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No. 1 Houston makes its case for the NCAA tournament's top seed in blowout win over No. 14 Kansas

Houston made an extremely convincing case for the No. 1 overall seed in the men’s NCAA tournament on Saturday.

The No. 1 Cougars blitzed No. 14 Kansas in a 76-46 win that showed why Houston has been the class of the Big 12 all season long. Houston put the game away in the first half as it jumped out to a 22-7 lead through the first 10 minutes on the way to a lead that grew to 32-9 before Kansas cut its deficit to 19 at halftime.

The win means Houston won the best basketball conference in the country by two games in its first year in the Big 12. Perennial champions Kansas, meanwhile, will finish the season no better than fifth in the conference as star center Hunter Dickinson dislocated his right shoulder.

Four Cougars finished in double figures on Saturday. Jamal Shead had 13 points, while Damian Dunn had 12 and L.J. Cryer had 11. Shead also finished with eight assists and six rebounds as he solidified his case for Big 12 player of the year. Though Shead averages just 13 points per game, he’s third in the conference in assists per game and second in steals per game and is the most valuable player on the best team in the Big 12.

Why Houston should be No. 1

Though the No. 1 overall seed may not matter as much this year as it has in previous seasons, it’s hard to argue against Houston’s case as the top team in college basketball heading into the NCAA tournament.

Houston is No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings and is once again the best defensive team in the country. The Cougars are atop KenPom’s defensive metrics and rank as the No. 12 offense. Kansas made just 33% of its shots on Saturday and was a miserable 3-of-21 from 3-point range.

Kansas’ porous outside shooting was an outlier, though it also wasn’t much of a fluke against Houston, either. Entering Saturday’s game, opponents were shooting less than 31% from behind the arc against Kelvin Sampson’s team. The easiest way to avoid an upset in the NCAA tournament is to prevent teams from shooting well from deep.

Houston's Jamal Shead (1) celebrates after making a 3-point basket against Kansas during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Jamal Shead and No. 1 Houston dominated No. 14 Kansas on Saturday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Houston also doesn’t turn the ball over. The Cougars’ 10 turnovers against the Jayhawks were higher than their season average. Houston averages fewer than nine turnovers a game. Just three teams turn the ball over less.

No one has lost fewer games than the Cougars have all season either. At 28-3, Houston is tied with UConn and Purdue for the fewest losses in the country. And neither of those teams had to go through the gauntlet that is the Big 12. Houston’s three losses have all come on the road and only one — at Kansas on Feb. 3 — was by double digits.

Houston’s recent tournament success

The 2023-24 season is the seventh straight season Houston will finish with fewer than 10 losses and will assuredly be the second straight season the Cougars will have a No. 1 seed even if UConn or Purdue usurps them for No. 1 overall on Selection Sunday.

If there was a knock against Houston over the past six seasons, it’s that the Cougars were putting up strong seasons in an American Athletic Conference that ranked below the Power Five conferences. That argument — however weak it was to begin with — is null and void at this point.

The Cougars have advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in each of the past four NCAA tournaments and made the Final Four in 2021. Anything less than a Final Four run in 2024 will be a disappointment. And if Houston makes the Final Four, there’s a strong case to be made that this is the best team of Sampson’s tenure.