Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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Big 12 M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 7th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Texas fell to Oklahoma in its Big 12 home opener on Monday night, and the 21-point margin of defeat was unexpectedly large, causing both head coach Rick Barnes and his players to afterward challenge the team’s effort and pride. Effort and pride may certainly have played a part in the defeat, but the loss to Oklahoma may be symptomatic of a larger problem for a Longhorns squad that shot just 30.o percent from the field. Texas hasn’t shown an ability to score at an elite level this season, posting an adjusted offensive efficiency of 106.0 that ranks 61st nationally, according to KenPom. Part of the problem? According to Barnes, the players can’t remember their plays. “I don’t even know if we can be a good offensive team or not,” Barnes said. “We can’t even remember the play half the time.” That responsibility, of course, falls on the head coach who will need to give his players some mnemonic devices or other forms of memory training in order to make a deep run in March.
  2. While Texas struggled, Oklahoma continues to improve. Lon Kruger pulled off what may turn out to be the most important transfer move in the Big 12 this year with the addition of senior TaShawn Thomas. He has provided the Sooners with a legitimate inside threat and is becoming an increasingly important part of the Oklahoma offense. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Longhorns, which marks the sixth time in the last seven games that he has scored in double figures. Although the transfer wasn’t very efficient in getting his numbers, the fact that he attempted 17 shots in the game suggests that he’s becoming a robust option inside. Thomas also came through with an early contender for best dunk during conference play with a big finish on a couple of Texas bigs, resulting in a fantastic bench celebration from the Sooners’ reserves.
  3. Kansas will open its Big 12 season tonight on the road at Baylor, and while the Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last 10 Big 12 regular season titles, the odds seem somewhat stacked against them this year. Ken Pomeroy’s conference predictions currently project Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia to finish ahead of Kansas in the league standings this season. The biggest worry for head coach Bill Self at this point is the Jayhawks’ defense. Self’s teams have always prided themselves on being one of the better defensive teams in the conference and country, but Kansas is entering league play with a field goal percentage defense that ranks eighth among Big 12 teams. That number will need to improve in order for Kansas to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship in what is shaping up to be the most competitive league in the country.
  4. In what is a bit of an odd arrangement, TCU is playing its home games this season at Wilkerson-Greines, which is an off-campus athletic facility owned by the Fort Worth school district. Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, the usual home of the Horned Frogs, is currently undergoing renovations. On Monday, TCU head coach Trent Johnson defended his team from critics who have suggested that the change of venue is the reason behind the Horned Frogs’ improved defense. “The rim is 10 feet,” Johnson said, “The only advantage we have, if any, is that if we come out and play extremely hard and rebound. It creates an advantage against certain teams regardless of where you play or when you play.” The Horned Frogs have the sixth-best field goal percentage defense in the country, allowing opponents to shoot only 34.7 percent on the season. If Johnson’s guys are able to keep that up, they’ll be able to pick up a great number more conference wins than last season.
  5. Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte was named the conference’s player of the week after scoring 41 points on 14-of-24 shooting in the Cowboys’ wins over Missouri and Kansas State. Forte has always been a knock-down outside shooter for Travis Ford’s squad, but his offensive role has increased so that he is finishing five percent more of the Cowboys’ possessions and his 17.3 points per game is tied with teammate Le’Bryan Nash for the Big 12 lead. If Oklahoma State is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament this season, Forte must continue to exhibit a high level of play over the next couple months of action.
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Oklahoma’s Blowout of Texas Might Disrupt Big 12 Hierarchy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2015

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court. He covered Oklahoma-Texas in Austin last night. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.

We are four days into the start of Big 12 play, so naturally, now is the time to make quick declarations on how the conference will ultimately shake out. Until we make new ones on Saturday, that is. The box score will tell you that the Sooners played their most complete game of the season against one of their toughest opponents on Monday night. While it was an impressive victory, the reality is Oklahoma dominated Texas defensively in the first half and coasted in the second. The Sooners forced nine of Texas’ 12 turnovers, scored 11 points off those turnovers, outscored the Horns in the paint by 10, and held the Longhorns to 14 points total — all in the first 20 minutes. At the break, Texas was left with six players each making one field goal to account for their 6-of-30 shooting, while the Sooners’ Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield equaled that number with three makes apiece. Their size advantage on Texas’ guards with Hield and Isaiah Cousins allowed the duo to shoot over them to the tune of 4-of-10 from the perimeter.

