What do you do when you set high expectations, and they are met? Even better, what do you do when those high expectations are exceeded?
It all started with this tweet.
Houston we got unfinished business ? pic.twitter.com/JGforMqgmQ
— Marcus Sasser (@m_sasser0) June 2, 2022
With Sasser returning and one of the most celebrated recruiting classes in recent UH history, it was possible that 2023 could be a big year. Finally, UH fans had legitimate dreams of being title contenders. Not just in the AAC but to win the whole thing down 288 at NRG.
During the preseason, it was challenging to set my expectations to a level that would seem realistic. But I knew what UH had coming back and what was coming in. I knew this team would be really, really good and Kelvin would have them rounding into shape come early March.
I expected a conference title, a handful of losses, and at least a #3 seed in the tournament..
It is hard to put expectations on the NCAA tournament, much less to do so at the beginning of the season. Seeding and upsets mean the tournament can be a crapshoot. Sometimes the Red Sea can part, like in 2021, and you’re a two-seed and get a #15, then a #10, #11, and a #12 on the way to the Final Four.
Other times you can be a #5 seed and get a #12 seed, beat a #4 and a #1, and then face #2, and the run ends. Anything can happen in the NCAA tournament, which UH fans are all too aware of (cough…NC State…cough…Michigan).
Now that the regular season is over, it’s 100% mission accomplished. I never expected this team to exceed my lofty expectations by a wide margin, but they did. There weren’t a handful of losses; there were two. They didn’t just win the regular season AAC title; they won it by four games. And they posted the best AAC performance in the history of the conference.
To top it all off, UH earned the first #1 ranking in the AP poll since 1983 and has spent seven weeks as the #1 team in the country. The Cougars spent one week at #5 and the rest of the season inside the top-3. UH is a near lock for a #1 seed and has a great shot to be the #1 overall seed in the tournament.
Is this real? Is all of this really happening?
Yes. Yes, it is. This is what excellence looks like.
This isn’t a lucky season or a single hot run. This is what a single vision, focused effort, execution, and elite coaching look like. Kelvin Sampson and his staff have been building this since he stepped on campus nine years ago. They weren’t building to have winning seasons or just making the tournament. Instead, they reconfigured every part of a terrible program and created a national power. Kelvin Sampson now fields teams that can win titles and compete for the big prize annually.
The work this team is doing day-to-day is no different than it was on day one. The facilities have changed. The financial support has changed. The talent level has changed. The attendance and pride have changed. But while Kelvin Sampson has evolved, he has not changed.
This season is a testament that setting a high standard and meeting it daily can create something unique. But that’s a daily grind that most aren’t willing to do. Most coaches are too impatient or don’t have the vision, don’t want to put in the work, or have ADs thirsty for quick wins. Thankfully, this coaching staff, these players, and this program aren’t most people. They are elite.
And that is why they are on top of the college basketball world right now.