Not since the heyday of Phi Slama Jama has the University of Houston men's basketball team been so well equipped to win it all.
It being the NCAA Tournament, also known as March Madness, which starts Thursday with a couple play-in games known as the First Four. The true first round of 64 teams kicks off on Friday and runs through Saturday. Some sports fans will call this the most wonderful weekend of the year. They're not wrong.
So Houston. They're good this year. If you don't keep track of college basketball, that's totally cool, but this is the time to refresh yourself. Plus, Texas Southern is also in the tournament, giving us multiple reasons to cheer on H-Town over the next couple weeks (fingers crossed).
So here's a bit of a guide into this year's tournament and how both our local teams stack up.
We'll start with Texas Southern. They finished the 2020-21 season at 16-8 with a 10-3 conference record. The Tigers had a tough start to the season, losing to big-time competition like Oklahoma, Auburn, and BYU. But as conference play started they settled in and ripped off nine straight wins, including three victories in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament. In the championship, they beat local rival Prairie View A&M.
The Tigers are led by senior guard Michael Weathers, who puts up 16.6 points per game. They rebound a lot, go on the break a ton, and are generally fun to watch. It's awesome that Texas Southern got into the tournament, but they have quite a road in front of them, and they'd be shocking the world if they got into the second weekend.
The Cougars finished the 2020-21 season at 24-3 and 14-3 in American Athletic Conference play; they're ranked sixth in the nation. Their only big win of the season came against Texas Tech in November, while they've lost to a couple teams in the conference: Tulsa, East Carolina, and Wichita State. They won the AAC tournament by stomping Cincinnati on Sunday.
Quentin Grimes is the team's leading scorer, putting up about 18 points per game. The Woodlands native and UH junior was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press. Grimes can hit the three (42 percent, which plays really well), has some court vision, and can get his own shot. In other words, he's a fun offensive guard who makes the Coogs immediately dangerous.
Also, the team is deep, and coach Kelvin Sampson (who turned around the Coogs since coming on board in 2014) preaches an attacking style that results in tons of rebounds and relentless possessions that frequently end in three points. They're set up to have some big games in the tournament.
Road to the Final Four
Again, let's start with Texas Southern, who has a real climb in front of them. First up is Mount St. Mary's at 4:10 p.m. on truTV. Both squads are 16 seeds, meaning as low as it gets. This is a play-in game for the 64-team dance.
If Texas Southern wins—and it certainly has a decent chance—it would face Michigan, the top seed in the East region, at 3 p.m. Saturday on CBS. They'd be a huge underdog in the battle. If they win, one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, they'd then face either LSU or St. Bonaventure. From there ... well, we'll just stick to this for now.
Meanwhile, because they took care of business in a decent conference, U of H is the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region. The Cougars play No. 15 seed Cleveland State at 6:15 p.m. Friday. The game will be aired on truTV, which gets a bunch of the March Madness games that officials seem to deem unexciting. That's a good sign, I guess?
If they win, the Cougars would play the victor of Friday's game between Clemson and Rutgers. Both pose sneaky tough challenges for Houston. That game would be Sunday.
After that, the Cougars would be in the Sweet Sixteen against either West Virginia, Morehead State, San Diego State, or Syracuse. Win there, and it's an Elite Eight date against one of eight teams, the best of which being Midwest No. 1 seed Illinois. Other possibilities are Tennessee and Oklahoma State. Houston may be the best team overall among this group.
If Houston reaches the Final Four, they'll have as good a shot as anyone else ... to knock off Gonzaga. An annual favorite to do damage in the tournament, the Gonzaga Bulldogs out of Spokane, Washington, are really, really, really good. They finished the season a perfect 26-0, beating then-ranked teams like Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa, Virginia, and BYU along the way. Most of the time they've won big, too.
Now, there are other Texas teams in the dance, in case you want to root for them, too. The big ones to know: Baylor is the 1 seed in the South region, Texas is the 3 seed in the East region, and Texas Tech is the 6 seed in the South. But again, Gonzaga is the one they're all looking up at.
But here's the good news for Houston, and a reason why we should all be excited: Only three teams since 1980 have entered the tournament undefeated, and the good news—each of those schools lost in the big dance.