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT's reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT’s reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Another important piece to this game for Oklahoma was the emergence of TaShawn Thomas. It’s common knowledge that the addition of Thomas has strengthened the team’s defense to a level that hasn’t been seen during head coach Lon Kruger‘s tenure in Norman. Competing against the athletic size of Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, Thomas posted 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, four of them offensive. While not nearly as efficient on the offensive end, Thomas contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and led all players in offensive rebounds (four), two blocked shots and one nasty dunk that thwarted any chance of a Longhorns’ comeback early in the second half. The Sooners seem to have Texas’ number of late, winning four of the last five games in the series. Oklahoma has also recorded wins in Austin in consecutive seasons for the first time since the program last did so during the 2000-02 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oklahoma Just Too Much for Baylor

Posted by Eli Linton on January 5th, 2015

Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Oklahoma’s 73-63 win over Baylor.

Saturday’s premier matchup — and the country’s only game between ranked opponents — featured #22 Baylor at # 18 Oklahoma in what amounted to two of the nation’s top defenses, and possibly the two best frontcourts in the Big 12. Baylor was the underdog surprise of the season going in. The Bears were selected to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, but came into Saturday’s Big 12 opener sporting an 11-1 record, including six straight wins. This was the perfect opportunity to showcase their great talent that has helped them rise above expectations. Instead, what we ended up watching was total control by Oklahoma, who won 73-63. The Sooners are starting to pile up wins against quality teams, and are looking more like one of the NCAA’s elite.

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma's Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma has been beating up on Baylor seemingly forever, leading 42-11 in the all-time series between the two programs. The Sooners have been even more dominant when the contest is played in Norman as Oklahoma has won 21 of 25 all-time meetings. Still, this was a matchup of two teams that were considered very close by comparison. Baylor, like Oklahoma, plays tough defense and relies on its talented forwards, junior Rico Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley. But the touted Baylor zone couldn’t stop Sooners’ guard Buddy Hield or forward TaShawn Thomas, who found a way to lead their team to 73 points again a Bears’ defense that hadn’t allowed more than 66 points in a game all year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: West Virginia and Oklahoma

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 1st, 2015

As the Big 12 schools near the completion of their non-conference schedules this week, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Surely, this would be the year West Virginia becomes a factor in Big 12 hierarchy and they look like a serious one to this point. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has had a few hiccups in non-conference play but there is reason for optimism as the new pieces begin to settle into their roles. The Conference Catch-Up rolls on today with our last Catch-Up coming up tomorrow.

West Virginia

  • Key Wins: UConn, NC State
  • Bad Losses: None
Senior Juwan Staten had led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

Senior Juwan Staten has led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

When you’ve had the success and longevity that Bob Huggins has had in coaching, there are very few things left to prove. Perhaps rebuilding his alma mater into a contender in a new league was something worth going after and Huggins appears to have done that. It was hard to expect such a quick start from the Mountaineers in 2014-15 considering two of their top three scorers from last season (Eron Harris and Terry Henderson) transferred out of Morgantown. With them gone, this has undoubtedly become Juwan Staten‘s team. The Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Staten leads his team in scoring (15.9) and assists (4.3) despite playing on average seven minutes fewer than he did last year. The last triumph most remember WVU having on the national landscape was their Final Four season in 2009-10. What made that team such a difficult matchup for most were their versatile wing players. Guys like Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones carried a lot of responsibility on a team that only used a seven-man rotation. Butler, Ebanks and Jones were all 6’7″ or taller, could score, rebound in bunches and committed to defending on a team that finished 23rd in the country in adjusted defense according to KenPom. The difficulty with this year’s team is their ability to wear down opponents due to Huggins’ pressure defense armed with a rotation that rolls ten guys deep. At this point, KenPom has WVU sporting a similar adjusted defense rating as 2009-10 (22nd) despite the Mountaineers averaging 13 steals a game, seven more than the 2009-10 team. In KenPom’s metrics, West Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the country in turnover percentage and steal percentage. More steals and turnovers have led to more easy buckets on the other end of the floor. West Virginia breezed through an average non-conference schedule with one minor speed bump in the form of a 74-73 home loss to a solid LSU team. The big question going into conference play is how long can they keep up their defensive pace against much tougher opponents? It’s one thing to post big numbers against VMI, Northern Kentucky or Marshall and another to do the same to Kansas, Texas or Iowa State.

