The Houston Cougars men’s basketball team has lofty expectations heading into the 2022-23 season. The 2023 men’s basketball Final Four will be held at NRG Stadium in Houston. (Courtesy Sean Thomas)
The Houston Cougars men’s basketball team is projected to be a top 10 team in almost every outlet imaginable heading into the new season.
National media like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports are projecting Houston in the top five, and make no mistake about it, the UH players are well aware of the high expectations heading into the 2022-23 season.
“We know. We see it,” Houston guard Marcus Sasser said. “Everybody knows around, but I feel like it just gives us more motivation as we are going in. We got high standards, high goals, and we know what it takes to get there. I feel like we just use it for extra motivation.”
Houston is no stranger to success. The Cougars have made runs in the last three NCAA Tournaments. Going back to 2019, Houston made it to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Kentucky. The tournament was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, but Houston finished with a share of the regular season American Athletic Conference championship.
In 2021, UH made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to Baylor, and last season in 2022, the Cougars made it to the Elite Eight before falling short to Villanova. The veteran leaders know what it takes to be prepared for the long grind of the season.
“Just coming off last year, without Marcus and (Tramon) Mark, we got to the Elite Eight,” Houston junior guard Jamal Shead said. “You know, they are back now. We got Jarace (Walker). We got J’Wan (Roberts). We got a lot of pieces that come together if we just connect the right way. We know what is in front of us.”
While the UH players acknowledge the expectations, they are not going to allow it to make them complacent. Rankings don’t matter, Sasser said, which is the message he and other veteran leaders on the team are relaying to the new players on the Cougars.
For head coach Kelvin Sampson, this year’s team is like all the others that have come before. He will not coach them any different, Sampson said. One of the sayings the head coach shares with his players at times is to be where your feet are, Sasser said.
While Sasser used the phrase when talking about his potential future endeavors at the pro level, it also applies to a team with high expectations just beginning the first practices of the season.
“Every team to me, I treat them all the same,” Sampson said. “I don’t read press clippings or hear what other people think or say because it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care.”
Houston will open the season on Nov. 7 against Northern Colorado at Fertitta Center. The buzz in the arena when the season tips off will likely be electric from the thousands of supporters that pack into it on a Monday night, hoping it is the start of a historic season that ends just a few miles away at NRG Stadium.
“We know we have expectations we need to live up to, and even for ourselves, we have our expectations for ourselves,” Walker said. “Just knowing that just gives us our fuel to give it our all each and every day.”