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NCAA Tournament Favorite: Houston Looks to Get Over the Hump

Houston v Baylor

(Photo : (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)) WACO, TX – FEBRUARY 24: L.J. Cryer #4 of the Houston Cougars handles the ball against the Baylor Bears in the second half at Foster Pavilion on February 24, 2024 in Waco, Texas

After years of falling short in the NCAA Tournament, the Houston Cougars are looking to break through as a number one seed after a dominant regular season this year. 

One of the best program builders in the nation, Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson has turned this Cougar program into a national powerhouse. 

After years of being solid to great, the Cougars have made the jump to elite this season, winning the Big 12, the best conference in college basketball, in their first year competing in the league.

Things started to look like they were headed this direction in the off-season, when the Cougars landed guard L.J. Cryer in the transfer portal, taking a key player off of Baylor’s roster and adding him to their own.

Cryer joined fellow guard Jamal Shead to add an explosive one-two scoring punch to a team destined for defensive greatness due to the other pieces on the roster and Sampson’s suffocating system.

Now the question is whether the Cougars can take that formula and use it to grab six more victories and a national championship.

Related Article: NCAA Tournament Dark Horse: James Madison Is a Mid-Major With a High Ceiling

NCAA Tournament Favorite: Houston Cougars

KenPom Ranking:
NET Ranking: 1
Season Highlights: wins vs. Iowa State, vs. Kansas, @ Baylor, Big 12 regular season champions

Houston received a fairly reasonable path for a one seed. It’s certainly not one you would call easy, but they avoided the region of death that top overall seed UConn drew. 

Assuming the Cougars get by Longwood, the winner of Nebraska and Texas A&M could provide a challenge, but should be a fairly winnable situation for Houston. 

The Sweet 16 matchup is where the draw is likely friendliest for Houston, as Duke and Wisconsin have both looked very vulnerable as their respective seasons have drawn to a close. Look for James Madison as a potential surprise team to make the Sweet 16, which would be a break for the Cougars.

The Elite 8 could bring a showdown against Marquette, Kentucky, or possibly even a Cinderella Florida team. Of those three, Kentucky would offer the most interesting matchup by far, as the Wildcats’ high-octane offense against Houston’s stifling defense could be the game of the tournament if the matchup happens.

Overall, Houston has about a standard path to the Final Four in terms of difficulty, making the Cougars the favorites to come out of the region. Any number of teams could await them there if they make it, but look for the Cougars to be highly motivated to go on a huge run with the veteran experience and talent to go all the way.

Read More: NCAA Tournament Favorite: UConn Is Locked and Loaded for a Repeat

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