March’s Dark Horse? Houston

Some things remain constant through a college basketball season.

Duke is doing well. So is Gonzaga. Virginia is good, but everyone remembers last year.

Some things tend to change in a college basketball season.

Kansas is in danger of finally ending their record streak of conference titles, with rival Kansas State in command.

And Indiana, who came into the season with momentum and potential, has fallen flat.

Then, there's a team who's not even among the 200 best shooting teams in college basketball. They have few recognizable names and their best rebounder is a 6-3 guard. And yet, they're currently a top-10 team with just one loss on their resume.

Say hello to the Houston Cougars.

Kelvin Sampson, following controversial exits at both Oklahoma and Louisville, might be coaching his magnum opus this year in Houston, taking over a program with lots of tradition, but not much to brag about in the last few decades and turning them into a tour de force this year. His Cougars aren't the best shooters, but they're ferocious defenders; a crew of scrappy, tough, intense players who were mostly recruited locally to re-energize a program looking to rekindle days of Phi Slamma Jamma glory.

This is no Phi Slamma Jamma, though. This is a blue-collar, hard-hat team.

Corey Davis, Jr. is the offensive catalyst. A 6-1 guard, he averages 15.5 points a game who provides floor general leadership during the game and ice in his veins to finish them. Davis is an 88.8 percent free throw shooter who thrives under pressure.

He's accompanied by Armoni Brooks, a junior guard who doesn't have particularly phenomenal offensive stats. He averages 13.8 points a game, but shoots under 40 percent from the field and 63 percent from the stripe. Yet, his tenacity levels are simply off the charts. Brooks averages an eye-popping 6.4 rebounds a game, leading the team.

It's this Cougar duo; one a smooth shooter, the other a fierce attacker ... that has Houston sitting at 23-1 this season. And it never hurts that they're coached by Sampson. Despite his NCAA troubles, Sampson has 600 wins to his credit and a trip to the Final Four. His experience in big games brings a sense of calm and confidence to his team, which simply can't be underestimated come tournament time.

Speaking of tournament time, though, Here's the one catch on UH. Sampson relies on Davis and Brooks, along with fellow guard and assist machine Galen Robinson, Jr. to set the tempo and control the game, so much so that they average 10 minutes more a game than anyone else on the team. They lack size and rarely utilize it in a game, almost exclusively going with a small lineup. Teams with a physical front-court could give Houston a lot of trouble, while teams that feature guards who both shoot well and control the ball (Villanova comes instantly to mind) could be a very tough matchup for this team.

Regardless, Houston has used their defensive prowess to overcome any mismatches this season. The Cougars are sixth in the country in scoring defense, which generally makes a recipe for a tough out in March. And with some good wins over Oregon, LSU, and Cincinnati, Houston has shown they aren't a fluke.

Nevada's a top-10 team that could cause trouble in March. But the Wolf Pack, admittedly due to their schedule, are still a little bit of a mystery. If you're looking for that dark horse team that could go very deep if they get hot, the safe bet is on Kelvin Sampson and his Cougars.

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