Houston Cougars men’s basketball rises to No. 1 in AP Poll: ‘it should be a big deal to us’

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13639034g) Kent State guard Sincere Carry (3) has the ball knocked away by Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0), right, as Jamal Shead reaches in during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Kent State Basketball, Houston, United States – 26 Nov 2022

Houston Cougars men’s basketball rises to No. 1 in AP Poll: ‘it should be a big deal to us’

For the first time since the 1982-83 season, the Houston Cougars men’s basketball team is ranked as the No. 1 team in the entire country in The Associated Press Poll.

Not two, not three, not four, but one. It is the first time ever that a Kelvin Sampson team has been the No. 1 team in the country. Houston had to endure a hard-fought battle against Kent State this past Saturday to put itself in position to be No. 1 following losses by North Carolina and Kansas.

After the Cougars’ win, Sampson was asked about potentially being the No. 1 team in the country, and the head coach provided unique insight on the accomplishment.

“I just remember where we were in [2014] and [2015],” Sampson said. “And to be sitting here with an opportunity, whether we are or not after today, who knows, but I’m proud of, happy for all the guys that came before.”

Houston received 45 first-place votes. The Cougars accumulated 1,534 total points from voters, which put them ahead of No. 2 Texas, who had 1,467 points.

Sampson’s teams, especially at Houston, have always been known for their blue-collar mindset. Saturday’s gritty win over the Golden Flashes showed this iteration of the Cougars has it as well. Even though UH’s shots weren’t falling, it relied on its defense and rebounding to gut out the five-point victory.

Houston’s ranking is a culmination of the hard work laid out by numerous players, Sampson said. The Cougars have been ranked in the AP Poll since Jan. 20, 2020. They have been in the poll for 49 straight weeks. UH has been ranked in the Coaches Poll for 41 consecutive weeks, going back to March 2, 2020.

Despite the rare feat, the head coach was quick to remind everyone that the high ranking does not entitle Houston to anything.

“We’ve been working for this, but remember, it is a rental,” Sampson said. “You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

What the ranking does do, however, is rally the supporters of the program and give them another badge to be proud of. Going back to 2014 and 2015, when Sampson first took over the program, the head coach had to go to classrooms and walk around campus with a bullhorn to recruit students to go watch games. It was a true reclamation project.

Now the Houston Cougars men’s basketball team is the hottest ticket in town. Sellouts are common at Fertitta Center, and now they have the No. 1 team in the entire country to support. How the season ends for Houston will not be determined for another four months, but for now, fans can brag about being first.

The mountain top does not belong to a blue blood. It belongs to Houston.

“North Carolina has been No. 1 more times than I’ve been alive,” Sampson said. “It’s no big deal to them, but it should be a big deal to us. To everybody here. It should be.”

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