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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NASCAR: Coca-Cola 600 preview, picks

Watch out for Ryan Blaney this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons

It’s a Memorial Day Tradition; The NASCAR Cup Series heads home to Charlotte for the annual Coca-Cola 600. This race is probably the third most crucial race all season, behind the Daytona 500 and the Season Finale at Phoenix. Anyone who wins this race will always be able to say that they were Coke 600 champions. No race on the schedule is as long as this one, because of this there will be a 4th stage added to the race. Teams will be provided 13 sets of tires, and if the last few weeks have been any indication, they will need all the tires they can get. With the race being as long as it is, there is a good possibility this could be an attrition race and the driver that survives will more than likely win. The record for the most cautions in NASCAR history was 22 cautions, at this same race in 2005. Come Sunday, I bet we get close to that number.

What's the deal with all of these tire failures? Last week in the All-Star race we saw drivers like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Erik Jones all crash out because they had a flat. There are many factors that could be contributing to this, for one the tires are much wider and the sidewalls are much more narrow. Because of this, the tire falloff is much shorter, so now instead of going maybe 40-45 laps on one set of tires, drivers can now only go 25-30 laps. The other major facet is that a lot of teams are running much lower air pressures to get the car to handle better by being closer to the ground. Goodyear and NASCAR usually require the right side tires to run around 51-52 PSI, the rule however isn’t enforced for the left side tires, so drivers will push the limits to see how much they can take out to make the car faster. The fact that we were seeing such tire ware on smooth surfaces like Texas and Atlanta is a clear sign that there is a problem, but not all of it is on Goodyear. Only time will tell how this develops on tracks with old abrasive surfaces, like when they go back to Bristol in the fall.

One of NASCAR’s newest teams, Trackhouse racing, made a bit of a surprise announcement this week. Starting at Watkins Glenn in August, the team will run a third car with a series of international drivers, starting with 2007 Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. This is something that I think is interesting for the sport. I am a bit surprised that another team hasn’t already done this before. Having drivers like Kimi, one of the more world renowned racers in F1, can really bring a whole new audience to NASCAR. There have been rumors on whom some of the other drivers might be, from Daniel Riccardo to even Lewis Hamilton. There will be a lot of intrigue about who will be the next driver.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Ryan Blaney. After winning the All-Star race, it seems like Roger Penske and the rest of the Ford camp are picking up steam. Overall, Blaney tends to struggle at this track with an 18.8 average finish, but if last week is any indication of how his car will run on mile and halves like Charlotte, he will be a fierce contender for the win.

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