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Oklahoma Quietly Taking Care of Business

Posted by Eli Linton on December 14th, 2014

While Texas and Kansas have hogged the Big 12 spotlight so far, Oklahoma is starting to demand some attention of its own. Lon Kruger’s squad, which came into last week ranked #16 in the country, visited Tulsa on Saturday afternoon and left with an easy 87-68 win. Oklahoma appears to have its best team since Blake Griffin was running the show. The Sooners’ defense is performing at a top-10 level this season, holding every team they’ve faced to fewer than 70 points, 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. That stingy defense is the main reason they continue to climb the national rankings and are demanding respect in such a competitive conference.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing very good basketball right now. (AP)

The strength of Oklahoma comes from its starting five. If it has been a while since you’ve seen the Sooners play, here’s what you can expect:

  • Ryan Spangler is a Gonzaga transfer who plays physical defense in the post. He’s a great athlete who shoots a high percentage. He’s shot 50 percent or better in 32 of his 40 games at Oklahoma, and he’s shooting 64 percent from the field this season. Spangler is disruptive on defense and has a lot of athleticism for a big man.
  • Senior forward TaShawn Thomas is another quick, athletic forward who rounds out the Sooners’ frontcourt. He can put the ball on the floor and play great defense on the perimeter. Thomas was the MVP against Tulsa, shutting down their shooters on the three-point line all afternoon. When he rotated down into the post, there was just no way the Hurricane were going to score driving the lane. Tulsa started settling for the more inviting mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the glass. Thomas ended the night with 25 points, five rebounds, and three blocks to go along with his stellar defensive performance. “We realized that we need to get the ball in to TaShawn and Ryan a lot more,” Kruger said afterward. “Last game, Ryan had a big game against Missouri. TaShawn had a big game today. We had gotten away from that balance, and Ryan and TaShawn help us get back to it and I like the results much better.”

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How Much Does Houston Miss TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 10th, 2014

As always, KenPom.com 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.

TaShawn

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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Oklahoma’s TaShawn Thomas Ruled Eligible With Huge Big 12 Implications

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2014

On the eve of Oklahoma’s first regular season game, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports announced via Twitter that the NCAA issued a ruling regarding the eligibility of Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas. In a move that has massive implications for the top of the Big 12, the NCAA granted Thomas a waiver to play immediately, ruling him eligible for the entire 2014-15 season. The addition of the 6’8″ power forward will be welcome in Norman after the team lost seniors Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal from last year’s 23-10 team. Thomas, who transferred from Houston after the termination of head coach James Dickey, figures to be a starter for the Sooners in a loaded Big 12 race despite a subpar four-point, four-turnover opening game on Sunday.

TaShawn Thomas was ruled eligible by the NCAA on Saturday night

TaShawn Thomas was ruled eligible to play for Oklahoma by the NCAA on Saturday night

For head coach Lon Kruger, the addition of Thomas provides the Sooners with a talented forward to pair with junior Ryan Spangler in the frontcourt. During his junior season at Houston, Thomas averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, so he will provide Oklahoma with a legitimate go-to scoring option on the blocks. According to hoop-math.com, Thomas took nearly 60 percent of his field goals at the rim last season and converted a superb 73.1 percent of them. The second team All-AAC forward also brings a defensive presence that should significantly help the Sooners in the paint. Thomas averaged 2.7 blocks per game last year, rejecting a robust 8.5 percent of opponents’ shots while he was on the floor. That rim-protection will be valuable for a team that finished 91st in adjusted defensive efficiency and blocked only 10.2 percent of opponents’ shots last season.

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Big 12 M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Oklahoma finally got resolution to a major question mark heading into the season when TaShawn Thomas was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA on Saturday night. Thomas nearly did it all in his three years at Houston as a scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. Now that he will play alongside Ryan Spangler, these two will make yet another lethal frontcourt in the Big 12. On paper alone, one could make arguments as to why Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Iowa State each have legitimate chances of making a run to this year’s Final Four.
  2. Last week, we previewed a Texas team facing a potential dilemma in bringing back most of its core while trying to find enough playing time for highly-touted freshman Myles Turner. Turner was impressive in his collegiate debut on Friday night versus North Dakota State and was equally efficient (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, seven boards, six blocks) off the bench in a subsequent win over Alcorn State on Sunday. At the same time, we should manage our expectations of Turner’s output given the light competition in the first two games. Must… resist… superlatives!
  3. Kansas’ own sparkling freshman Cliff Alexander scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds in 12 minutes in Friday’s opening win against UC Santa Barbara. Alexander, however, is already dealing with an injury early into his college career. He hurt his right wrist on a dunk in Kansas’ second exhibition game and was icing it after the game Friday. Hopefully this doesn’t become a serious issue as the season wears along. Jayhawks fans wouldn’t want to deal with a similar experience to Joel Embiid’s back injury that got progressively worse late last year.
  4. I’m mildly surprised that it took Georges Niang until his junior year to cross 1,000 career points at Iowa State, although he would have definitely passed it in March had he not suffered a season-ending injury. Niang hurdled the 1,000 mark with a 30-point performance on 9-of 15 shooting against Oakland on Friday night. Assuming he continues at his 14.3 PPG pace over the next two years, Niang will reach the 2,000 point milestone in his 138th college game. I’d say that that was food for thought but [/puts sunglasses on] Niang has gotten better with portion control.
  5. The father-son coaching matchup that you may not have heard quite so much about also went down on college basketball’s first weekend. Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith defeated his son, GG Smith, the head coach of Loyola (MD), 71-59 in Lubbock Friday night. Viva The Matadors named freshman forward Norense Odiase as its star of the game, and with good reason, as Odiase put up 16 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive) and three blocks for a squad with very few big men to choose from. Other newcomers like Keenan Evans (10 points, 2-of-3 from three) and Devaugntah Williams (13 points on 4-of-6 from the floor) also made their presences known. Competition will ramp up quickly as Texas Tech travels to LSU as a part of the 24-hour hoops marathon on Tuesday.

