Kelvin Sampson Is Helping Houston Basketball Turn the Corner

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2016

Kelvin Sampson walked into a postgame press conference last week and strangely had difficulty getting his words out. He appeared to be fighting a toothache or something like that, but he quickly explained himself. “I put a Tootsie Roll in my mouth,” Sampson said, smirking. “That was a bad idea.” As he puts together another college hoops reclamation project — this time at Houston — Sampson can’t help but feel relaxed enough to pop in a Tootsie Roll before a press conference. His Cougars had just finished off Tulane before 3,235 fans at Hofheinz Pavilion to move to 13-2 on the year. It was yet another easy win in the career of a coach who has tallied a lot of them, but it wasn’t always this easy.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson watches his Cougars rack up another home victory over Tulane. Houston improved to 10-0 at home. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson watches his Cougars rack up another home victory over Tulane. Houston is now 10-0 at home. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle)

Sampson’s inaugural season at Houston in 2014-15 was predictably difficult. The Cougars went 13-19, good for a 10th place finish in the 11-team American. Many of their issues centered on a lack of consistent scoring (64.4 points per game — 234th nationally). During the offseason, Sampson was scouring the transfer market to improve his team’s scoring when he stumbled upon Rob Gray, Jr., a shooting guard from Howard College. Gray was in the midst of winding down his recruitment process and had just enjoyed dinner with then-Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall and his coaching staff on March 26. The next morning, Tyndall was fired by Tennessee. Sampson quickly pounced on the opening and got Gray to commit to an official visit before signing him in mid-April. Read the rest of this entry »

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Opening Weekend Hopes in the American

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 13th, 2015

The American Athletic Conference has the potential to be one of the better leagues in the country this year. As the college basketball season is about to tip off, we take a look at one thing each American team would like to see coming out of their opening weekend of games.

UConn: Shonn Miller averages at least eight rebounds per game.

Grad Transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

Grad transfer Shonn Miller looks to make his impact on the boards at UConn this year. (USA TODAY Sports)

A lot has been made this offseason about the group of fifth year transfers that Kevin Ollie has brought to Storrs. Most notable among them is the heir apparent to Ryan Boatright, Sterling Gibbs, but could Cornell transfer Shonn Miller be a bigger key to UConn’s season? Miller is a true power forward, a position UConn has struggled with of late. Last year’s team was led in rebounding by Daniel Hamilton (7.6 rebounds per game), while seven-footer Amida Brimah was only able to pull down just over four rebounds a game. Brimah’s struggles on the glass were one reason why Ollie was excited to bring in Miller, an experienced player who excelled at Cornell, averaging just under nine rebounds per game as a senior. Miller’s rebounding prowess could make him the key glue guy on this year’s UConn team. Read the rest of this entry »

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How Much Does Houston Miss TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 10th, 2014

As always, did the heavy lifting on the numbers.

Almost two years ago to the day, I penned a column on how much Houston missed its leading scorer, Joseph Young. Young had transferred to Oregon after the school fired his father from the position of Director of Basketball Operations and he is still lighting it up for the Ducks this season. Today I am going to revive the main idea of the column — that is, how much does Houston miss said player — and just plug the newer transfers in. Last season, junior TaShawn Thomas and sophomore Danuel House were far and away the best players on a very mediocre Houston team. Thomas led the team in nearly every category while shooting almost 60 percent from the field, and House was a close second in scoring and rebounding as well as the team’s most versatile two-way player. Unfortunately for Houston, both of those stars are playing college basketball elsewhere this season. Thomas is just across the state border at Oklahoma and House is even closer at Texas A&M.


Thomas Has Struggled This Season, But Houston Would Still Love To Have Him. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman)

The circumstances surrounding Thomas’ and House’s decisions weren’t nearly as interesting as the ones in Young’s case, even though new coach Kelvin Sampson tried very hard to keep the duo around. But the impact of the loss of the two players is effectively greater because we are taking about two all-league talents instead of one, and because the Cougars may have had an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament this season with them in the lineup.

