Welcoming the Big East Newcomers: HoustonPosted by mlemaire on December 8th, 2011
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.
James Dickey took over for Penders last season and the former head honcho at Texas Tech and assistant at Oklahoma State quickly learned he had his hands full with the rebuilding project. The team had just five upperclassmen and few impact players and it showed as the Cougars lost 12 of their final 13 games last season. Things are looking up this season, but only slightly.
The Cougars have stumbled to a 4-4 record this season, and all four of their losses have been by three points or less. The team still only has five upperclassmen on the entire roster, but young forwards Alandise Harris and TaShawn Thomas are two players worth building around and they will only get better as the season progresses. Their defense has been terrible and although there is still plenty of time to turn things around in a weak conference, don’t expect the Cougars to make much noise this season.
Who knows if Dickey has been whispering about the switch to the Big East Conference on the recruiting trail or whether it is just his charming personality, but the Cougars have some immediate help on the way. Danuel House is considered one of the top-20 players in the country and could be an immediate contributor on the wing, and four-star prospect Chicken Knowles is a skilled and athletic power forward who can run the floor and add lots of offense. If Dickey can continue to have success on the recruiting trail and players like House and Knowles develop and stay in the program, the Cougars could be a tough competitor in the Big East in 2013.
Frankly, if any team is going to take advantage of its new conference, it is going to be Houston. They are smack dab in the middle of one of the most fertile recruiting territories in the country and now they get to sell those recruits on power conference basketball and plenty of national exposure. They aren’t going to replace Syracuse or Pittsburgh anytime soon, but I can see the Cougars becoming competitive almost right away with the potential for a bright future.