Sweet 16 insider news and notes

As we head to Dallas for the Sweet 16, here are some news and notes from the matchup between the Houston Cougars and the Duke Blue Devils:

I think Emanuel Sharp will be key for the Cougars in this one on both ends of the floor. Emanuel has brought it in the last three halves (10/17 from three – 58.8%), but UH will need him defensively and on the boards.

Emanuel had just four rebounds in the last three games combined but 13 in the three before that. Overall, he had five or more rebounds in nine games against P4 teams this year. That’s the guy who needs to show up Friday night.

The TV crew for the South Region is maybe CBS’ best: Ian Eagle, Grant Hill, and Bill Rafferty (Tracy Wolfson sideline). Eagle is so good.

Both teams played their exhibition game against UNC-Pembroke, Kelvin Sampson’s alma mater. UH played the Braves first and Duke four days later. UNCP’s Dallas Gardner, a freshman, came off the bench to score 21 against Duke. He did not score on UH. The Duke exhibition would be his biggest scoring night of the year.

Duke played Baylor at MSG in the fall. That game against Duke was offered to UH, but Kelvin Sampson turned it down. He wanted to go a different route in building up his young team. Duke beat the Bears by eight on 12/20.

The Blue Devils have played basketball for 119 years, and Houston has played for 78 seasons. Yet this is the first-ever meeting between the two. But it goes further: Duke and Houston have rarely played in any major team sport.

UH has never played Duke in football, baseball, or softball. Bill Walton’s 1996 volleyball team traveled to Durham and won a 3-0 match. Joe Curl and WBB had a home-and-home with Duke in 2006-07. Soccer went to Duke in 2011. But that’s it.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any program UH has played less – especially a big national program such as Duke. The two teams have combined to play 5,543 games without ever meeting.

While never playing a real game in any men’s team sport, UH did play Duke in a ‘super-secret scrimmage’ at Fertitta Center before the 2022-23 season. J’Wan Roberts played well in that scrimmage, rebounding better than anyone on the floor. The teams went through late-game situations together that day, and I’m sure Kelvin will recall every detail of those. UH “beat” the Blue Devils in that game, but there’s really nothing to take away from the score.

Duke star Jared McCain visited Houston in the fall of 2021. He made a YouTube video about what official visits are like:

I asked Emanuel Sharp if they’d interacted, but it was at the same time that Emanuel was taking visits, and they had not crossed paths at UH or elsewhere.

Jamal Shead told me that he hosted Jared on his UH visit and they got along well. He said McCain comes from a great family and would have fit into the UH culture.

It was pretty clear that the refs lost control at the end of the A&M game. But to see them each on the list to potentially work the Sweet 16/Elite 8 is baffling.

UH is 19-0 this season when an opponent attempts less than 16 or fewer free throws. The Cougars are 1-0 when an opponent attempts 45 (cough).

Late in the A&M game, while the Aggies were shooting free throws, Kelvin called Mylik Wilson over to ‘discuss’ a mistake on the defensive end. But Jamal Shead saw it and jogged over and told Kelvin, “Don’t yell at him. That was on me.” Then he said it again. “Don’t yell at him. That was on me.’ That’s leadership, but it also gives a little more insight into the relationship between Kelvin and Jamal. Sampson trusts Jamal as his eyes and ears on the court.



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