Roundtable: How far can UH go in the NCAA Tournament
The Houston men’s basketball team is riding into the NCAA Tournament on a seven-game winning streak after beating three teams to win the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Cougars (24-3, 14-3 AAC) had to get past Tulane, Memphis and Cincinnati to clinch one of the only accolades that was missing from head coach Kelvin Sampson’s resume with UH. Now with that in the rearview mirror, there is one big checkmark that he needs to clear: a national championship.
UH’s road to getting that done will begin on Friday when it takes on Cleveland State. Counting the game against the Vikings, the Cougars will need to win six more games to achieve that goal.
How far can the Cougars go during March Madness? The Cougar sports staff weighs in:
Staff writer Armando Yanez
Heading into the NCAA Tournament, UH has every opportunity to make an impact on the court and strive for a deep run down the stretch.
Sitting as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, the Cougars have Final Four potential, and much of their success will depend on what happens around the bracket.
There’s no doubt the Cougars have a competitive edge on many teams, specifically on the defensive end, along with their elite rebounding on both sides of the court that will play a massive role in their tournament success.
Taking a step further from their 2019 Sweet Sixteen heartbreak against Kentucky, the Cougars will break into the Elite Eight, where a tough matchup against No. 1 Illinois in the Midwest Regional Final will see them fall out in a strong performance against the Fighting Illini, just short of their Final Four aspirations.
Staff writer Justin Estuart
As for their opening matchup, the Cougars should be the heavy favorite following their recent AAC championship performance on Sunday.
If the Cougars are successful against Cleveland State, then UH will await the winner of the No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Rutgers matchup.
As far as UH’s ceiling goes, the team is fully capable of making it to the Sweet Sixteen. The program has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen but fell short of the Elite Eight in 2019.
With the current iteration of the Cougars, its scoring leader in Quentin Grimes, who is averaging 18 points and six rebounds this season, is playing sensational. Not to mention, awarded players in senior guard DeJon Jarreau (defensive player of the year) and senior forward Justin Gorham (most improved player).
A drawback for the team would be its lack of size, with having no player above 6-foot-8 as the competition tightens when running into teams such as the top-tier Midwest teams in Illinois and Oklahoma State.
The sky is the limit for the Cougars. The team should at least reach the Sweet Sixteen in its journey. A trip to the Elite Eight is not surprising.
Staff writer Tavian Wilson
The Final Four is not out of the realm of possibility, neither is a national championship. The Cougars’ 3-point shooting, defense and rebounding can, and surely will, keep them in any game.
They haven’t trailed for much of the season, so it would be interesting to see how they react to going down by 10 or 15 against the likes of West Virginia, Oklahoma State or Illinois if that arises, but UH has shown it can win close games, as it did against Memphis.
The Midwest Region is made even more tricky with teams like Tennessee, a red-hot Georgia Tech, and San Diego State and Loyola Chicago, who have a combined record of 47-8. If this were the World Cup, one might refer to it as the “Group of Death.”
But the Cougars have a massive chip on their shoulder. Year by year they have progressed further in March, and now the Final Four is no longer a lofty ambition. They expect to be there.
The Cougars will go to the Final Four. This isn’t a season for “almost,” it’s a season “For The City.”
Assistant sports editor James Mueller
Being the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region was about as favorable of a draw UH could get.
The Cougars should have no problem getting past Cleveland State in the first round and the winner of Clemson-Rutgers in the Round of 32 to make their second straight Sweet Sixteen appearance.
But as it did in 2019, UH’s season will once again end in the Sweet 16. The Cougars will face an extremely well-coached West Virginia team.
This isn’t Bob Huggins’ typical “Press Virginia” team that wears opponents down with defense and does just enough on the offensive end of the floor to pull out wins. Rather, this Mountaineers roster is loaded with size and shooters capable of scoring with anyone in the country.
Physicality and aggressive play will keep UH in the game but in the end, the Mountaineers will just be too much for the Cougars to handle.