Feels Like '84: What Awaits UH in the Final Four

After defeating Oregon State, the Coogs find themselves two wins from ultimate glory.

By Timothy Malcolm March 30, 2021

Got any beef with Waco? Tired of Chip and Joanna Gaines? 

(I don't think there's anything else about Waco to talk about.)

Okay, Saturday night. That's when it all comes out. That's when the University of Houston men's basketball team—the Cougars—faces the Baylor Bears in the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four. Yeah baby, the Coogs are in the Final Four.

How They Did It

Each year, one team in the tournament gets a really lucky draw on the way to the Final Four. The top seeds around them fall early, the young upstarts can't keep up as the tournament drags on, and aside from maybe one really tight contest, it all comes easy. This year, that team was the Coogs.

Kelvin Sampson's team easily dispatched No. 15 seed Cleveland State, 87-56. Two days later, they came back late in a thriller to survive No. 10 seed Rutgers (that Tramon Mark putback ...) and head to the Sweet 16.

On Saturday the Coogs dismissed No. 11 seed Syracuse to reach the Elite Eight, and on Monday night, despite a feisty second half run by No. 12 seed Oregon State, UH won the Midwest Regional and secured one more weekend in Indianapolis.

While the Coogs won their four games by a total of 56 points, they defeated a No. 15, a No. 10, a No. 11, and a No. 12. These were schools not expected to make noise in March Madness. Now the true test begins.

What's Next

It's an all-Texas semifinal Saturday evening between Houston and Baylor. The Bears won the Big 12 with a 13-1 conference record and overall 26-2 mark (technically the second loss was also to a conference opponent, but in the conference tournament), then had a relatively easy time getting through a tougher slate of opponents in its region (No. 16 seed Hartford, No. 9 seed Wisconsin, No. 5 seed Villanova, No. 3 seed Arkansas). 

This will be a tough matchup. Baylor is a high-scoring offense (83 PPG, sixth in the nation) and is an outstanding three-point-shooting team (41 percent on the season, tops in the nation), fueled by leading scorers Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell. Each average at least two threes per game. Butler and Mitchell, both juniors, are possible first-round picks in the 2021 NBA Draft. 

Of course, the Coogs are known for their D (57.6 PPG, second in the nation) and offensive boards (14.4 per game, third in the nation), which served them well against Oregon State. So, to win, Houston will need to slow down the game and limit Baylor's transition opportunities, which means efficiency and lots of boards on the offensive end.

After That?

If the Coogs get past the Bears, they'll play Monday evening (April 5) in the National Championship. Their potential opponent won't be known until Saturday, but the picture will get clearer Tuesday night in the final quarterfinal games of the tournament. At 6:15 p.m., No. 1 seed Gonzaga faces No. 6 seed USC in the West Regional final, while at 8:57 p.m., No. 1 Michigan takes on No. 11 seed UCLA in the East Regional final.

At this point, no opponent is a cakewalk, and that's certainly true for Saturday night. So build up all that animosity for Waco. We'll need it.

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