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A.J. Hoffman: With win over Cincinnati, UH may be headed for the NCAA Tournament

Rob Gray might be playing in the NCAA Tournament. UHcougars.com

Nothing is official until March 11, the day the committee looks over all the resumes and picks a field of the 68 teams they deem most deserving, but the Houston Cougars basketball team may have locked up an NCAA tournament bid on Thursday night. The Cougars beat the 5th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats 67-62, giving them their first win over a top 5 team in the AP poll since 1996 (No. 3 Memphis). The win marked their 20th of the season, and barring a major collapse, Kelvin Sampson is poised to take the Coogs to their first tournament since 2010. 

While their resume doesn’t hold a ton of wins over other tournament teams, beating Cincinnati, who hadn’t lost since early December is a massive feather in the cap of the Cougars. As it stands today, the Cougars have five wins over teams that sit in the top 40 in RPI. Those wins are Temple (39), Providence (34), Arkansas (33), Wichita State (19) and Cincinnati (9). The bad news is, zero of those wins have come on the road. The committee wants to see that teams are capable of winning in hostile environments, and to date the best road win Houston has is a four-point win at UCF (59th in RPI). 

The good news is Houston gets a chance to get a solid road win on Sunday at Temple (39th in RPI). As important as the win tonight was, a win over Temple could be even bigger. The AAC appears to be a three-bid league, barring a conference tourney surprise. As of today, Houston would be the third team in from the conference. The closest team to catching them for that final spot is Temple, who started conference play in disastrous fashion, but have bounced back in recent weeks. Temple’s strength, at least in the eyes of the selection committee, will be non-conference wins over Auburn and Clemson, who are currently projected as 2-3 seeds. While I don’t believe a loss would be a dealbreaker, Houston winning there would put more space between them and their closest pursuer, as well as adding a strong road win to their record. 

Beyond the Temple game, Houston has 4 games left, all against teams who currently sport a losing record in the American Conference. If they take care of business in those games, and win a game or two in the conference tournament, the Cougars could end up packing their dancing shoes, and looking at potentially a 9-11 seed. That would give them a legitimate shot at the program’s first tournament win since a guy named Olajuwon led the Cougars to a 49-47 win over Olden Polynice, Rick Carlisle and the Virginia Cavaliers in the Final Four of the 1984 season.

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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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