A BIG VICTORY

Kelvin Sampson's Cougars get signature win by knocking off No. 7 Wichita State 73-59

Kelvin Sampson led the Cougars to a big win. UHCougars.com

Kelvin Sampson's Houston Cougars may have finally arrived. 

The Cougars got a long-awaited signature win, knocking off No. 7 Wichita State 73-59 on Saturday at the Health and P.E. Center on the TSU campus. Joe Lunardi had the Cougars on his "first four out" of the tournament list before Saturday's game. They are now 15-4 on the season after the win, 5-2 in the tough American Conference, tied for second in the standings. Their best prior win before this was probably over Arkansas in early December.

Sampson is in his fourth season at UH, and has his best team to date. His teams won 13, 22 and 21 games in his first three years, respectively, but were never really tournament threats. 

Now they should be. They still have some tough tests ahead -- but also games that could be resume builders. They face Cincinnati and SMU twice, and still have Memphis on the schedule. So while they might not be a tournament team yet, they are in the conversation, and a winning record against that group down the stretch would probably get them there. 

Senior guard Rob Gray continues to play at a high level, leading the Cougars with 24 points on an array of drives and pull-ups. The Cougars played tough defense, and held their own with a big Wichita State team that dominated the boards, including 17 offensive rebounds. But the Cougars also forced 18 turnovers and were never really threatened down the stretch. It was a huge win, in that the Shockers had won 11 straight road games before Saturday's game, and routed Houston just over a week ago. It was Houston's first win over a top seven team since 1996.

Thus, it was fitting that the school is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century, UH's signature 71-69 win over Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and UCLA at the Astrodome that launched the modern TV era of college basketball. That UH team would lose a rematch in the Final Four. 

This Houston team has a long way to go to even make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. But Saturday was a huge step in the right direction.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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