College Sports

Houston — and Kelvin Sampson — are ending plenty of droughts with Sweet 16 trip

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson on advancing to Sweet 16

Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson talks with reporters after advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 74-59 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday, March 24, 2019.
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Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson talks with reporters after advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 74-59 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday, March 24, 2019.

There was a time when the Houston Cougars were one of the best programs in the country. They made the Final Four in three straight years in the 1980s. A decade earlier, Houston reached at least the regional semifinals seven times in a 10-year stretch.

Thirty-five years after Hakeem Olajuwon led the Cougars to back-to-back appearances in the national championship game, Houston is into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1984.

The Midwest regional in Kansas City will be a star-laden affair, with the No. 1-seed North Carolina Tar Heels, No. 2-seed Kentucky Wildcats and No. 5-seed Auburn Tigers. No. 3-seed Houston, after a 74-59 win against the No. 11-seed Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday, is a pretty talented party-crashing outlier.

This NCAA Tournament has been about as chalky as can be. All four No. 1 seeds, all four No. 2 seeds and all four No. 3 seeds advanced to the second weekend of March Madness. Two of the No. 4 seeds are into the Sweet 16 with one No. 5 seed. The closest thing to Cinderella could be the No. 12-seed Oregon Ducks, who, of course, play in the high-major Pac-12 Conference.

Power Five Conferences are really only a thing in football, but the Cougars are the only team from outside one of the five biggest leagues other than the perennial-powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs. There appears a Cinderella element here, too.

Until you remember all the history — not just theirs, but their coaches’, too. Next weekend will also mark a long-awaited return to the big stage for Kelvin Sampson. The coach was a staple at the second weekend toward the end of his tenure with the Oklahoma Sooners, last reaching the Sweet 16 in 2003.

A star-studded affair in Missouri will get even more intrigue with a long-absent coach and even longer-absent program.

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