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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