UH Basketball

5 reasons why you should buy into the 2018-2019 Houston Cougar basketball team

Move over Rockets, there's a new basketball team in town. Joe Buvid/Houston Athletics

Houston Basketball is on the rise, yet many people within the city haven't recognized the tremendous campaign they are putting together. Here are my reasons as to why you should buy into the 2018-2019 Houston Cougar Men's Basketball team:

1) Coach Sampson

Kelvin Sampson is in his fifth year in Houston. He won AAC Coach of Year last year, making it his fifth said honor in his career. He has successfully built a program that seniors have bought into. Sampson has had much success considering the outdated facilities he inherited and overcoming the challenge of recruiting very average players. He's had great success developing his players into great ones, where the likes of Devon Davis and Rob Gray led the team into the sweet sixteen round in last year's March Madness tournament. He is also a great tactician, which was in display in their comeback win vs. LSU this week. After being down 15, Sampson went to the board and changed their approach to the game after realizing how open LSU was leaving the driving lanes, which enabled Galen Robinson to have a huge game and also allowed the team to collect the majority of offensive boards. He is also a class act. After their game vs. OSU, Sampson went up to his old nemesis, Coach Sutton, to pay his respects and even gave him a kiss on the cheek after seeing how badly his health had deteriorated. I also had the pleasure of attending the UH Basketball Tip Off dinner this year where many fans buy tables as a means to fundraise money for the program. I was impressed by his ability memorize the player's family members by name, and his ability of building long life relationships with them.

2) Community

Houston Cougar Basketball has become one of the hottest tickets in town for many reasons. Their success on the court has permeated out of campus and onto the city where even professional athletes have taken notice. Astros' Alex Bregman and Rockets Eric Gordon were in attendance in the matchup vs LSU. Chris Paul called Coach Sampson prior to the same game and told him he would go with 'friends.' Turned out they didn't show but the takeaway here as that they have caught notice. Amongst other rumored attendees were JJ Watt and Lebron James. The student section has also bought into this year's team. They have filled the stands every home game since the opening of the new arena. They are loud and proud, where even I thought they couldn't surpass the deafening ruckus from the upset win vs. Oregon. But the Fertitta Center saw a new standard in the comeback win vs LSU.

3) Intangibles

This team has displayed qualities that surpass the physical realm. It really started last season, where they upset numerous teams as they punched their ticket into March Madness. They were beat by a then 3 seed in the Michigan Wolverines on a walk off buzzer beater 3. Houston competed the whole way, and you could even argue that the loss was really mainly due to self-inflicted wounds, especially because of the missed free throws in the final minutes. I talked to Corey Davis at the annual tip off dinner this year and he told me his team is hungry to get back in the tournament. The juniors and seniors now have a taste of what the big dance is all about. If they make it again this year, they will bring something they didn't have before, experience. Houston also has displayed grit. They learned a lot about themselves in their comeback win vs LSU this week. Galen Robinson dug deep when he began to hear LSU chants when his team was losing by 15. "It really touched a nerve. I was like, there's no way we're losing this game," said Robinson. A humbling loss in the sweet sixteen round last year, and a gut check win vs LSU will definitely bring out maturity and leadership within this roster.

4) The Players

Senior point guard Robinson has had a great offensive start to this season. In their matchups vs LSU and Oregon, Robinson has displayed the ability to completely take over games. He has also adopted the role of a leader in the locker room, where Coach Sampson said he heard Robinson's loud rally cry towards his teammates through a wall that separated the coach's and player's rooms at halftime vs LSU. Junior guard Armoni Brooks has been as advertised. He remains an integral part of the offense with consistency, and showcases the most versatile talent on the Houston roster night after night. Senior guard Davis continues to struggle this season, but I do believe he will turn it around. It's hard to believe otherwise after his incredible season last year. Sophomore point guard Dejon Jarreau made his first start of the season vs LSU. He didn't have the greatest of games but there are many reasons as to why. Jarreau has recently lost his grandmother and has suffered from tough injuries that have sidelined him. The UMass transfer remains an important player to this team by allowing Robinson to have precious resting minutes. The upside in Jerreau is tremendous. Lastly, Freshman Guard Nate Hinton must live up the title of Preseason AAC Freshman of the Year. He's showed great flashes, so keep a sharp eye on this projected up and comer. Houston has all the right pieces to the puzzle. The seniors have completely bought into Coach Sampson's philosophy and have prior experience in the big dance. The trick is finding the right mix of players and keeping them healthy all the way into selection Sunday.

