Teams: Syracuse Orange (18-9, 9-7) vs. Houston Cougars (26-3, 14-3)
Day & Time: Saturday, March 27, 9:55 pm ET
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
Line: Houston -6.5
TV/Streaming: TBS, NCAA.com
Rivalry: 1-0, Syracuse
Current Streak: 1, Syracuse
First/Last Meeting: The only meeting between Syracuse and Houston came at the Carrier Dome on December 11, 1982. The Cougars brought their famed “Phi Slamma Jamma” roster to Central New York that included Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Tony Bruin scored 26 points while Erich Santifer added 22 points to beat Houston 92-87. Syracuse would lose in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Ohio State later that year. Houston would lose in the championship game to Jim Valvano’s NC State Wolfpack.
Head Coaches: Syracuse - Jim Boeheim (45th year, 1,083-408) | Houston - Kelvin Sampson (seventh season, 165-63)
Coach Bio: Sampson was a dual-sport athlete at Pembroke State University (now UNC Pembroke), lettering in basketball and baseball. He then went to Michigan State as a graduate assistant before taking an assistant coach job at NAIA school Montana Tech. After one season, Sampson was named head coach of Montana Tech and earned three conference championships with the program.
His success with Montana State earned him an assistant coaching job at Washington State, where he would take over as head coach after two seasons. Sampson was named Pac-10 coach of the year in his final season with the Cougars after leading the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years.
He moved to Oklahoma afterwards, where he finished with a winning season every year. The Sooners made 11 out of 12 NCAA tournaments under Sampson including one Final Four, one Elite Eight, and one Sweet 16. He moved to Indiana in 2006 but only spent two years with the program before receiving a five year show-cause penalty due to various recruiting violations. Sampson spent that time as an assistant in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets.
The University of Houston hired Sampson in 2014. After one losing season, the Cougars have won at least 20 games in every season. Houston has made the last two NCAA tournaments, making the Round of 32 in 2018 and the Sweet 16 in 2019. Sampson was named AAC coach of the year during those seasons.
Last Year: Two ranked wins was enough to vault Houston into the polls during the 2019-20 season. The Cougars beat No. 21 Washington and No. 16 Wichita State to finish the regular season with a 23-8 record. Houston would earn the second seed in the AAC Tournament but wouldn’t play a game before the event’s cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Cougars finished the season ranked 22nd in the AP poll and 23rd in the Coaches poll.
Last Game: After an early lead for Houston, Rutgers battled back to take a 10-point lead midway through the second half. The Cougars rallied and eventually won 63-60 to advance to the Sweet 16. Houston out-rebounded Rutgers 39-29 and scored 15 second-chance points in the victory. The Cougars also were 8-of-22 (36.4%) from three.
“Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: Houston brings the AAC player of the year to the court in Quentin Grimes. The guard averages 18.1 points per game, grabs six rebounds per game, and shoots 41.7% from three. He led the Cougars with 22 points and nine rebounds in Houston’s win over Rutgers.
If Syracuse Wins: Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives all the same.
If Syracuse Loses: America thanks us that they don’t have to continue asking, “How does Syracuse keep doing this?”
Fun Fact: Jim Boeheim and Kelvin Sampson have only coached against each other once. That was during the 2003 Elite Eight with Syracuse winning 63-47 thanks to 20 points and 10 rebounds from Carmelo Anthony. The Orange eventually won the national championship that year.