Houston Cougars: 26-6, 14-4 in the American Athletic Conference
Head coach: Kelvin Sampson (4th season)
Players to watch: Rob Gray (18.6 PPG, 4.6 APG); Corey Davis Jr. (13.5 PPG, 43.7 3PT%); Devin Davis (10.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG)
Season recap: The Cougars grabbed their first NCAA tournament bid since 2010 with one of their best seasons in program history. After racking up wins against Arkansas, Providence, Wichita State and Cincinnati in the regular season, Houston made a run to the championship of the AAC conference tournament behind the play of guard Rob Gray—who carried his team with a 33-point performance against Wichita State in the semifinals. But Gray struggled in the second half of the championship game against Cincinnati, and his team fell just short in a 56-55 loss.
The Cougars excelled this season due to their ability to hit shots from beyond the arc. As a team, Houston shot almost 39 percent from 3-point range, with Davis leading the way at nearly 44 percent. The Cougars also share the ball well and assisted on more than half of their made baskets. Houston prefers to play small, with only two rotation players standing taller than 6-foot-8 and its leading rebounder Devin Davis standing at just 6-foot-6.
On the other end of the floor, Kelvin Sampson’s team is capable of clamping down and forcing teams to work for baskets. Houston ranked 22nd in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 64.9 points per game. However, the team can be susceptible to occasional lapses and allowed more than 80 points in six of its seven losses this season.
How they make a run: Gray and his manbun become a common image in March, as the senior guard gets hot and carries the Cougars into the second week of the tournament.
How they falter: Houston struggles to find the range from beyond the arc and has trouble defending a bigger opponent en route to an early loss in the Big Dance.