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.

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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.

Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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