Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13774839h) Houston coach Kelvin Sampson reacts to a call during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Memphis, in Houston Memphis Basketball, Houston, United States – 19 Feb 2023
Van Chancellor: College basketball is at its best right now, especially for UH
Van Chancellor is a former head coach of women’s programs at Mississippi, LSU, and the Houston Comets. He won four WNBA titles with the Comets, won a Gold Medal as an Olympic team coach, and reached five Elite Eights and a Final Four in college basketball.
The time of year every D-1 basketball player, coach, and fan has been waiting for and playing for all year— the coveted invitation to the Dance – has arrived. Only 68 teams out of the 363 that start the year get this coveted invite. Then you have to go through a week waiting to see who will be on your dance card. The excitement is there from the team on the proverbial bubble to those coveted top four spots.
The University of Houston is in the enviable position this year of knowing they are in the field. They have put together the resume of wins and have the strength of schedule to be one of the four teams on the one line in the bracket. The big question becomes where will they be sent and who will be in the bracket to trip them up from a return to NRG Stadium and their fan base for the title of National Champs? Before the trophy presentation, the Cougars will have to wade through a tough bracket beginning in Birmingham Thursday. You look at the bracket and think we can defeat this team, but the tournament is a whole new season, as our coach and players are well aware. Coach Sampson knows an injury to a key player, a missed rebound block-out, or a careless foul can all sway a close game. The Cougars will face several close games on their way to Houston and the Final Four.
The Cougars face Northern Kentucky in their first game. One of the tasks facing Coach Sampson is getting his team ready for a team that relies heavily on the 3 ball. Should they get hot from beyond the arc, you can never look past any opponent in the tournament.
The reason I like Houston to prevail and make it to the Final Four at NRG is because they have a coach in Sampson that knows how to coach under pressure and can, at the same time, keep the pressure from building on his team. The Cougars play great team defense, rebound the basketball, keep their turnovers to a minimum, and play hard on every possession. It also helps to have a great player like Marcus Sasser, that can make a play at crunchtime.
The teams that I think will be the biggest threat to Houston are Alabama, Purdue, Kansas, and Xavier in the other half of the bracket, and Texas A&M in their own bracket. I also always like to pick my teams that I feel are underdogs but have a chance to advance to the Final Four in the tourney. This year they are St. Mary’s, Kansas State, Indiana, and Texas. One of the things that makes March Madness so great is that everyone’s team thinks they have a shot to advance in the tournament. Every year there is a new Cinderella at the dance. You see 13 seeds upset 4 seeds. This type of action gives you so many games decided on the last shot. This makes for great television, but it is tough on every team.
At this time of year, your motto is survive and advance. The games have such short turnarounds a coach and his staff gets little sleep. They must start studying after each victory to prepare their team for the next opponent.
I hope every fan will enjoy this time of year as I do. Mattress Mack has given you added incentive this year. He has put his money on the Cougars from the beginning of the season. Mack has gone out on the proverbial limb, giving you a chance to get free furniture if UH wins, so now is a good time to get that new furniture and have the added enjoyment of getting your money back when the Cougars cut down the nets at NRG on April 3.