Houston is weary, and wary of Georgia State

Coming off one of the finest regular seasons in its history, Houston will look to start an extended tournament run when it squares off against Georgia State in a first-round NCAA Tournament dustup on Friday in Tulsa, Okla.

The Cougars (31-3), the American Athletic Conference regular-season champions, are the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region, while 14th-seeded Georgia State (24-9) won both the Sun Belt Conference regular-season and tournament championships. The Panthers and the Cougars are meeting for the first time ever.

Houston posted just the fourth 31-win season in the program's history, and the first since 1983-84. The Cougars were 16-2 in AAC play and earned their first outright regular-season title since 1984, when they were members of the Southwest Conference.

But Houston is far from a lock in the NCAA Tournament after losing to Cincinnati in the AAC tournament championship game and with leading scorer Corey Davis Jr. ailing with a strained hip.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, the AAC's coach of the year, said his team needed a rest and welcomed not having to start the tournament with a game on Thursday. Playing Friday, and with just a short trip from Houston to Tulsa, gives the Cougars an extra day to heal after a 34-game season and a brutal stretch in the AAC tournament.

"It's significant to me that we don't play until Friday," Sampson told the Houston Chronicle on Sunday. "I was really hoping to get a Friday bracket. When you play three games in three days, especially the way we play, we've got some guys banged up."

Davis, who was named to the all-conference first team, leads the Cougars in scoring at 16.7 points per game. He has reached double figures in 13 straight games, averaging 20.1 points during that span.

Davis said Monday that his hip was on the mend and that he didn't expect it to be a factor come Friday.

"I couldn't really move how I wanted to, couldn't defend, get off the ground as much," Davis explained about how the injury affected him in the loss to Cincinnati. "My legs were already heavy before I took a blow (to the hip), and that was kind of the knockout punch. It's feeling a little better... got some treatment done and taking some meds. It's a process, but I'm doing a lot better."

Houston is in the "Big Dance" for the second straight season and the 21st time in school history. The Cougars are making consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since four straight trips from 1980-84.

This is the highest the Cougars have been seeded in the NCAA Tournament since the 1983-84 team played as a No. 2 seed on the way to the National Championship Game.

Still, Houston has to be wary of Georgia State based on the Panthers' previous performances as underdogs in the NCAAs. In 2015, when also a No. 14-seed, the Panthers pulled off a huge upset when R.J. Hunter hit a 30-foot 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds to play to stun No. 3 seed Baylor.

Georgia State guard D'Marcus Simonds is averaging 18.4 points and five rebounds per game this season after he was an Associated Press All-America honorable mention selection as a sophomore in 2018.

The Panthers won their final three games of the regular season to clinch the championship and then twice in the Sun Belt Conference tournament to claim that title for the second straight year. Georgia State pushed aside Texas-Arlington 73-64 in the tournament final behind 16 points and 11 rebounds from Malik Benlevi.

"This group played as a team all year long, and what they did over the last two days defensively is just remarkable," Georgia State coach Ron Hunter said after the win over Texas-Arlington. "But like we have said, not only do we want to make it to the NCAA Tournament, we want to go win a game in the tournament, and we get that chance now."

The Panthers, bussing home from New Orleans to Atlanta on Sunday, pulled into a truck stop to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show, where they found out who and where they would be playing.

Georgia State is making its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance overall and third in five seasons.

The winner will face either sixth-seeded Iowa State or 11th-seeded Ohio State on Sunday, with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line.

--Field Level Media

Copyright 2019 by STATS. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.

Our Latest Stories