Four Thoughts on Houston vs. Stanford Last NightPosted by Mike Lemaire on November 26th, 2013
Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.
- Houston Has Upside. Yes, the Cougars fell apart at the end of the first half and most of the second half, and yes, their defensive performance left a lot to be desired. But that said, Houston looked like a better team than most of the teams surrounding them in KenPom’s latest updated rankings. The Cougars are full of athletes who love to run and have a lot of different individual offensive options behind the spectacular TaShawn Thomas. Stanford isn’t a marquee name this season, but the Cardinal are a very good team with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations and Houston looked like the better squad for a good portion of the game. Houston’s main problem seems to be maintaining consistency and defensive effort for a full 40 minutes (a hallmark of a young team), and lest we forget, the Cougars boast a rotation that features just two significant upperclassmen. Nobody is saying that Houston showed enough in a losing effort to make the NCAA Tournament, and certainly the schedule gets much more difficult from this point, but there is more than enough talent to surely finish in the top half of the AAC standings this season.
- They Need to Find a Shooter. It’s difficult not to imagine how lethal the Cougars would be with a pure shooter on the wing, someone like Connecticut’s Niels Giffey. Point guard L.J. Rose is an effective shooter from behind the arc but he is also in charge of running the offense and isn’t the type of guy coach James Dickey wants to run off screens for catch-and-shoot opportunities. The roster is full of ridiculous athletes like Danuel House and Jherrod Stiggers, who are great in transition but considerably less threatening when they are being dared to shoot over the zone. Stiggers was supposed to be a marksman after shooting better than 37 percent from downtown last season, but he missed all four of his three-pointers against the Cardinal and is off to a slow start from deep this season (28.6%). Tione Womack and Jaaron Simmons are competent backup guards but one more pure shooter to complement Stiggers and catch passes from Thomas when he kicks it out of the post would make the Cougars tough to stop offensively.
- Why is This Team So Bad Defensively? The Cougars have way too much potential defensively to be so bad when the games are actually played. I know I have said that a lot that Houston’s roster is full of athletes but just take a look and you will see that it bears repeating. Rose is quick enough to stay with opposing point guards and he is three inches taller than most of them; Stiggers is a 6’5″, 210-pound brick house with speed and length; House is a slightly taller and less solid freak show with impressive length and leaping ability. Even the undersized frontcourt has defensive potential as Thomas has the wingspan to alter shots and few are blessed with the combination of athleticism and size that Knowles and Mikhail McLean possess. Yet somehow the Cougars still rank 209th in adjusted defensive efficiency and regularly gave up easy baskets in transition and the half-court last night. They were never particularly inspired to defend the three-point line and rarely pressured Stanford’s guards into bad decisions. So why are they so bad defensively, again? Well, it probably stems from a lack of a effort, a lack of defensive-minded coaching, and a lack of discipline. Dickey doesn’t deserve all the blame, but at some point, if your team is still late rotating on defense and slow getting back in transition, it’s probably something that should be addressed from the coaching staff.
- Beware the Chicken. As the season progresses, watch out for the man they call “Chicken”, because on a team full of athletic wonders of the world, Danrad Knowles may be the most gifted. We heard plenty about Knowles’ combination of size and athleticism when he signed with Houston, and after sitting out last season, we also heard about how he would immediately help the team’s frontcourt. But as I sat down to watch the game, I expected to see a long and uncoordinated string bean with little clue of what he was doing on either end of the floor. Instead, I saw a freak athlete who is starting to fill out and boasts a versatile offensive game even if it is still a work in progress. He finished with eight points and eight rebounds but it was his physical abilities that stood out. Frankly, 6’10″ man shouldn’t be able to jump and have the soft shooting touch Knowles does. He also shouldn’t be able to run the floor as well as Knowles or be blessed with the quick feet he has either. Of course, he is still prone to mental lapses; he hasn’t developed an effective back-to-the-basket game; and he still sells out way too often for blocks. But let’s keep in mind that Knowles is playing in just his fourth collegiate game and has a lot of room to grow. Don’t be surprised if he forces himself into the Houston starting lineup sooner rather than later.