after finishing as the national runner-up in the NCAA tournament two years in a row, competed in the CBI last season. The Bulldogs are a 6-seed in the NCAA tournament this season and will face Bucknell in the second round.

Though to get where the team wants to be, Brooks said, there will be other factors involved, too.

“Obviously we have to have a great offseason going into the fall. Work hard and win games, but I think this will be a major shot in the arm because we’re able to play at home against the University of Texas,” Brooks said. “It’s huge for recruiting to have that kind of team in your building and have your guys play against a Big 12 program.”

Head coach James Dickey said participating in the CBI gives the Cougars a chance to get more practice time, which will benefit the team going into next season — especially with a young team. The Cougars’ top four scorers are freshmen or sophomores.

“Certainly we’d like to be in the NCAA tournament, but we’re happy to still be playing. I think for a young basketball team to be in the postseason — experience will go well for us as we continue to grow our program,” Dickey said.

The opponent also gives the game gravitas.

Former Southwest Conference rival Texas will stroll into Hofheinz Pavilion for the first time since 2000, when the Cougars dropped a 71-60 decision. Brooks said the players haven’t been a part of the UH-UT rivalry, so they’ll gain from seeing the passion of the fans Wednesday. It could be the largest crowd of the season because many UH fans love to root against Texas.

Redshirt sophomore guard Joseph Young said it will give the team a boost heading into next season.

“It will be great just to give us some momentum heading into whatever conference we’re in next year,” Young said.

Sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas, who grew up in Killeen, not far from Austin, said he knows some of the players, and winning against Texas would bring the team bragging rights in the state.

In a down season for Texas college basketball — no teams from the state made the NCAA tournament — the Cougars could lay claim to being the best basketball team from the Lone Star State.

If UH builds from a CBI appearance this season, it could make the march into madness they want next season.

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