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

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The Texans didn't have an answer for Derrick Henry. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Romeo Crennel made a valorous call that might have costed the Houston Texans from winning their second consecutive game on Sunday. Up by seven with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter, Crennel decided to call a two-point conversion following Deshaun Watson's one-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

During the two-point conversion, Watson had a look at an open Randall Cobb, but Titans' defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons got a hand on the ball to deflect the pass. The failed conversion allowed the Titans to take a 42-36 victory over the Texans inside Nissan Stadium. Tennessee scored 13 unanswered points, which included a seven-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown to send the game into overtime.

"I think I would do it again," Crennel said during his media availability on Monday. "You are on the road against a divisional opponent who is undefeated, and if you could get that two-point conversion — you shut the door on them. We had a guy open, but unfortunately, the ball got tipped and we did not make it. I would do it again because it was a good choice."

The decision to not kick the field goal caused somewhat of an uproar, but it is understandable why Crennel made the call. Crennel had faith in Watson to put the Texans in a position to close the game, similar to his 4th-and-4 call during last week's victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In the end, Crennel's risky decisions could stem from the lack of faith he has in the Texans' depleted defense.

Houston's defense hit an all-time low against the Titans. They gave up a franchise-worst 601 total yards — with Derrick Henry accounting for 212 yards on 22 carries. But despite their struggles against the run, the Texans' secondary were just as faulty. They gave up a total of 338 yards through the air and allowed Tannehill to go 8-for-9 down the field during the Titans' final drive of regulation.

Had Houston's defense made a stop during the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, the Texans could have ended the game 2-0 under their interim head coach.

"I wanted to go ahead and get the two points — I felt like that would have put the game out of reach for them," Crennel said. "If we had gotten it, we would have been in much better shape. But we did not get it. We did not perform well in overtime, and they [Titans] won the game."

Following Sunday's heartbreaking loss, Texans safety Justin Reid said it best, "Had we converted on the two-point conversion, this would be a totally different conversation. So it is what it is."

Up next, the 1-5 Texans will look to bounce back from defeat against the 4-1 Green Bay Packers, inside NRG Stadium on Sunday. Kick-off is at 12:00 PM CT.

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