Houston Rolling Like Famed 1983 Team

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 27: Quentin Grimes #24 of the Houston Cougars looks to steal the ball from Quincy Guerrier #1 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half of their Sweet Sixteen game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 27, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and say this Houston team is the most talented since the program’s epic Phi Slama Jama days of the early 1980s. That’s a subjective debate, and the season isn’t over yet. But there is one impressive statistic that’s impossible to ignore. 

This year’s Cougars team has the best winning percentage since that famed assemblage of talent, and they are a favorite (-8 against Oregon State on Monday) to reach the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since those early 1980s teams roamed the court. 

Houston’s current 90-percent winning percentage is easily the program’s top mark since winning 91.2 percent of its games (31-3 record) in 1982-83. That, of course, is the season it lost to N.C. State in the NCAA Tournament championship game. This year’s Houston team is now 27-3 after Saturday’s 62-46 Sweet 16 win over Syracuse. 

As mentioned above, the Cougars are favored by the sportsbooks to win again on Monday in the Elite Eight when they take on upstart Oregon State, a program that seems hellbent on not just winning, but beating the spread.

Down the stretch, Houston’s been pretty strong against the spread — going 8-4 in the last 12 games and 4-2 in the postseason. We’ll see if that momentum carries against Oregon State, and we’ll see if the team can continue to make the case that it is clearly the best Houston team in 38 years.

That 1983 Houston team was special, falling at the buzzer in the title game. N.C. State’s team was known as the Heart Attack Pack for its last-minute heroics, and the Cougars were known as Phi Slama Jama because nobody else in college basketball came close to Houston’s ability to dunk and make the highlight reels — pre-GIF, of course.

Heir or Air?

While we’re talking about being in the air, dunking-wise, let’s talk about the elite stratosphere this year’s Cougars team is in, shall we? 

Again, in online betting, Houston has been relatively good this year against the spread, though its nine-point loss on Feb. 3 to East Carolina (+16.5) was certainly a head-scratcher. 

But hey, even Phi Slama Jama had its bad days. The 1982-83 team was No. 1 much of the year, led by future NBA stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. But it still fell to two 10-loss teams, though the two were Syracuse and N.C. State (not exactly no-name programs).

This year’s team may or may not want to be compared to legendary coach Guy Lewis’ teams of the early 1980s, but it certainly can score some points when needed. The 1982-83 Cougars posted 82.4 points per game, and it had four players average in the double digits, scoring-wise. All four (Drexler, Olajuwon, Larry Micheaux, and Michael Young) eventually were drafted into the NBA. This year’s team is putting up 76.9 and has three in double digits (Grimes, Marcus Sasser, and Dejon Jarreau).

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Brian McLaughlin is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of BMac and Herd’s FCS Podcast. He has covered the national recruiting scene in football and basketball for The Sporting News, headed up the PARADE Magazine High School All-America Basketball Team selections, handled FCS college football for HERO Sports, and has covered two NCAA men’s basketball tournaments (2009 and 2010). Follow BMac on Twitter @BrianMacWriter.

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