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.

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What Could Have Been: Houston With Joseph Young

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 6th, 2013

Rather than cite KenPom.com throughout, just recognize that all of the non-basic statistics used in this piece come from that site.

If he hasn’t already, Oregon coach Dana Altman should consider sending Houston coach James Dickey a gift basket or at least a thank you card, because without Dickey’s shortsightedness, the Ducks’ best player of the young season would probably still be playing for the Cougars. If you are a little confused, we are talking about junior shooting guard Joseph Young, who has quickly put himself on the early short list for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors by shooting 54 percent from the floor (including 42.4 percent from three) and averaging 20.3 points per game in the Ducks’ 8-0 start. Young has been the offensive catalyst for Oregon and looks like one of the country’s best and most efficient players, which shouldn’t be all that surprising considering he was much the same last season in Houston.

Joseph Young Has Been Spectacular For Oregon, While Houston Fans Are Forced To Watch The Fireworks From Afar (credit: Lee Jim-man)

Young Has Been Terrific For Oregon While Houston Fans Are Forced To Watch From Afar

A Houston native and star at nearby Yates High School, Young initially committed to Providence coming out of high school, only to switch his commitment to the hometown school when new coach James Dickey chose to keep his father — Phi Slama Jama legend and former NBA player Michael Young — on staff as the program’s Director of Basketball Operations. The story is actually a bit more complicated than that, but that story has already been fleshed out plenty.

Young eventually suited up for Houston at the start of the 2011-12 season and he almost immediately became one of the team’s best players. He finished his freshman campaign as the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. He raised the bar even further last season when he led the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game while also chipping in 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. The Cougars also boasted an exciting crop of freshmen led by Danuel House and Jherrod Stiggers (technically a redshirt freshman) and the thought was that Houston would take a giant step forward this season with Young spearheading the charge.

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Four Thoughts on Houston vs. Stanford Last Night

Posted 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. 

Stanford

Stanford

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC Team Previews: Houston Cougars

Posted by Ross Schulz on October 28th, 2013

Long removed from the glory days of Phi Slama Jama, many Houston Cougars fans would settle for a return to the consistently competitive yet mediocre days of Tom Penders. In six seasons from 2004-10, Penders never had a losing record and played in some sort of postseason tournament in five of those years. After three seasons since at the helm, James Dickey has recorded just one winning season. The good news for everyone is that season was last year and so those around the program have reason to believe things are headed back in the right direction.

Houston Hopes Year Four Shows Continued Improvement

Houston Hopes Year Four Shows Continued Improvement

Plus, this could be the most-talented team Houston has had in quite some time with a strong nucleus returning from a year ago, led by junior forward TaShawn Thomas, a second team preseason all-AAC selection, and sophomore guard Danuel House, C-USA Freshman of the Year last season. Another contributing returnee is sophomore guard Jherrod Stiggers. Dickey also hopes to have the services of J.J. Richardson, who missed significant action last season with a foot injury. Impact newcomers are Baylor transfer L.J. Rose and Danrad (Chicken) Knowles, a 2012 recruit who sat out last year. Knowles was a late bloomer with the frame to grow to become a legitimate star and potential NBA player. Thomas, Rose and Knowles played AAU basketball together and hope to carry that chemistry over to the collegiate level. Other returning Cougars include Leon Gibson (6.3 PPG), J.J. Thompson (6.0 PPG), Tione Womack (2.7 PPG), Brandon Morris (2.6 PPG), Mikhail McLean (2.4 PPG), LeRon Barnes (2.1 PPG) and Valentine Izundu (2 PPG).

The bad news is the competition heats up a notch with the move from Conference USA to the AAC. While the conference serves as only a stopgap for Louisville and Rutgers, it offers an upgrade for the likes of Houston and Memphis. Gone are the days when the only strong RPI and resume-building match-ups had to come in the non-conference slate or against (maybe) Memphis. This winter Houston will have home-and-home contests with Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati, all teams with at minimum Top 25 and NCAA Tournament aspirations.