 

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Big 12 Predictions: Player and Newcomer of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

It’s been a fun run-up to the season here at the Big 12 microsite, with plenty of discussion on the strength and depth of the conference and whether any team is poised to knock Kansas from its perch at the top of the standings. We finish things off with the group’s selections for Big 12 Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year.

Player Of The Year

The new and improved Georges Niang will be the Big 12's best player. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The new and improved Georges Niang will be the Big 12’s best player, according to three of our four experts. (Nirmalendu Majumdar/AP)

  • Kory Carpenter: Georges Niang, Iowa State - I wanted to go with Juwan Staten here, but I think he’ll have to be even better than he was last season for the media to give him the award again. Niang averaged 16.7 PPG/4.5 RPG/3.6 APG last season and looks to have gotten into great shape this offseason while recovering from foot surgery. He lost about 25 pounds and re-tooled his diet. That, along with the wide-open attack of Iowa State, should lead to plenty of buckets for the svelter forward this season.
  • Brian Goodman: Niang – A Cyclone will take home the hardware for the second straight year as Niang will pace Fred Hoiberg’s balanced attack. Though he may get more attention from opposing defenses with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane now gone, he has a great ball-handler in Monte’ Morris who will be able to get him touches in spite of that. Niang will take care of the rest from there. I also look for the junior to deliver better rebounding numbers due to his improved conditioning. 

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Big 12 Season Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 11th, 2014

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Oklahoma.

Strengths: Guards Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Jordan Woodard return for the Sooners, giving them potentially one of the best backcourts in the Big 12. Hield averaged 16.4 PPG and shot 38.6 percent from beyond the arc last season, both major improvements from his freshman season. The 6’4″ junior was a second-team All-Big 12 selection and was second in the conference with 1.4 steals per game. Jordan Woodard saw significant minutes (28 MPG) as a freshman and landed on the Bob Cousy Award watch list heading into this season after averaging 10.3 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.2 RPG last season. Isaiah Cousins was named the team’s most improved player last season after averaging 11 PPG and 4.2 RPG, and along with Hield and Woodard will give the Sooners one of the most experienced backcourts in the Big 12. They will be joined by junior forward Ryan Spangler, who started every game last season and led the Big 12 with 9.3 RPG. There are definitely holes to fill from last year’s team, but a lineup with Hield, Cousins, Woodard, and Spangler in it is a good place to start for head coach Lon Kruger.

Lon Kruger has talent this season, but will depth become a problem?

Lon Kruger has talent this season, but will depth become a problem?

Weaknesses: The loss of Cameron Clark could be huge for Oklahoma this season. Clark, a 6’7″ forward, might have been the most important player on last year’s team. He was certainly the most important big man. His departure leaves plenty of question marks down low for the Sooners. Spangler should be improved and will help, but that’s about it. There’s senior forward D.J. Bennett, I guess. But Bennett only averaged 9.1 MPG last season, so it’s hard to say what kind of impact he will have in 2014-15. The presumed fifth starter alongside Spangler looks to be Houston transfer Tashawn Thomas. That’s if he is ruled eligible by the NCAA. Thomas averaged 14.5 PPG and 8.7 RPG in three seasons at Houston. He elected to transfer this summer after Houston coach James Dickey left the program, and is waiting to see if the NCAA will let him play immediately for Lon Kruger. If that is the case, it would go a long way in solidifying an otherwise thin rotation for the Sooners. If not, we’ll see just how much of a load Spangler can carry.

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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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