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.

Staying with the Coogs

5 quick thoughts on Kelvin Sampson's new deal with UH

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UH basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance with the Cougars, agreed to a contract extension to stay with the team. The deal is reportedly six years for $18 million.

Despite rumors of a possible move to Arkansas, the final result was almost a certainty. A look at five reasons why the deal got done:

1) Family first

Sampson's family has become a big part of the program. His daughter works for the school. His son, Kellen, is an assistant coach at the school and will be named head coach in waiting. That does not mean he will be the next coach. His name has come up for head coaching jobs in the past, and he could easily get an opportunity before his father retires. The younger Sampson is very well respected. For now, however, the band is being kept together.

2) Age

At 63, Sampson might not have another rebuild in him. He will be almost 70 when the contract expires. Is there a chance he still leaves at some point? Absolutely. But the reality is a move at this stage does not make a lot of sense. He likes it at UH, he has brand spanking new facilities to play in, and now he is being compensated at a high level.

3) The future

Sampson has proven he can compete for Final Fours at Houston, and he will have a terrific team returning next season. Yes, he loses starting guards Corey Davis Jr. and Galen Robinson, Jr., but there are players waiting in the wings who will continue to develop under Sampson. Armani Brooks returns, and Dejon Jarreau should take on a bigger role. Nate Hinton was a highly regarded recruit who should improve. Incoming guard Caleb Mills comes with a ton of hype. Sampson has already called him the best offensive player he has recruited to Houston. Next year should be another good one.

4) UH is serious

The Cougars are not afraid to spend money. They gave a big deal to Dana Holgorsen to boost the football program, and now Sampson is being paid like an elite coach. They have a new football stadium and the revamped Fertitta Center, plus practice facilities that would make a lot of bigger schools jealous. The school wants to win and Sampson has the support he needs.

5) Different world

Sampson's path to a title might be just as strong at Houston as it is at an SEC school. NCAA hoops is not always dominated by the big conferences, and the ACC is not a bad group. Besides UH, UCF has built both its football and basketball programs into powerhouses. Memphis has a top recruiting class coming in. Previous powers Wichita State and UConn have excellent traditions. Cincinnati is a year-in, year-out tourney team. The Cougars can win in this conference and win big. Meanwhile, Sampson's staying also boosts the quality of basketball in the state. Chris Beard is in the Final Four with Tech. A&M just added a world-class coach in Buzz Williams. Baylor is a perennial tournament team. Jamie Dixon had TCU competitive but appears to be leaving for UCLA. Even with that, the state of Texas now boosts three high-profile coaches and the future looks bright.

Especially for Sampson and UH.

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