Advancing in the tournament could come down to this for Coogs

Attacking the offensive glass will be critical. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Looking forward to the big Syracuse game Saturday night? Yes, I'm an Orangeman, so I will be ardently rooting for my alma mater as it plays the University of Houston in a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game in Indianapolis. With a win the stupendous job Kelvin Sampson has done with the UH program ascends another level. Two tournaments ago it was the Coogs' first NCAA win in 34 years. The following season the Sweet 16. Last season, no tourney. This year a spot in the Elite Eight is within grasp.

To advance the Cougars will almost certainly have to play better than they did in surviving Rutgers last Sunday. Rutgers beat Syracuse early in the season, which means absolutely nothing. If possible, it would be less than nothing since first weekend tourney superstar Buddy Boeheim missed that game recuperating from coronavirus.

One big advantage for the Cougars

In a best of one format you never know what will play out how, but the one massive advantage UH has is attacking the offensive boards against a defensive rebounding challenged 2-3 zone playing SU. Strength of schedule played a role, but UH is the number one offensive rebounding percentage team in the nation. Syracuse in defensive rebounding percentage, number 331.

Meanwhile, no stunner if it doesn't happen, but Baylor should beat Villanova and then the winner of Arkansas-Oral Roberts(Oral Roberts!) to put the Bears in the Final Four for the first time since 1950.

Rebuilding Rockets

The NBA trade deadline passed Thursday afternoon with the Rockets trading Victor Oladipo to Miami for very little. It's not like he was worth much but from the Heat Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk are meaningless to the Rockets other than that their contracts are up after this season. The Rockets may gain a few spots in the 2022 Draft with the right to swap either theirs or Brooklyn's first round pick (part of the James Harden trade) for Miami's number one. The Rockets have repeatedly cheaped out over the last three years. After their long run of sustained quality, it could be longer than three years before they really matter again in the NBA.

Astros baseball is almost here!

With the state of the Rockets and the ongoing sordid Deshaun Watson mess, even more thankfully we're less than a week from the Astros starting their 2021 season. The other 29 Major League Baseball teams are scheduled to launch Thursday as well. The Astros have the makings of another good team. A team absolutely capable of reaching a third World Series in five years, though they start this season with more question marks than they've had since their run of excellence began in 2017. One of those question marks hit a personal jackpot Wednesday as Lance McCullers accepted a five-year 85 million dollar contract extension beyond the six and a half million he'll pull down this year.

If McCullers has a huge 2021 he would have been able to command more than 85 million as a free agent after the season, but he's wise to lock in guaranteed generational financial security because the "ifs" with him are gigantic. McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. He still has zero seasons on his resume in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. Prior to the blown out elbow and Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the whole 2019 season, McCullers has injured list stints with shoulder and back issues. It's not enough that "all McCullers has to do is stay healthy." When healthy McCullers home at Minute Maid Park overall has been spectacular. On the road overall he's been lousy. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. We assume the new contract will require him to pitch road games. And while McCullers is cemented in Astros' lore for his brilliant lockdown relief in 2017 American League Series Game Seven against the Yankees, his postseason record is spotty. As the starter in game seven of the World Series against the Dodgers he didn't make it out of the third inning. Last fall in ALCS game seven against the Rays he didn't last four innings.

McCullers is a fierce competitor and a solid guy involved in numerous good works away from the ballpark. In part because of his character the Astros place a big bet on how he'll hold up and how he'll pitch. With more than 67 million dollars in Verlander/Greinke salaries off the books after this season, they can afford it.

Yet to sign a contract extension is Carlos Correa. He arrived in "The Show" three weeks after McCullers and his career timeline makes him the obvious everyday player comp to Lance. Two guys who exploded onto the scene and have had phenomenal high points, but because of both injury and performance issues, overall their careers have been less than their flat out talent projected. Correa has had the clearly better career to this point, so barring a calamitous meltdown in 2021 the floor for a Correa deal is well north of 5/85. He reportedly rejected 6/120.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Let's Go Orange! But if isn't to be Syracuse in the Final Four, Eat 'Em Up Coogs!

2. Four #11 seeds have reached the Final Four (LSU, George Mason, VCU, Loyola-Chicago), no seed lower than 11 ever has. 12 Oregon St. and 15 Oral Roberts (Oral Roberts!) take their shots this weekend.

3. Greatest Houston Sports Sampsons, order changes if Coogs win Saturday and Monday: Bronze-Greg Silver-Kelvin Gold-Ralph

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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