The Big East announced in a teleconference this week that they would be adding five new schools to the fold. Three of those schools, Houston, Central Florida, and Southern Methodist, will play all of their sports in the conference starting in 2013. Of course it is far too early to tell what sort of basketball impact these schools will have in their new conference, but that won’t stop us from pontificating. First up is Houston.
Of the three schools, there is no question that Houston has the best track record. There first season was in 1946, but it wasn’t until then-assistant and former player Guy Lewis took over for the 1956-57 season until the program really took off. In his 30 years at the helm, Lewis led the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons, 14 trips to the NCAA Tournament, and five trips to the Final Four, including two appearances in the NCAA championship game, both of which they lost. Lewis is also responsible for recruiting some of the school’s most famous alumni, including Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Birdsong and Clyde Drexler.
Despite all that history and tradition, Houston has barely been a blip on the college basketball radar since. Since joining Conference USA in 1996, the Cougars have made the NCAA Tournament exactly once (2010), and perhaps the most exciting time for the program was the failed Clyde Drexler coaching experiment that started in 1998 and lasted just two seasons. Former coach Tom Penders led the team to three twenty-win seasons in his six years as head coach from 2004-10, but they never got over the hump. The team still occasionally roped in top-flight talent like Bo Outlaw, Alton Ford, and Aubrey Coleman, but the Cougars never seemed to meet expectations.