The Pallilog

Sampson's future hangs over UH in Tournament

Kelvin Sampson. Bob Levey/Getty Images

What a week. An Astros' season of immense potential is under way with newly contract-extended Justin Verlander very sharp opening day (minus a leadoff homer), the Rockets won a game over Denver that was absolutely essential toward any chance of ascending to the second seed in the Western Conference, and the University of Houston plays a Sweet 16 game for the first time in 35 years.

More on the Cougars first. For the moment it's still about this spectacular season. The second it's over becomes about whether Head Coach Kelvin Sampson is heading for Arkansas or anywhere else. First things first. Kentucky is very good, with substantially more highly regarded talent and most of the NBA prospects. But the teams appear to be pretty even. The outcome could tilt on the availability and effectiveness of UK forward P.J. Washington. The Wildcats' leading scorer and rebounder sprained a foot during the SEC Tournament and didn't get out of a cast until Tuesday. An on his game Washington would team with Reid Travis to give the Cats two 6'8" guys who can both post up and face up. That would be very challenging for UH's stout defense which is stouter on the perimeter than inside. With just Travis to defend, the Coogs are in good position to pull off what would be a very mild upset. The UH-UK winner probably falls to North Carolina Sunday. Or maybe Auburn takes down the Tar Heels first. March Madness!

Now the possible looming gloom and doom. What Kelvin Sampson has done in building the previously moribund University of Houston basketball program is simply spectacular. Alas, he may want to move on. As exasperating as it would be for Cougar rooters to lose another head coach who has done good work, there are realities. I don't think this would be a money play, though while Sampson makes about 1.5 mil at UH, fired Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was over 2.5 mil. Maybe having his name attached to the Sooie Pig gig merely sets a baseline for Sampson's redone UH deal. The SEC is a better league than the AAC with millions and millions of dollars more in prestige and clout. Arkansas has the larger and more rabid fan base. The Razorbacks play in Walton Arena where in an 18-16 season their smallest home attendance was more than 13,000. The first season of Fertitta Center made for a fantastic environment, but capacity was held to barely 7,000 for reasons.

Whatever decision Sampson makes is entirely his to make. I'd scoff at leaving Houston for Fayetteville, but I'm not a rich college basketball coach. At 63 years old Sampson is much closer to the end of his career than to its beginning. If a bigger stage opportunity, challenge, and chance to be THE game in town are what he wants, good for him. Sampson (plus the facilities) turned the UH job into a much more desirable position that if open will attract quality candidates.

One line I would draw if I were UH, is not agreeing to anoint Kelvin's son Kellen "Head Coach In Waiting." Kellen is a promising young assistant, but he is thinly credentialed for what the UH job now is or will be if Kelvin stays and retires at whatever point.

Rockets roll

Critical win for the Rockets over Denver Thursday night to take the season series and tiebreaker. If the Rockets win out to finish 54-28, to snatch the second seed they need the Nuggets to lose four of their remaining eight games. The Nuggets are 31-6 at home with four probable wins left in the Mile High City (Wizards, Spurs, Blazers, T'Wolves), but have road games at Oklahoma City, Golden State, Portland, and Utah. On the other side of the coin the Rockets have one more loss than do the Trail Blazers and Portland owns the tiebreaker.

Earlier this week the Bucks beat the Rockets. That game reinforced the reality that any claim that James Harden is the only choice for MVP, is either local yokel boosterism or ESPN's Mike Greenberg sounding silly. Only the biased or ignorant do not find Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo a wholly legitimate alternative. Harden's offensive season is historic and he is of course worthy of winning MVP again. Ditto worthiness of the "Greek Freak" who is averaging more than 27 points on better than 50 percent shooting (58), 12 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. The full list of players in NBA history to average those numbers for a season: Antetokounmpo. Um, that's historic too. And he's a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and the dominant star of the team with the best record in the league.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Back-to-back Elite 8s for Texas Tech. Over the last two seasons no c-hoop coach has been better than Chris Beard. Gonzaga's O vs.Tech's D should be something Saturday. 2. Hook 'Em! Final Four! Of the NIT. Cue laugh track. 3. Things that go best with peanut butter: Bronze-marshmallow Silver-banana Gold-chocolate of course

With 3 division winners and a recent championship they should be near the top

Is Houston the top pro sports city in the nation?