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Is the Big 12 Ready to Become the Big 12 Again? The Basketball Viewpoint

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 8th, 2014

With TCU and Baylor each ranked among the top six of the College Football Playoff’s rankings heading into Championship Weekend, it looked as if the Big 12 had two strong candidates to clinch a playoff spot. As luck would have it, selection committee things behind closed doors happened, and the conference as a result was shut out of the CFP in favor of Big Ten champion Ohio State. Committee chairman Jeff Long hinted on Sunday that the fact that Ohio State had played and convincingly won a conference championship game gave the Buckeyes a competitive advantage over the Horned Frogs and Bears, the Big 12’s co-champs (for those of you wondering, the 10-team Big 12 is not allowed to hold a championship game because of its conference size). In response to Long’s comments, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, “It’s clear we were penalized for not having a championship game… That will cause us to go back to the drawing board a little bit.”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯. (Associated Press)

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to Baylor head football coach Art Briles: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯.” (Associated Press)

Going back to the drawing board could mean that the Big 12 may consider expanding back to 12 schools to satisfy NCAA bylaws dictating conferences must have at least 12 teams to hold a championship game. With football clearly the driver in such a determination, let’s take a look at which schools as additions would also add serious value to Big 12 basketball, because that’s the side any of us on this microsite really care about.

The Likeliest Candidates:

  • Memphis: According to a report from ESPN Nashville radio host Darren McFarland, the Big 12 is interested in poaching Memphis and Cincinnati away from the American Athletic Conference in the upcoming offseason. We should probably take this claim with a tiny grain of salt. Had this rumor swirled around four years ago, most would have considered it to be more foolish than unrealistic, but now, given the state of conference realignment, there could be something to this. Although Memphis has been up and down in football, Memphis basketball history runs deep and their loyal fans fill up FedEx Forum with regularity. The city is also a hotbed for some of the best basketball talent in the country. A statement from one man, though, sticks out more than any other. Noted Oklahoma State enthusiast/booster T. Boone Pickens gave an interview to the Austin-American Statesman a few weeks ago and spoke on possible expansion: “Memphis wants in it [the Big 12],” Pickens said. “I was vocal back when we were expanding that we needed to take TCU, and Texas didn’t want TCU in. […] TCU deserves to be in the conference. It’s an old Southwest Conference school.” Could Pickens be the most powerful man in the Big 12? He wanted TCU in the Big 12, Texas didn’t want TCU, and here we are in present day with TCU in the Big 12. Who’s to say that he can’t make it happen for Memphis? Plus, it seems like Memphis and Oklahoma State are committed to playing in hoops annually anyway.

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AAC Bests and Worsts: Holiday Wrap-Up Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 1st, 2014

Let’s start by putting it bluntly — the teams in the AAC did not have a very good week. The conference’s final three unbeaten teams — Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF — all lost for the first time this season and the supposed standard-bearers for the conference — UConn, Memphis, SMU, and even Tulsa — all lost high-profile games and the Huskies were the only team with a realistic shot to win their game. We are now nearly a month into the season and UConn’s 11-point win against Dayton remains the best win by an AAC team. These are not fun days to be an AAC basketball fan, but the season is young, and there is time for some of these teams to turn things around. So let’s get into the best and worst of the week:

For Ryan Boatright and the rest of the AAC, Thanksgiving week wasn't too kind. (US Presswire)

For Ryan Boatright and the rest of the AAC, Thanksgiving week wasn’t too kind. (US Presswire)

  • Worst Inbounds Defense With The Game On The Line: UConn had a chance for the conference’s first statement win of the season yesterday as they led Texas at home for most of the game. But Ryan Boatright missed a free-throw to put the Huskies up by three and Texas’ relatively simple play out of the timeout worked to perfection as Jonathan Holmes was left open to bury the game-winning three-pointer. Give the Longhorns credit, they executed the play about as well as it could have been executed. But Holmes is the Longhorns’ best player and it is inexcusable that he should be left all alone no matter how good the screen was and no matter how badly injured Boatright was on they play.

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Random Thoughts On Houston’s Win Over Morgan State

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 23rd, 2014

Houston‘s win over Morgan State marked the home opener for new head coach Kelvin Sampson at Hofheinz Pavilion. Yes, the box score will tell you the Cougars won by 15 but watching it in person, it did not feel like a dominating performance from Houston. They shot about the same percentage from the floor (32.9 percent for Houston; 33.3 percent for Morgan State). As it turns out, the Cougars also turned the ball over more times than Morgan State (23-19) and had fewer steals (9-12). So I was left with no choice but to write some random thoughts on last night’s confusing result and other stuff.

