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