UH looks to draw lessons from AAC Tournament for March Madness
On the eve of No. 2 seed Houston’s first-round NCAA Tournament matchup, the Cougars have had a unique week coming off Sunday’s American Athletic Conference Championship win.
Following the trouncing sixth-ranked UH handed Cincinnati, the team got on a plane and flew to Indianapolis to enter the NCAA’s ‘controlled environment’ for March Madness.
The first couple of days, the players and coaches were in isolation, as were all Tier 1 personnel that arrived for the tournament over the weekend or on Monday. Teams had to clear two rounds of COVID-19 testing. For the Cougars, however, the two days in quarantine were needed days of rest, or as UH head coach Kelvin Sampson put it: a blessing in disguise.
“I was drained after that game,” senior guard DeJon Jarreau said. “It brought me back to my AAU days. It made me feel like I’m too old to play three games in three days.”
Despite the toll it took on the players’ bodies, the AAC Tournament provided the Cougars with a lot of insight that they can take away and use in the big tournament.
A big thing the conference championship gave UH was a certain type of energy.
“I feel like we’re clicking on all cylinders right now,” junior guard Quentin Grimes told reporters after Sunday’s game. “For me, Marcus, Deek (Jarreau), Tramon, Jamal even … I feel like right now, the guard group’s confidence is at a 10 right now.”
The Cougars played three games in three straight days last weekend, and each one was a bit different, but all ended with the same result.
Against Tulane in the AAC quarterfinals, UH was in a grind-out matchup in the first half, but was able to find an offensive rhythm late to leave the Green Wave on an island.
UH built a double-digit lead against Memphis in the second game, but saw the Tigers rally and turn that game into a nail-biter, but was able to pull it out down the stretch with late-game execution.
Lastly, versus Cincinnati, UH entered the game locked in and jumped on the Bearcats from start to finish, and dominated throughout the entire contest.
The variety of adversity, along with consistently being among the best teams in the nation throughout the entire season when it comes to national polls, NET Rankings and almost all metrics have the Cougars thrilled of their potential.
“We believe we can win,” Jarreau said. “I feel like that is a big thing. Having confidence alongside your play. I feel like if we play our game and stick to our culture, we’ll have a great run.”
However, not everything from the conference tournament was a positive showing for the Cougars, who were tested in the AAC semifinals round against Memphis.
The Tigers gave the Cougars problems with their constant full-court pressure throughout the entire game, which forced UH to turn the ball over 15 times.
Also in that game, UH went on an extended stretch in the second half where it did not score a single point, which allowed Memphis to claw back into the game.
“I feel like in the Memphis game, we let them kind of rush us a lot,” said Jarreau as he reflected on the matchup Thursday morning in a Zoom call. “(We) made some passes that we didn’t want to make. I feel like going forward we have to clean that up.”
The Cougars may be tested early on Friday against Cleveland State, who both players and Sampson alike, praised for how tough the veteran Vikings team is.
Grimes compared Cleveland State to themselves with their style of play, but both Jarreau and Grimes agreed that the AAC Tournament helped them prepare for the journey that lies ahead.
Once the ball tips off on Friday evening, however, the Cougars know everything up to this point can be thrown out the window.
It is March, and for each round, once the timer starts, it is a 40-minute battle. For UH, is completely locked in on Cleveland State, and not anyone else.
“They’re a very old (veteran) team,” Jarreau said. “We just need to come out and not take them lightly.”