Roundtable: Will the Cougars dominate the AAC?
The new basketball season has started, and so begins the long trek to March Madness.
Despite losing its star guard Rob Gray to graduation, Houston returns veteran players Galen Robinson Jr., Corey Davis Jr. and Breaon Brady to propel UH forward.
Houston had a great showing against lowly Alabama A&M in the season opener and picked up where it left off last year. The offense was electric, and the defense was strong all night.
Last season, the team made its first tournament since 2010 and earned its first win at the competition since 1984.
But not every season is the same, and the Cougars will have to fight for another berth into the NCAA Tournament. Three of The Cougar’s writers gave their predictions on how the men’s basketball team will do this season.
Staff Writer Brayley Crowe
With traditional powers Wichita State and Cincinnati in down years, the door is open for Houston to compete for first in the American Athletic Conference. The first true test for the Cougars should come Nov. 24 as UH takes on BYU in Provo, Utah.
Houston also has a major resume-boosting meeting with No. 13 Oregon in the opening game at the Fertitta Center Dec. 1.
Meetings at Oklahoma State and at home against No. 22 LSU on Dec. 8 and Dec. 12, respectively, could also be crucial for UH’s postseason push.
As for the AAC, Houston’s newest and biggest obstacle will be UCF. With their 7’6″center Tacko Fall, the Knights are contenders. Between top contenders UCF, Cincinnati and Memphis, Houston should finish in the top two of the conference.
Ultimately, expect the Cougars to reach the conference championship game for the second straight time, unfortunately losing again. But with a strong schedule, Selection Sunday should be of little worry and Houston should make the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Staff Writer Jackson Gatlin
Defensively, the Cougars will always be an elite team with coach Kelvin Sampson at the helm, while offensively the team is still experimenting, trying to find a new identity without Gray.
Looking at the Cougars’ schedule this season, the team has only a handful of significant challengers.
If Houston can play like it did against Alabama A&M for the rest of the season, it is not outrageous to think the men’s team could go 26-5 and finish as the first or second seed in the AAC, granting the players a valuable day of rest come tournament weekend.
Anything can happen in high-pressure, single-elimination tournament games, but given Sampson’s level of confidence in his current group of players, this year’s squad is bound to win the AAC title and an NCAA tournament berth in March.
Sports Editor Andres Chio
The biggest challenge for Houston will be the reawakened mid-tier teams in the AAC.
Cincinnati and Memphis round out the top tier of the conference alongside Houston and UCF, but a healthy SMU and more experienced Temple will throw a wrench in the those plans.
Last season, UCF and SMU were hampered by multiple injuries to the teams’ starting rosters, and SMU even played many games with just eight players. Despite that, both teams gave Houston a run for its money.
Now that the squads are healthy, the AAC is that much more competitive.
Temple was a team of “almost” last season. It had one big win and two close losses to Wichita State, a close loss to Cincinnati and a close loss to Houston. Its team last season had five sophomores and four freshmen. With an extra year of experience, the Owls could turn those close losses into wins this year.
With four elite teams and a pair that can disrupt the status quo, Houston will be hard pressed to repeat its 24-6 regular season record.
The AAC has usually sent just two or three teams each year. With the increased competition, it will come down to the final hour for Houston, and the squad is more likely to miss the tournament than make it.