Houston’s Season Already in Serious Trouble Even Without L.J. Rose

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 22nd, 2014

In a perfect world, Houston would be contending for the AAC title in new coach Kelvin Sampson‘s first season. Danuel House would be throwing down vicious dunks, TaShawn Thomas would be owning the glass, and L.J. Rose would be feeding shooters like Jherrod Stiggers and Torian Graham for open triples. Alas, the college basketball world is rarely perfect, especially during a coaching change. CBSSports.com reported earlier today that junior L.J. Rose, the team’s starting point guard and arguably its best player, has broken his foot and will be out until at least Christmas. That information completes the trifecta of bad news that will have Houston struggling to stay relevant this season instead of competing for a league title. Say what you want about the coaching deficiencies of previous head coach James Dickey — and there were plenty — but it would be difficult to criticize his recruiting abilities. House, Thomas and yes Rose (by way of Baylor) were all highly coveted recruits who ended up at Houston. Last year’s team wasn’t very good, but it didn’t lack for talent either, and it’s not a coincidence that Sampson chose to make his triumphant return to the head coaching ranks with the Cougars. Sampson was probably drooling over the thought of inheriting a veteran and talented roster.

Sampson's Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

Sampson’s Rebuild Took a Hit With the Loss of LJ Rose to Injury

That dream started to fall apart when the team’s two best players and leading returning scorers, Thomas and House, both announced their intentions to transfer. Both players were all-league talents who would have been among the best at their positions in the AAC. If Houston was going to make a surprise run at the conference title, it would have been in large part because Thomas and House were doing a lot of the heavy lifting on both ends of the floor. Once it was clear they weren’t coming back to campus, expectations for Houston dropped precipitously. Those two transfers were definitely not a part of Sampson’s master plan. Sure, he kept things positive at the team’s media day and I’m sure if someone asked him about the offseason exodus he would say all the right things about coaching the guys who “want to be here.” But any lingering doubt that Sampson wouldn’t be happier with Thomas and House still in the fold should be erased after reading how hard Houston fought to keep their two stars from transferring.

Not all was lost for Sampson and the Cougars, though. They still returned proven players in Rose and Stiggers while Sampson coaxed two mercurial talents in Devonta Pollard and Torian Graham to play for his program. It was hardly a perfect solution, though, and most still felt that the Cougars were a middle of the pack team in the AAC, but at least there was some intriguing high-level talent on the roster. Now that Rose will miss the entirety of the non-conference slate and maybe more, Houston will have to work to stay out of the league basement.

Many will point to the team’s stark lack of depth behind Rose as the main reason why Houston will struggle in November and December, but to assign Houston’s future struggles to a lack of depth is downplaying just how underrated Rose is as a point guard. His talent has never been in question, as high school prospect hounds can attest, but he only started to string together productive games after he assumed the starting point guard role for the Cougars last season. A point guard with shooting guard size and one of the best assist rates in the country last season, Rose is a weapon as both a distributor and as a shooter (41.3 percent from downtown in 63 attempts last season). He was set to become even more productive and efficient this season as his usage rate rose, and could have been one of the better point guards in the league.

Without Rose and because Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson must sit out this season, the starting point guard duties will fall on Cavon Baker. Baker is a junior college transfer who played sparingly as a freshman at Florida Atlantic two seasons ago. He may very well turn out to be a serviceable replacement, but that won’t be enough for an unproven team. To make matters worse, Houston opens the season with Ohio Valley Conference favorite Murray State and also travels early to Cambridge to play defending Ivy League champion Harvard. Sampson is a proven winner at the collegiate level and there is still a very good chance that he could have the Cougars competing for league titles in the near future. But Rose’s injury is just the latest bitter pill for him to swallow as the program may not rise out of mediocrity as quickly as the new coach may have hoped when he took the job.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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