INDIANAPOLIS – The weekend has finally arrived here in Indy. While this city is not overloaded with the masses that normally accompany a site for the NCAA Tournament it still feels special.
Small crowds allowed inside the arenas? No problem. UH is here and two wins from a return trip to the Final Four that would end a 37 year drought.
When he was hired, Kelvin Sampson told UH Alum and Board of Regent Chair Tilman Fertitta over a lunch he had a big plan and a goal that was attainable.
“I told him I believe we can win a national championship here,” said Sampson this. “He looked up from his phone and that caught his attention. Not long after, he wrote a 20 million check for our new building with his name on it.”
Tonight Sampson will bring his Cougars to the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on the 11th seeded Syracuse club that is on a Cinderella type run after finishing 8th in the ACC.
What have the Orange done in March Madness you ask? Wins over No. 6 seed San Diego State and a 3rd seeded West Virginia club is all you need to know. These guys are good, they have a star in Buddy Boeheim and they play a tough zone defense that will drive any team nuts.
Here are some keys to watch for tonight .
HOUSTON COUGARS ( 26-3)
Last meeting against Syracuse: 1982, lost at Syracuse in the regular season 92-87. UH went on to lose in the National Championship game to N.C. State
Head Coach: Kelvin Sampson is now in his 7th season at UH turning around the Coogs during his tenure. A doormat when he arrived, Sampson has UH as a Top 10 program. He’s looking to return to the Final Four for the first time since taking Oklahoma there.
How they arrived: wins over Cleveland State and Rutgers
Star(s) of the Coogs: Look no further than Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau who are the leaders of the UH squad. They score ( Grimes 18 ppg in tournament) and defend. Grimes can score from anywhere on the floor. Jarreau says he will be a go for tonight after rehabbing a sore hip all week. He leads UH in assists and steals. UH has talked all week about second chance points and that being a key to their success. Marcus Sasser is hoping to get back on track and out of his recent slump. They’ll need Sasser against Syracuse’s 2-3 Zone. Sasser is just 9-31 on three pointers the past four games.
Speaking of defense: They hang their hat on how tough they are defensively giving up only 58 ppg this season which is second in the nation. Their numbers speak for themselves. Any player entering this program and who wants to play for Coach Sampson better embrace defense. This team does it well giving up 70 points on only two times all season. On the rebounding front UH is 6th nationally in rebounding margin nearly winning those battles by double digits over opponents.
SYRACUSE ORANGEMEN ( 18-9)
Head Coach: Jim Boeheim has his team in the Sweet 16 for a 20th time. Has been with Syracuse for 45 years.
How they arrived: wins over San Diego State and West Virginia
Star of the Orange: Buddy Boeheim is a junior and is averaging 27 ppg in the tournament thus far. Sharpshooter who will launch from anywhere. But has he been defended by anyone like he’ll see tonight from UH? He is the son of the head coach and has handled that pressure well. His three point range and accuracy is one reason the Orange are still playing. He’s hitting 48% of his three’s over their last 10 games.
Other weapons UH has to contain: Joe Girard ( 12ppg, 6 Rebounds, 7 assists), Sr. Center Marek Dolezaj ( 11 ppg, 5 rebounds, 5 assists)
Zone defense: Syracuse plays the 2-3 and doesn’t waiver at all. They will allow UH to get open looks so the Cougars need to bring it. UH is good at offensive rebounding which is a weakness for the Orange. UH is number one nationally in shots per 100 possessions.
Randy’s Prediction: UH wins 74-67 to advance to the Elite 8