After win No. 20, Houston rises to 13th in Associated Press poll

The discussion around the Houston Cougars basketball program no longer involves whether the team will play in the NCAA Tournament.

Rather, the speculation about coach Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars mostly centers on the tournament seeding process and how high the seed might be.

It’s a reflection of how fast Sampson’s program has improved in the past few years.

On Sunday, the once-beaten Cougars became the first team in the nation to 20 victories with a 77-65 victory at Tulsa. On Monday, they moved up four spots in the AP Top 25 to 13th in the nation.

Houston continues to play elite-level basketball, winning five in a row since a 73-69 loss at Temple on Jan. 9.

When the Cougars play the Owls in the rematch Thursday in Houston, they’ll do so ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense (60.2) and second in field goal percentage defense (36.4).

Such consistency bodes well for the Cougars in their quest to win the American Athletic Conference title and make another strong showing in the NCAAs.

Last year, the Cougars made the tournament for the first time under Sampson’s leadership.

They won a Round of 64 game and were stunned in the R32 when Jordan Poole drained a buzzer-beating three to lift the Michigan Wolverines to a 64-63 victory in Wichita.

This year, the Cougars look more potent than ever.

Not only is it difficult to score on Houston, it’s also a pain in the neck to guard them, with Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis both averaging 14 points.

A lot can happen between now and tournament selection day, but forecasters are projecting the Cougars to land an NCAA seed as high as third.

All of which means the Cougars could be riding high again in March.

AP Top 25

1. Tennessee 18-1 SEC
2. Duke 17-2 ACC
3. Virginia 18-1 ACC
4. Gonzaga 19-2 West Coast
5. Michigan 19-1 Big Ten
6. Michigan State 18-3 Big Ten
7. Kentucky 16-3 SEC
8. Nevada 19-1 Mountain West
9. North Carolina 15-4 ACC
10. Marquette 18-3 Big East
11. Kansas 16-4 Big 12
12. Virginia Tech 16-3 ACC
13. Houston 20-1 American
14. Villanova 16-4 Big East
15. Louisville 15-5 ACC
16. Texas Tech 16-4 Big 12
17. Purdue 14-6 Big Ten
18. Buffalo 18-2 Mid American
19. LSU 16-3 SEC
20. Iowa State 15-5 Big 12
21. Maryland 16-5 Big Ten
22. Mississippi State 15-4 SEC
23. North Carolina State 16-4 ACC
24. Wisconsin 14-6 Big Ten
25. Florida State 15-5 ACC