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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Men's Basketball

Houston is a favorite in March Madness opening weekend


The Cougars are heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, and although they should have the upper hand in the opening games, there are a couple tricky matchups.

It is the first time Houston has made it to the crown jewel of March twice in a row since Phi Slama Jama made it in 1983 and 1984, and it will be trying to match those teams by making it to the Final Four.

The No. 3 seed Houston will need to focus on No. 14 Georgia State, which won the Sun Belt Conference for the second year in a row to earn its spot, before it starts thinking about the Final Four.

Opening the show

Georgia State should be familiar with Houston’s style of play, as it faced Houston’s conference-mate Cincinnati last season in the first round and fell 68-53 to go home early.

The Cougars will have plenty of time to prepare and, more importantly, rest since it does not play until Friday while the other half of the tournament starts Thursday.

Senior Corey Davis Jr., sophomore Fabian White Jr. and redshirt sophomore DeJon Jarreau fell hard in the games against Memphis and Cincinnati and had to be taken out of the game at different points, but head coach Kelvin Sampson said they should all be ready for the Panthers.

Houston’s most recent loss to Cincinnati did not put Sampson down either.

“That’s a difficult team to have to beat three times, especially over the course of five or six weeks,” Sampson said.

When Houston finally plays, it will be in a relatively friendly arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The location should enable many fans to travel up to the game.

When the players were waiting for the brackets to be revealed, they were not worried about who they were going to play but where, said senior Breaon Brady.

“It was about can we please get to Tulsa. If we didn’t get to Tulsa, it was gonna be tough for the fans. We wanted to have our home fans there,” Brady said.

Up first

Though Georgia State’s conference is far from a basketball power, the Panthers have had great success in it, and having a successful culture can power a team to punch above its weight.

It won both the regular season and tournament title on its way to Tulsa and even has former UH head coach Ray McCallum as its associate head coach.

The Panthers are similar to the Cougars in the scoring department, as the team does not have one mega-star scorer but instead has a balanced array of guards.

Junior D’Marcus Simonds leads the team with 18.4 points per game, but the team has had five different players lead the team in scoring in games. The Cougars will not be able to shut down the Panthers by just stopping Simonds.

Houston’s offense is not its signature, but it is known for its three-point game. Georgia State, however, is slightly better at three-point range.

Its defense is not as stifling as Houston’s, but it can turn on the heat in big moments. In its tournament title game, Georgia State kept UT Arlington from scoring for 15 straight minutes as the team missed 22 shots in a row.

Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

Looking ahead

Though the Cougars must wait until its potential win over the Panthers to peek at the second round, no one else does.

Houston will either face Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State or the Big 10’s Ohio State in the second round Sunday.

A victory over Iowa State would be sweet for Houston fans and possibly administration, as Houston has tried to enter the Big 12 in the past.

The Cyclones are more accurate from the three-point line and from the general field than the Cougars, but its defense is not as strong.

Iowa State went on an incredible run during the Big 12 Tournament as it defeated Baylor, Kansas State and Kansas on the road to taking the title.

As a No. 5 seed, the Cyclones became the lowest-seeded team to ever win the Big 12 Tournament.

The team is not unfamiliar with success, as it has won four of the last six tournaments.

Underdog

Ohio State lost in the Big 10 semifinal to Michigan State and had a 7-11 record in conference play but made it into the NCAA Tournament because the wins in conference were against good teams and a pretty solid out-of-conference schedule.

The Buckeyes allow less points per game than the Cyclones, but not nearly as much as the Cougars.

Offensively, it is not as prolific as any of the other teams in the block, and it will need its defense to do the heavy lifting.

The Cougars will need to deal with these opponents to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, where it was so close to getting last season, and any potential matchups against the Jayhawks, Wildcats or Tarheels.

Houston plays Georgia State at 6:20 p.m. Friday in Tulsa, and the game can be watched on TBS or listened to on the radio at KPRC 950 AM.

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