Getty Images
Astros World Series photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's a great time to be a Houston sports fan. Sure there are always going to be teams and situations that could be better, like the Texans offensive line, but overall it could be a whole lot worse. All 3 of H-town's major sports properties are sitting pretty in their current situation. The Texans, Rockets, and Astros all currently stand as the reigning division winner in their given league and all have a legitimate shot to compete for a championship. OK, realistically two of them do and the third has the makings of a playoff team that could get to that elite status if they draft properly and make a late addition or two. Let's take a look at the squads in the space city and how they stack up with other metropolitan areas of the United States.

Jose Altuve has a 3 home run game against the Red Sox in game one of the ALDS. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros are the easiest team on this list to talk about. All they do is win in the last few years including bringing the city its first-ever World Series title just two short years ago. The team never seems to rest on the success of the past and has loaded up and locked down key players to assure that they will be in the hunt for another title this October and be on the scene in the postseason for years to come. Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane used savvy transactions and the financial commitment necessary to keep the good players the had like George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa and then went out and made moves to get big names like Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Michael Brantly.

A.J. Hinch and Roberto Osuna Bob Levey/Getty Images

They also took chances and ran the risk of losing the luster on all their sparkling success by trading for a much-needed closer in Roberto Osuna who was facing serious legal issues in Toronto. They did their due diligence and plenty of homework to believe he would be cleared of all charges eventually and made the surprising and controversial trade that helped to re-shape their bullpen. Along with Ryan Pressly, another late-season trade acquisition last season, the Astros quickly turned their biggest weakness into another position of strength. Houston, you have a world class baseball team and the organization to keep it that way for years to come.

Hakeem Olajuwon playing for the Houston Rockets in 1993 Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

The Rockets are a team that can never be questioned when it comes to going for it and chasing championships. When you think back on it, ever since the back-to-back championships in the mid-nineties the team has always aggressively pursued big names like Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady, and Dwight Howard. It hasn't always worked out for them in terms of winning it all, but it always gave them a shot and made them a team to watch nationally.

Chris Paul and James Harden

Things are going well when Paul and Harden are both healthy. Tim Warren/Getty Images

When GM Daryl Morey traded for James Harden and later acquired Chris Paul, it assured the city that they would have one of the top teams in the NBA and a roster equipped to compete with the best in the league, mainly the Golden State Warriors. We all know that if Paul doesn't pull a hamstring last season in the Western Conference Finals we may very well be talking about another title team in our fair city. After a rough start and some missteps with the roster and replacing players lost in free agency, the team has re-tooled and most importantly is healthy heading into another playoff run. With Boogie Cousins going down for the Warriors, this could be the year that the Rockets take down the champs.

Houston Texans Bill O'Brien It's time for a change Kirby Drive. Houston Texans/Facebook

The Texans are the lowest sitting team on the city's list of success stories but not without accomplishments along the way. If the biggest knock on your favorite football team is that it wins its division and then fades away in the postseason, it could be a lot worse. In the past five years, they have had a team that most experts gave a legitimate chance to upset the New England Patriots and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. We all know how that turned out as the Pats did what they always do when the stage is bigger and the stakes higher. Since then they have managed to win more than they have lost and done what they needed to do to win the division and at the very least, give themselves a chance to compete for a Lombardi trophy. Even last year when it looked like all hope was lost after a horrendous 0-3 start, the team manufactured nine straight wins to secure another playoff birth and the division title. In the process, they were a national story as they broke the record for most consecutive wins after losing their first three contests to start a season.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Sure it ended prematurely and in disappointment, but not without another successful year and not without providing hope that they will be back if they can improve their offensive line and defensive secondary. The draft is right around the corner and GM Brian Gaine has his hands full and a whole lot of eyes on him and his every move as the team gets prepared to defend one title and compete for another. As long as they have thier franchise quarterback thay will always have a chance.

In looking at the big picture and comparing cities across the nation in their current sporting state, there are not many metro areas that can say they are better than Houston and their 3 teams. Boston is probably the one cut and dried town that can boast better numbers and accomplishments than H-town. The Patriots are a dynasty coming off yet another Super Bowl victory, the Red Sox are the reigning World Series champs and the Celtics made the conference finals last year and are a top 4 seed in this year's playoffs. That's pretty tough to beat. Other than that, there are a whole lot of slight seconds and runners up, starting with the Bayou city. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have blatant shortcomings and can't compete. That in itself is worth celebrating. So enjoy the ride H-town, from a sporting perspective, life is good!

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