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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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The Other 26: Saturday’s Top Five Bracketbuster Games and More…

Posted by IRenko on February 22nd, 2013

other26

This weekend marks the end of the decade-long Bracketbuster era — or experiment, depending on your perspective. Sadly, if appropriately, it looks like the event will go out with more of a whimper than a bang. Not a single game features a top 25 team, resulting in little hype for this year’s slate. But for true mid-major basketball fans, no top 25 ranking, or lack thereof, is going to dissuade them from devouring the late season, inter-conference action among the country’s best, under-the-radar-until-March teams. Here’s a preview of the five Bracketbuster games we’re most looking forward to, followed by an updated Top 10, our weekly honor roll, and the most compelling non-Bracketbuster games of the coming week.

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

Can Matthew Dellavedova And His Prominent Mouthpiece Lead the Gaels to a Much-Needed Win Over Creighton? (Las Vegas Sun / Sam Morris)

  1. Creighton at St. Mary’s (6 pm, ESPN) — Both teams enter what is perhaps the premier Bracketbuster matchup with a great deal to prove. Creighton’s hot 17-1 start has given way to a rough 5-5 stretch, as the depth of the MVC has taken its toll. In four of those five losses, Creighton’s once unstoppable offense slowed to a pace of less than a point per possession. An at-large Tournament bid remains a safe bet, even with a loss to St. Mary’s, but the Bluejays are no doubt looking to this game to reignite their offense and their season. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is in desperate need of a quality win for its Tournament resume. Having been swept by Gonzaga, Saturday’s matchup is a virtual must-win for the Gaels. Both teams have highly efficient offenses that rely heavily on the three-point shot. Whichever defense can step up its game may emerge with the win.
  2. Ohio at Belmont (10 pm, ESPN) – This should be a really entertaining game between two teams who love to run and gun. But for the colors of their jerseys, it may be hard to tell the two apart, as the Bobcats and Bruins have remarkably similar statistical profiles. Both are high-possession squads that shoot more than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range and rank in the top 20 nationally in forcing turnovers. Both have high effective field goal percentages, but rebound poorly and allow their opponents to shoot far more free throws than they do. Toss in a great point guard matchup between seniors D.J. Cooper and Kerron Johnson, and you have the ingredients for a great nightcap to the day’s action. 
  3. South Dakota State at Murray State (8 pm, ESPN2) – Neither team is as good as it was last season, but both returned their star player. And it’s their matchup at the point guard spot, with Nate Wolters squaring off against Isaiah Canaan, that makes this a must-see game. The two players are the heartbeats of their respective team’s offenses. Each uses roughly 30 percent of all possessions, ranking them in the top 50 in the country. Wolters has been on a particularly nasty tear of late, averaging more than 33 points over his last five games, though two of his 30-plus efforts in that stretch were in defeat. Canaan, meanwhile, is coming off his own 35-point outburst in a win over Morehead State.
  4. Detroit at Wichita State (4 pm, ESPN2) — Wichita State has bounced back from a recent three-game swoon with a four-game win streak that includes two close victories over Illinois State and Indiana State this past week. They’ll be the favorites against Detroit, but his game has definite upset potential. Detroit is on the upswing, winning six of their last seven, and developing a potent offensive attack with a multitude of options, from Ray McCallum’s attacking ability to Jason Calliste’s three-point shot to Nick Minnerath’s versatile inside-out game to Doug Anderson’s physical interior play. The Titans will try to push the tempo, while the Shockers will try to slow things down and pound the ball inside to their big men Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, who may find success against Detroit’s mediocre interior defense.
  5. Denver at Northern Iowa (8 pm, ESPN3) — After a rough 4-6 start to MVC play, Northern Iowa has righted the ship and fought its way back to where we thought it would always be — at the top of the league standings, just a step behind Wichita State and Creighton. They face a Denver team that has flown a bit under the radar, recovering from a slow start to the season to win 13 of their last 14 games. A trip to Cedar Falls will be a test of just how far the Pioneers have come. Expect a low-possession, halfcourt-oriented game, with a steady barrage of three-point shots. The Panthers have a balanced attack, with five players averaging between 9 and 13 points. Denver will turn primarily to Chris Udofia, the versatile forward who is the hub of their Princeton offense.

And now on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and the (other) games we’re keeping an eye on …

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