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Volume 71, Issue 77, Friday, January 27, 2006

Sports

Houston has to win to get in

Silent Assassin

Ronnie Turner

With the men's college basketball season more than half over, teams like Duke, Connecticut and Memphis are looking to ride out the remainder of their schedules to improve their of getting a top seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, because they know they're getting in. However, if you're a team with an outside chance of getting in like UH, you have to do a bit more than that: You've really got to impress the NCAA Tournament committee.

The Cougars (11-6, 2-3 Conference USA) have a slightly better record than they did this time last year, except this year's expectations were much higher. Their thrilling victories over then-top-25 teams LSU and Arizona notwithstanding, the Cougars have usually found it difficult to beat lesser teams. To the tournament committee, this might suggest UH plays according to its competition. This isn't the sort of message the Cougars should be sending.



Senior guard Brian Latham had 18 points and led the team with six assist, over conference opponent Tulane.

Stephen Pinchback/The Daily Cougar

Houston has the 72nd-highest Rating Percentage Index in the nation at 0.5738. Now that's not too bad, but it needs to improve if UH is to land a spot in the 64-team tournament field. There are a few games the Cougars would love to have back, and if they don't make the tournament they can look back on those games as part of the reason. UH didn't look like a NCAA Tournament team in consecutive losses to Rice and Central Florida, and they barely beat Southern Miss, a team that made UH look as bad as Texas Southern in the first half of that game. I think it's safe to say that if the season ended today, the Cougars would be staring down a spot in the National Invitation Tournament, not the NCAA. 

So if UH wants a piece of March Madness, they've got to start convincing the committee they're worthy. At this point, the only way to do that would be to finish strong in their remaining 11 games (10 of them conference) and put up an above-average showing in the C-USA Tournament. The Cougars started this quest with Wednesday's 82-57 stomping of Tulane. In that game, UH shot 50 percent from the floor and got consistent efforts from its starters, most notably junior guard Oliver Lafayette, who led the team with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting with four steals. Lafayette, who had really been struggling before Saturday's game against UAB, is showing signs of having regained that deadly shooting touch that made opponents cringe early in the season. That's especially good for the Cougars, because they'll need their go-to guy to be in top form for the stretch run. After all, UH is 7-0 in games in which Lafayette scores at least 19 points.

Next up, the Cougars have Marshall (8-9, 1-3) in a pivotal match-up at home Saturday, and they couldn't have encountered the Thundering Herd at a worse time. Marshall is coming into town after upsetting ninth-ranked West Virginia on Wednesday, and they're going to be pumped. They want to show the rest of the nation that they, too, are for real. So UH should provide a good test for them. And, of course, vice versa.
 

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