Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ron Jenkins/AP/Shutterstock (13807295r) Houston guard Jamal Shead (1) goes to the basket past East Carolina guard Jaden Walker (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, in Fort Worth, Texas AAC East Carolina Houston Basketball, Fort Worth, United States – 10 Mar 2023
When the Houston Cougars basketball team walked into a room together to going to watch the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday, junior guard Jamal Shead said it’s a new season now.
A few minutes later, UH discovered that it is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament. Despite being overwhelming favorites to defeat No. 16-seed Northern Kentucky, the Cougars are approaching the tournament with a game-by-game mindset.
“As you get to the tournament, everybody is 0-0,” junior forward J’Wan Roberts said. “We’ll just go step by step.”
There are several factors that have the potential to make the 2023 NCAA Tournament feel like a Hollywood movie script, including that NRG Stadium in Houston is hosting the Final Four.
Longtime broadcaster Jim Nantz, a UH alumnus that has become a recognizable voice across several sports, will also call his final NCAA Tournament championship game this year.
But head coach Kelvin Sampson will not allow his team to buy into the Hollywood narrative.
Everything starts from the top and trickles down through the program for Houston. During the post-American Athletic Conference championship game news conference, a reporter asked Sampson if he allows himself to look ahead.
The head coach didn’t even allow the question to be finished.
“No,” Sampson stated. “Northern Kentucky is a hard team to play against. Why would I even think that? It’s just who I am. I have zero interest if people like it or not. We play Northern Kentucky.”
The Cougars have been atop the college basketball world multiple times throughout the year. Houston has had the No. 1 ranking in both national polls, and it has suffered defeats with that ranking numerous times.
“That number next to your name doesn’t mean anything, especially when you get between those lines,” Shead said. “Northern Kentucky is a really good team. Like I said, I watched them beat [Cincinnati] by 13 earlier this year. Once we are in those lines, it is just you versus them.”
Shead and Houston know there are no guarantees in March.
“We go through the same mindset as coach. We understand that [the Final Four] is in Houston, but you know, you got to win to get there,” Shead pointed out. “Northern Kentucky is our first step and it can be our last step, knock on wood.
“We don’t take that for granted. Just getting into this tournament, being this one seed is a blessing, but just getting into the tournament is really hard. So just being humble, trying to get that first win out the way.”