Falcon Points

Sampson's Cougars should have high aspirations after 23-1 start

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

The Houston Cougars came off a big week, with wins at pre-season American Conference favorite Central Florida and Sunday's home win over the other class of the conference, Cincinnati.

The Cougars are 23-1, have won 32 straight at home, eight in a row overall and should be in the top 10 when the rankings come out today. The selection committee had them in the first 16 over the weekend and listed as a No. 3 seed.

Most of you were probably not even alive the last time the Cougars were nationally relevant in basketball. They clearly are right now.

But how good are they? The Cincinnati win might be their best of the season, although an early victory over LSU looks pretty good as well. There are a lot of solid wins, but not a lot of standouts. Can they play with the Tennessees, Dukes, Kentuckys and Michigans of the world? Last year they certainly proved they could play with Michigan. And while those questions will be answered later on, we have seen nothing out of this team that says it can't play with those schools.

The only loss came amid controversy in a tough road spot at Temple, and the Cougars got revenge against the Owls last week.

The big question is how good do you think the AAC is this season? The Cougars have not won a conference game by fewer than seven points - the second Temple game and the Cincinnati game. They have improved as the season has gone on, and have taken control of the conference.

Kelvin Sampson's team is deep, athletic, plays strong defense and can hit you with a variety of scoring threats. They have held opponents to under 40 percent shooting in 14 of 17 home games and have made the Feritta Center one of the hottest tickets in town.

The Cougars have seven conference games remaining, with a potential roadblock at UConn on Thursday and a rematch with Cincinnati on the road to close out the regular season. It's likely the two teams will meet again in the conference tournament.

It's hard to see this team losing more than two games down the stretch, and a No. 3 seed or even higher seems likely. And if they can get the right bracket, who knows? At this point, anything less than the Sweet 16 would seem like a disappointment. That's a pretty big goal for a team that has languished for years.

There is no doubt Sampson's name will start popping up for other jobs again after the season. But he seems to like it here, and he has proven he can win games at a high level.

Just how high? We will find out in March. But there is no reason for Cougars fan not to have big dreams. It has been a long time coming, and the ride is far from over.

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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