Houston's Cavon Baker (12 points, 10 rebounds) attempts a layup. UH would go on to beat Morgan State 72-57. (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle)

Houston’s Cavon Baker (12 points, 10 rebounds) attempts a layup. UH would go on to beat Morgan State 72-57. (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle)

1. Both teams got off to rocky starts for different reasons coming into the game. Morgan State was playing their fourth game since opening the season on November 14. Two nights earlier, the Bears played at Northern Iowa and led the Panthers going into halftime (yeah, the same Northern Iowa that won at Stephen F. Austin last Tuesday). Houston was playing in only their second game since defeating Murray State in Murray also on November 14. Eventually, the Cougars woke up and the Bears were hiberna–, wait, still sleeping. Phew, that was a close one.

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AAC M5: 11.20.14 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 20th, 2014


  1. It didn’t take long for folks to start talking about whether Memphis’ Josh Pastner deserves to be on the hot seat after Tuesday’s abject disaster of a performance against Wichita State. It was longtime Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz who was postulating about Pastner’s job security after he got a chance to watch the Tigers play firsthand in South Dakota. Lutz is paid to have strong opinions and stick to them no matter how ludicrous, but Pastner dismissed the criticism after the game. Lutz is hardly the only smart college basketball mind who is worried about the Tigers, though, and just the fact that Pastner has to dismiss this criticism after the very FIRST game of the season is not a good sign of things to come. Many feel that because Memphis has commitments from two of the Lawson brothers that Pastner’s job is still safe, but the people calling the shots in Memphis are smart enough to know that any coach should be able to recruit talent to the program. For now, it’s way too early to be doing anything other than observing that the negative chatter has already started. But let’s just say that the Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen will be watching the progress of the Tigers very closely this season.
  2. UConn kicks off the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this afternoon by playing College of Charleston, and assuming that the Huskies can get past the Cougars (which may or may not be a safe assumption), they will follow that up by playing either Dayton or Texas A&M on Friday. The Flyers and Aggies are hardly the only good teams playing in this tournament and our friends at the UConn Blog were kind enough to do the heavy lifting and analyze every team in the event for those unwilling to do their own homework. Reading the scouting reports, it is clear that the Huskies should be the favorite to win three games, but the event also represents an excellent early test for Kevin Ollie‘s club. Both Dayton and Texas A&M have NCAA Tournament aspirations of their own, and potential finalists New Mexico and West Virginia should both be on the bubble at the end of the season as well. Early season tournaments aren’t necessarily a good barometer for a team’s prospects in March, but they are a great opportunity to boost an RPI and collect some good wins for the resume. It won’t be the end of the world is UConn doesn’t win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but we will get a chance to see the newcomers against legitimate competition.
  3. Torian Graham‘s career at Houston is over before he even played a single minute for the Cougars, as the junior announced on Monday that he was leaving the school for personal reasons. Some may remember Graham as a former top-100 recruit from the class of 2012 who committed and de-committed from North Carolina State before finding his way to Houston by way of Chipola Junior College. Head coach Kelvin Sampson recruited him after losing two key players to transfer, and the expectation was that Graham would immediately compete for time and help the offense with his size and shooting ability on the wing. Instead he didn’t play at all in the team’s season-opening win over Murray State, and while we won’t speculate on what Graham’s “personal reasons” for leaving were, he did say in a statement that he plans to pursue his basketball career elsewhere. Regardless of how good Graham could have been, his departure leaves the team painfully thin in the backcourt and will put an even larger onus on Cavon Baker and Eric Weary Jr. until L.J. Rose returns from injury.
  4. Since we are already talking about Houston, why not spend a little bit of time talking about how rich Kelvin Sampson is going to get coaching this team. The Houston Chronicle got its hands on the details of Sampson’s contract with the school and while I imagine a lot of these details are pretty standard fare in big-time college basketball, it’s still kind of shocking to see how much the university shelled out to lure Sampson from the NBA. Click on the link if you want to read all the details, but we should note that a compensation package worth $1.1 million annually with a base salary of $550,00 is pretty nice for a coach coming off a show-cause penalty. The additional detail that Sampson must pay back 85 percent of the total remaining base salary if he leaves for another college gig, and 50 percent of his remaining base salary if he leaves for an NBA gig, shows that Houston expects him to stick around for awhile.
  5. Cincinnati was the one of two AAC teams (the other was Tulsa) in action Wednesday night, and the Bearcats survived a 69-61 defensive slugfest with a solid Morehead State team. Perhaps the coolest part about that game is that the Cincinnati Enquirer dedicated a whole article to the Bearcats’ need to find consistent outside shooting and focused on junior college transfer Farad Cobb as the team’s best bet to step up. Cobb responded against the Eagles by shooting 6-of-9 from behind the three-point arc and pacing the Bearcats with 24 points and a couple of steals. The rest of the team went 3-of-13 from downtown on the evening, so the Enquirer was right on the money about the team’s shooting struggles as well as Cobb’s likely role. Now the Bearcats just need him to play like that so that they can consistently score.
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AAC Bests and Worsts From Opening Weekend