5) Ferttita Center

OK, we talked about this last week, so I'll keep this one short. The new arena has successfully been able to pull many fans back into campus. The scarlet red and the strategically placed student sections have been staples of the incredible atmosphere the Fertitta Center hosts. UH is currently on a 22 home game win streak, 19 of which happened at TSU. The history of where the arena sits is also something to note. Many loyal UH Basketball fans even label it as hallowed grounds that have seen players like Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon and Clyde "The Glide" Drexler. This entails a certain aura to the new arena, where you can almost even feel its past and foreshadow future success. You can read last week's article on the Fertitta Center here.

U of H taking team basketball to the next level as they head into the postseason without a bonified star

How far can the Cougars go in the NCAA Tournament?

Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars rolling. Bob Levey/Getty Images

We know how far the University of Houston Men's Basketball team has come over the last several years, the real question now is how far can this season's team go? Coach Kelvin Sampson and his staff have done a fantastic job putting together and molding a team that was a buzzer beater away from beating Michigan and getting to the Sweet 16 a year ago. That Wolverines team would be the national runner-up after losing to Villanova in the title game and had everyone wondering what could've been for the Coogs?

Even though the loss was incredibly disappointing and tough to swallow, advancing to the second round of the tournament was a milestone that hadn't happened since the team lost to Georgetown in the National Championship game in 1984. It was the next progression in a steady climb back to national prominence for Coach Sampson and for the program. After the wild ride of last season, there was plenty of uncertainty heading into this year with the squad losing leading scorer Rob Gray as well as versatile big man Devin Davis. Were they headed for a letdown or could they continue to progress and build on their recent success?

The answers came quickly and surprised everyone as they were able to overcome the loss of Gray and Davis and win their first 15 games. The team not only appeared in the top 25, but they also steamrolled into the top 10 and in doing so, got the school as high as they had been in the polls since the days of Phi Slamma Jamma.

The beauty of this years' roster is there is no one player that dominates the locker room or the box score. They play like a team on both ends of the floor, sharing the ball, making the extra pass, switching, rotating and cleaning the glass. They are athletic and versatile as they get in your face on defense, playing the passing lanes aggressively, while on offense they push the tempo and knock down the three ball. Sampson and his staff make sure the team stays grounded and never gets too high or too low and only worries about the next game on the schedule and not what they are ranked or how far they can go in the tournament. The truth is, the way this team plays and how hard they compete has a lot of folks thinking they can play with anyone in the country.

It's a true compliment to Coach Sampson that this team plays as hard as it does, defends at such a high level and finds a way to win close games by playing smart and staying fundamentally sound. When you don't have an all-American type player like Gray was a year ago, it requires a buy-in from everyone on the squad to do whatever it takes and assume any role required. Players can't afford to take a night off as they have to make individual sacrifices to assure team success.

Every night the Cougars exert extra energy and hustle on every play to assure there are no letdowns and they hold each other accountable both on and off the floor. If you aren't a great coach that teaches and nurtures his team on a daily basis and gets them to believe in the concepts and philosophies that will be essential, you will see more players tuning out and rebelling than diving on loose balls and making hustle plays to win games.

Sampson leads by example with heart and determination, teaching and encouraging his players to leave it all on the floor and good things will happen. He makes sure they know he believes in them and in return they believe in what he is preaching and they give him everything they have. That's a recipe for success that has led to a regular season conference championship and could lead to a whole lot of joy in the middle of March Madness. Regardless of how far they go, they have made the entire city proud with all they have already accomplished and Sampson deserves consideration for coach of the year.

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