It has been a storybook season so far for the Houston Cougars men’s basketball program.
Houston has spent the entire year in the Associated Press top 5 and is about to make a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time in school history. The Cougars also figure to be a 1 seed for the first time since 1983.
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With an eye toward training our readers to the future – and as the Cougars seek their first ever national title - BetTexas.com wanted to explore how they have fared in past tournaments since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Using sports-reference.com and NCAA.com. BetTexas.com determined Houston’s average tournament finish by weighting each round they advanced to as a point on a 1-6 scale. Here is how the Cougars have performed in the expanded tournament era:
Average Houston NCAA Tournament Finish
Recapping Houston in Tournament
Houston’s modern basketball success starts and ends with Kelvin Sampson. Before Sampson’s hiring in 2014, the school had made just four NCAA tournament appearances since legendary head coach Guy Lewis retired in 1986 after 30 years in charge of the Cougars. (Lewis led them to 14 NCAA berths, as well as five Final Fours during his time at the helm.)
Lewis’s replacement, Pat Foster, took Houston dancing three times in seven seasons before bolting for the Nevada job in 1993, though none of his teams ever advanced out of the first round. Then the dark ages truly began.
It took 17 years following Foster’s departure and four coaches (Alvin Brooks, Clyde Drexler, Ray McCallum and Tom Penders) before the Cougars would reach another tournament. In fact, Brooks, Drexler and McCallum only recorded two winning seasons combined (17-10 in 1995-96 under Brooks and 18-15 in 2001-02 under McCallum) during their collective 11-year tenure.
Penders ended Houston’s NCAA drought, but he ultimately quit the coaching profession three days after the Cougars lost to Maryland in the opening round of the 2010 tournament. Former Texas Tech boss James Dickey was then tasked with the job of keeping Houston relevant.
Dickey lasted four seasons, going 64-62 with a lone CBI appearance in 2013 as his only whiff of the postseason, before Sampson took over following his resignation. Nothing about Cougars basketball has been the same since.
Sampson needed a few years to get things rolling, but since the start of the 2017-18 season Houston has gone 171-32 (84.2% winning percentage) and finished in the top 25 every year. They have won 10 NCAA tournament games in that span, tied with Duke for sixth most over that stretch, and are one of only three teams, along with Gonzaga and Michigan, to reach the last three Sweet 16s.
The 2023 Houston Cougars
Even as previous Sampson teams have reached milestones last accomplished at Houston by Lewis’s iconic Phi Slama Jama squads, which went to three consecutive Final Fours from 1982 to 1984, something about this year’s edition of the Cougars feels different. With a 28-2 record and nation-best 20.1 point per game scoring margin, Houston currently ranks first in the AP Poll and NET, as well as at every major predictive analytics site.
Fueled by remarkable balance and depth, the Cougars feature both a top 10 offense and defense, per KenPom.com. Senior guard Marcus Sasser leads a rotation in which four of the nine players who have played at least 300 minutes have a box plus-minus (BPM) of above 8.0, more than any other team in the country. Eight of the nine have a BPM above 5.0, tied with Tennessee for the nation’s most.
Whether this firepower is enough to carry Houston to a championship is still to be determined, but for now the Cougars are listed as the betting favorite to cut down the nets at +650, according to DraftKings.
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