HUNTINGTON - The phrase "11th-seeded Houston" has a strange ring to older college basketball fans.
Remember, this is the school of Elvin Hayes and "The Game of the Century." And the school of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and the "Phi Slama Jama" offense. Otis Birdsong and Michael Young have their jerseys retired there, too.
The Cougars are the team that thundered from the pack to win the 2010 Conference USA tournament. So what in the name of Guy Lewis are they doing entering this week's tournament in the 11th spot?
Whatever the reason, that's where they ended up, and they will play No. 6 Marshall in the first round Wednesday at Texas-El Paso's Don Haskins Center. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. EST, with the winner taking on host UTEP at the same time Thursday.
The Thundering Herd (21-10) is playing some of the best basketball in the league, winning six of its last seven. Houston (12-17) is playing the league's worst ball, losing 11 of its last 12.
And the slope downhill has gotten slicker, as the Cougars have lost five of their last six by double digits. The "highlight" of that stretch? A loss to last-place Tulane.
And finally, a galling fact for Cougar fans: Their team just lost to cross-town rival Rice, finishing the 10th-place Owls' first two-game sweep of Houston since both played in the Southwest Conference.
Houston fans have plenty of reason to make the 750-mile trip across Texas, but that is all about their women's team. That squad went undefeated in Conference USA and is a prohibitive favorite to win the concurrent women's tournament.
It has been a long six-week stretch of uphill sledding for Houston men's coach James Dickey, the former Texas Tech coach who replaced Tom Penders. Penders resigned after his team lost in the first round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.
But the Thundering Herd only remembers the third game of the Cougars' cold stretch, and it wasn't exactly a runaway - MU went ahead 63-62 on Aundra Williams' layup with 11 seconds left, then survived Damier Pitts' two missed free throws with 1 second left.
Herd coach Tom Herrion takes zero solace in the Cougars coming off a 72-57 loss to Rice last weekend.