With No. 1 Houston Cougars vs. No. 8 Alabama showdown looming, Kelvin Sampson not focused on storylines

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Emil Lippe/AP/Shutterstock (13648305j) Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0) gestures after assisting on a 3-point shot by guard Jamal Shead during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Saint Mary’s in Fort Worth, Texas Saint Marys Houston Basketball, Fort Worth, United States – 03 Dec 2022

With No. 1 Houston Cougars vs. No. 8 Alabama showdown looming, Kelvin Sampson not focused on storylines

All eyes across the college basketball world will be on the Fertitta Center Saturday afternoon when the No. 1 Houston Cougars take on the No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide.

Two top 10 teams will battle for 40 minutes with a hectic crowd, a prime-time slot on ABC and a desire to prove which team is better, at least for that day. But Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson couldn’t care less about the tantalizing storyline. For him, it is one good team versus another.

“At the end of the day, it is Alabama against Houston. It is not ranked Alabama against ranked Houston as far as the two teams are concerned,” Sampson said. “That’s [the] storyline. Nationally televised game. Both teams really want to win, but neither team cares about [the storyline].”

Whether Houston wins or loses against Alabama, it will play a game on Tuesday night against North Carolina A&T, Sampson stated. The Cougars will then play a lot more games after that. The season won’t end if they lose, and they will not win the national championship if they win.

Alabama has a strong team from top to bottom, led by freshman Brandon Miller. The 6-foot-9-inch forward leads the team with 19.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He excels with the ball in his hands in pick-and-roll situations and has a beautiful release on his shots, Sampson said.

The Crimson Tide has two good guards in Mark Sears and Nimari Burnett, and they bring another one in Jahvon Quinerly off the bench. Quinerly’s speed was something the Cougars were well aware of last year. He sped the game up, Sampson told reporters on a Thursday morning Zoom call.

“They’re set up really good,” Sampson stated. “Nate’s done a great job with his roster. Great point guard play with Quinerly. They got a multifaceted guard with Sears, who starts at point guard but is one of their two-volume shooters. They have two volume shooters in Sears and Miller, and they got a bunch of guys that can make threes.”

For Alabama, Nimari Burnett can shoot. Sears is another outstanding shooter, and so is Jaden Bradley, who Sampson knows well because he was a teammate of Houston forward Jarace Walker at IMG Academy, the head coach stated.

Sampson said Alabama center Charles Bediako is the team’s most improved player. The Crimson Tide have no drop-off with their bench because of their talent level, he added.

“Alabama is certainly good enough to beat us, but we are good enough to beat them,” Sampson said. “Somebody is going to lose, but we are going to play the next game, and we are going to play 20-something more games.”

Houston and Alabama has become the hottest ticket in town. Ticket prices range from $130 to north of $1,000 on StubHub. Standing room tickets only hover close to $200, and lower bowl seats rise to $260 and above on SeatGeek.

UH fans have circled the game against Alabama since the nonconference schedule was released after last year’s meeting ended in controversy, with many Cougars’ fans believing a goaltending call should have given them the lead in the closing seconds. Instead, time expired, and Houston lost.

The matchup itself will have a lot of buzz. There will be multiple NBA scouts in attendance, there will be rowdy fans, there will be chaos, and at the end of the day, it will be Houston and Alabama grappling in a heavyweight bout.

“There is a lot of attention on this game, but it really boils down to, coach [Nate] Oats is an outstanding coach,” Sampson said. “They got a really good team. I think we have a good team. It’s going to be two good teams playing against each other. It’s good for college basketball. Our kids will be ready to play.”

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