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2014

“Bests and Worsts” is a new Monday feature where we will recap the best and worst from the previous week of college basketball in the AAC. 

For as long as I can remember, DC Sports Bog has been doing its “bests and worsts” piece as an easy and fun way to recap Redskins’ games. I’ve always really loved the recurring feature and think it is an excellent way to summarize, in detail, everything that happened on Sunday. And because I am nothing if not unoriginal, I’ve decided to misappropriate the idea and use it for what I expect to be a weekly recap of the week in AAC basketball. So now that I have properly cited my inspiration, let’s get started, because the opening weekend in the AAC was a lot of fun.

Best Way To Start A Post About Bests and Worsts: There are pencil mustaches and then there are true odes to facial hair like the immaculate ‘stache that South Florida coach Orlando Antigua rocked in this old Harlem Globetrotters photo that was unearthed this weekend. That thing is clean.


This picture is great for a lot of reasons, we can’t stop staring at Orlando Antigua’s mustache.

Worst Way To Make A First Impression: Congratulations to all the Temple fans who purchased a ticket and willingly subjected themselves to the Owls’ 40-37 win against American — you are officially the country’s most loyal supporters. Now please, go home and take a bath or whatever will wash off the stink of that game. The Owls did win, so that’s nice, but they also had twice as many turnovers (15) as assists (7) and shot an offensive 22.9 percent from the field. Literally, people are offended by that shooting display. Forward Daniel Dingle played 38 minutes and made half of the six shots he took, good for 27 percent of the team’s made field goals.

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AAC Exhibition Impressions: Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 14th, 2014

Yesterday we offered our initial impressions of UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, and UCF in recent exhibition games. Today we are back with more quick-trigger analysis of games that hardly matter.

Depth May be an Issue for Tulsa Head Coach Frank Haith. Haith has never been afraid to roll with a very short rotation if his team lacks depth, and the Golden Hurricane may actually be better off playing that way this season because of the quality of their starters. In a recent exhibition game against Southwest Oklahoma State, the Tulsa starters played a lot of minutes and his bench looked painfully thin. Haith used an eight-man rotation that night but Keondre Dew and Brandon Swannegan looked more like bit players than role players. The pair are expected to help in the frontcourt this season, but if Haith can’t trust them against a Division II opponent, how will he do so against teams like UConn and SMU?

Anthony Collins remains the key to making a young team click (Kim Klement/USA Today)

Anthony Collins Is Healthy And Ready To Lead A Young South Florida Team (Kim Klement/USA Today)

South Florida’s Anthony Collins Finally Looks Healthy. It seems like it was a decade ago when Collins was a mercurial freshman point guard leading the Bulls to an NCAA Tournament appearance. One of the best distributors and shot-creators in the country that season, Collins failed to break out as a sophomore and logged only eight games last season because of complications from offseason knee surgery. He finally got some good news in September when the NCAA approved his hardship waiver, giving him two more years of eligibility, but those two years won’t matter much if Collins can’t stay healthy. Playing without preseason All-Conference forward Chris Perry, the Bulls eked out a five-point win over Indiana University (PA) this week and Collins was the star of the show. The diminutive floor general contributed 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 36 minutes. The caliber of his opponent makes that stat line significantly less impressive, but it was good to see Collins flying around the floor again and making plays. If anyone deserves a chance at a healthy season, it’s him.

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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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