For some reason, the No. 8 Houston Cougars continue to fly under the radar. Maybe it’s because they play in the American Athletic Conference. The departure of Robert Gray Jr. could also be a reason why the Cougars aren’t garnering national attention. However, two missed free throws by Devin Davis and one Jordan Poole half court heave is the real reason the Cougars aren’t on the national stage right now.
The (27-1, 14-1) Cougars are projected to earn a No. 3 seed, according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports. They lost 2 of their 3 double digit scorers from last season. They only have two double digit scorers this season. Yet, Kelvin Sampson has his squad ready to earn a coveted trip to the Sweet 16 and beyond when March rolls around. Although the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was ripped away last season, the Cougars have suffered no ill effects from the devastating loss to the Michigan Wolverines in the round of 32.
Currently, the Cougars have the best record in college basketball. On the surface, nothing really stands out about why the Cougars have been so dominant this season. They just play a great brand of basketball. Corey Davis Jr. leads the team with 16 points per game. Fellow guard Armoni Brooks is averaging 13.7 points and a team-leading 6.3 rebounds per game. They aren’t an imposing unit with physical size. In fact, none of their top 10 scorers are taller than 6’8.
Yet, it’s the same small lineup that crushes opponents with defensive intensity. The Cougars possess the No. 5 scoring defense at 60.5 points per game. They also hold opponents to 36.6 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from the 3-point line. Moreover, the Cougars have only let one team reach double digit 3-point makes this season. The Rice Owls hit 11 of 27 3-point shots in the second game of the season. Meanwhile, the Cougars have 11 games with double digit makes from beyond the arc.
Therefore, the Cougars’ defense can propel them into the Final Four.
So far, only four teams have reached the 70-point plateau against the Cougars. The LSU Tigers scored 76 points in a loss during the non-conference slate. The Memphis Tigers scored 77 points in a 13-point loss, while the Wichita State Shockers scored 70 points in a nine-point loss. However, the Temple Owls caught the Cougars by surprise with 73 points in a four-point win.
The Cougars still have a few tough games left on the regular season schedule. They host the UCF Knights on Saturday. Senior day is next Thursday against the SMU Mustangs. Their season-finale comes on the road against the No. 23 Cincinnati Bearcats. If all goes to plan, the Cougars could enter the AAC tournament with 30 wins. Will that be enough to earn a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament?
Keep in mind, a win over the Bearcats will give the Cougars the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. They already won the first head-to-head matchup, 65-58 in February. Their rematch will be exactly one month apart. It should be another great defensive contest.
If the Cougars happen to emerge as the regular season and conference tournament champions, they should get a 2-seed on Selection Sunday. We know they wouldn’t have any problem defending that acclaim.