Houston rewarded for body of work
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Houston received the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, the selection committee rewarding the Cougars at the expense of Kansas, which had been hoping its national title defense would include a stop just down the road from its campus in Lawrence.
Instead, the top-ranked Cougars will try to reach their hometown Final Four starting off in Birmingham, Alabama, with the potential of playing a Sweet 16 game and a regional final in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Cougars (31-3) lost to Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game Sunday. They were playing without Marcus Sasser, the league player of the year and likely All-American, who had strained his groin in the first half of their semifinals and will be a question mark leading up to Thursday’s opener against Northern Kentucky.
“The most important thing is Marcus, not winning,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said about his decision to hold Sasser out. “His health going forward is the most important thing here.”
The selection committee usually takes into consideration injuries — and the possibility a team will be without a star — when it seeds the field. But chairman Chris Reynolds said Houston still earned the second overall seed over Kansas, which expects to have recovering coach Bill Self back after he missed the Big 12 tourney, thanks to its body of work.
“They were competitive in all their games they lost except today,” Reynolds said, “and we understand today they weren’t with their best player. For that reason, we put Houston at No. 2 [overall].”
The No. 1 seed is the first for the Cougars since 1983, the height of their Phi Slama Jama era, when Hall of Fame coach Guy Lewis led Clyde Drexel and Co. to the first of their back-to-back national title games.
Texas (26-8) earned the No. 2 seed in the Midwest after finishing second in the Big 12 in the regular season and romping past the Jayhawks in Saturday night’s conference title game despite missing injured forward Timmy Allen.
It was quite a reward for the Longhorns, who endured the firing of Chris Beard early in the season amid allegations of domestic violence and rallied around interim coach Rodney Terry, who led them to their most wins since 2010-11.