After guiding the University of Houston men’s basketball team to a 24-6 overall record (14-4 in conference play) and practically a guaranteed spot in the NCAA basketball tournament, head coach Kelvin Sampson was honored as the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year on Wednesday.
It is the fifth conference coach of the year award that Sampson has earned. Sampson has collected the honor in four different leagues in his career, having been previously recognized as coach of the year in 1995 for Oklahoma in the Big Eight, 1991 for Washington State in the Pac-10, and 1985 and 1984 for Montana Tech in the Frontier Conference.
It is the first time that a Houston men’s basketball coach has been named as conference coach of the year since Pat Foster in 1992 in the Southwest Conference.
Sampson is in his fourth season with the Cougars and has guided the team to one of the best seasons in 34 years. This year’s Cougars are the 12th team in school history to win 24 games in a season.
The Cougars finished conference play tied for second place with the Wichita State Shockers after beating UConn, 81-70, on Sunday in the regular season finale at H&PE Arena.
The Cougars enjoyed victories over top 10-ranked teams this season, including a 73-59 win over Wichita State on Jan. 20 at home and a 67-62 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats on Feb. 15, which was also at home. The latter was the first win for the Cougars against a top five-ranked team since 1996. It is also the first time that Houston has beaten two top 10 teams in the same season since the 1983-84 season.
The Cougars are almost certain of a spot of in this year’s NCAA tournament with the bracket to be announced this Sunday. It would be the first appearance for the Cougars in the NCAA tournament since 2010 and only the second appearance since 1992. Sampson would become the 14th coach in NCAA history to lead four different schools into the NCAA tournament.
After taking over the program in 2013, Sampson has led the Cougars to a 17-16 overall showing in his first year, to 13-19 in his second, to 22-10 in 2015-16 and 21-11 last year.
Sampson led the Cougars to the NIT tournament the last two seasons, losing in the first round on both occasions.
The No. 21-ranked Cougars will begin postseason play this week in the AAC tournament in Orlando, Fla., as the No. 3 seed.
Houston will face the winner of the East Carolina-Central Florida game in the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Friday in Orlando, Fla.