2019-20 Houston Cougars men's basketball team preview

Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Houston Cougars are poised for another deep run during the NCAA Tournament next spring, but it will not be easy

Move over Rockets, there's new basketball team in town. Photo via UH Cougars Men's Hoops Facebook.

The Houston Cougars are coming off one of their most successful two-year stretch in nearly 40 years. Behind two-time American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year Kevin Sampson, the Cougars have recorded a combined 60-12 record over the previous two seasons — as well as one AAC regular-season title (2019), and two consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

After giving Kentucky all they could handle before losing to the Wildcats in the Sweet 16, expectations are high surrounding the Cougars on the heels of the 2019-2020 college basketball season. They are one of three schools projected to win the AAC title and is expected to make another deep run in the Big Dance next spring.

The coach is there. The talent is there. And the potential is there. The Cougars have all the assets needed to find themselves among some of the top teams in the nation, but the lack of experience will make it difficult to carry the momentum of the past two seasons into the new decade.

Key Losses:

Key Losses:

Breaon Brady, Forward

Armoni Brooks, Guard

Corey Davis Jr., Guard

Galen Robinson Jr., Guard

Players to Watch:

Dejon Jarreau Forward/Guard

Nate Hinton, Guard

Chris Harris, Guard

Caleb Mills, Guard





Three things to watch for in 2020:

The rise of a new backcourt:

For the second straight year, the Cougars are coming into a new season hoping to fill another void left in their backcourt. At the start of last season, UH had a minor hole to fill after losing top scorer Rob Gary in 2018. The departure of Gray had little to no effect on the team due to the emergence of Corey Davis Jr and Galen Robinson Jr. Together, the senior duo established themselves as one of the top backcourts in the nation — as Davis took the reins as the Cougars' top scorer (17.0 ppg), and Robinson's skill set to run the offense as a floor general (5.0 apg).

With Davis and Robinson no longer with the team, Houston will have to establish a new identity in their backcourt heading into the 2019-20 season. It is going to be a tough challenge with newcomer Quentin Grimes ineligible to play his first year as a transfer, but the Cougars will still have a great backcourt with Nate Hinton and Dejon Jarreau.

After earning the AAC Sixth-Man of the Year honor last season, Jarreau is entering the new season as the Coogs' most talented player. He averaged 8.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, and provided Houston with a tremendous spark off the bench. With his role changing from the sixth man to the starter, more will be expected from Jarreau, but still expect him to provide Houston with the same production as last season.

With the potential to become Houston's new leading scorer, the 6'5 combo from New Orleans, LA. will be front and center leading the Cougars' back to the NCAA Tournament, but Jarreau will not be alone in the backcourt playing alongside Nate Hinton.

Coming off a season where he was selected as a member of the AAC All-Rookie team, Hinton is expected to have a solid sophomore year after averaging 7.2 points and 4.4 assists as a freshman. With Jarreau on the verge of picking up the scoring load left by Davis, it will be important for Hinton to become Houston's newest floor general due to the departure of Robinson.

With Hinton and Jarreau now at the helm, the young duo has the potential to keep Houston with an elite backcourt in college basketball for the next two seasons.



Keep the Defensive Mojo:

In addition to having one of the best backcourts in the nation, another significant factor that has played in Houston's success has been their play on the defensive end. Since Kevin Sampson's arrival in 2014, he has instilled a defensive-minded presence within the school's program that reached its peak last season.


In 2019, the Cougars arguably had the best defensive team in the American Athletic Conference, as Houston ranked first in opponent points per game (61.0 ppg), while holding them to shoot 27.9% from behind the arc, and 43% from inside the perimeter. The Cougars also made it tough for their opponents to clean the glass, as Houston ranked first in fewest rebounding margin at -7.2.

Despite having an explosive offense, the Cougars defense is what made this team a great program over the past two seasons. And if they continue to play as the same defensive juggernaut behind Sampson, it is hard to imagine Houston taking a step back in 2020.



Lack of Experience:

The biggest knock going against Houston this upcoming season is the lack of experience. The Cougars have only one senior returning in 2020, but much is not expected from big man Chris Harris. Although they have four juniors returning with Dejon Jarreau leading the way, a tremendous portion of the team is made up of sophomores and freshmen.

It is not an impossible task, but for the Cougars to repeat their success or surpass it, they will have to rely heavily upon their young group of players. Hinton, Caleb Mills, and J'Wan Roberts are a talented young core, but the lack of experience playing on the big stage may cause some problems late in the season — especially in their attempt to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

As one of the youngest teams in the conference, Sampson will need for a few of his young players to emerge as leaders on the team. UH's backcourt production and ability to keep their defensive intensity are important, but the lack of having multiple seniors leading the team may be the Cougars' biggest Achillies Heel to overcome next season.



Prediction:

The Cougars will finish the season as the second-best team in their conference with a 29-5, (16-2) record, but will fall short of the AAC title to Memphis.

Last season, Sampson did an awesome job filling in the voids that were left by his seniors, and one should expect him to be successful again. Unfortunately, the lack of experience on the team may cause for a disappointing season in Houston. Thankfully, all would have to go extremely wrong for the Cougars to regress that low.

If Hinton, Jarreau, and Mills play at a high level on the nightly basis, the Cougars will still be a dangerous team coming out of the American Athletic Conference. As one of the best coaches in the nation, Sampson will have his guys ready to defend their AAC title on their way to their third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament next spring.

No. 1 Baylor Bears and No. 10 LSU Tigers extend their winning streak as conference play continues.

College Basketball Report: Week 11

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TEXAS LONGHORNS (12-6), (2-4)

Last week: (1-2): W - Oklahoma State 74-64, L - Kansas 66-57, L - West Virginia 97-59

This week: Saturday vs. LSU

The start of the Big 12 Conference has not been kind to the Texas Longhorns with a below .500 record. After recording a 12-point victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Longhorns dropped back-to-back games against the Kansas Jayhawks and the West Virginia Mountaineers.

The 38-point loss to the Mountaineers proved to be the Longhorns' worst performance of the season, as UT allowed West Virginia to shoot 51.4% from the floor, 42.9% from behind the arc and trail 45-20 heading into the halftime break.


With one game on the schedule, the Longhorns will look to bounce back in a home match against the hot LSU Tigers.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (8-8), (2-3)

Last week: (0-2): L - LSU 89-85, L - South Carolina 81-67

This week: Tuesday vs. Missouri, Saturday vs. Oklahoma State

The Texas A&M Aggies hit a rough patch last week and are currently riding a two-game losing streak heading into their match against the Missouri Tigers on Tuesday, before taking on the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday.

The Aggies dropped a heartbreak overtime loss in a game against the LSU Tigers, where they fought their way back from 10 down at the half. Unfortunately, A&M could not carry over their second-half surge against the Gamecocks, as South Carolina shot 48.3 % from the floor, 53.3 % from 3-point range.

Senior forward Josh Nebo led the Aggies in scoring both games averaging 19.0 points and 2.5 blocks per game.

Houston Cougars (12-4), (2-1)

Last week: (2-0): W - SMU 77-62, W- Wichita State 65-54

This week: Thursday vs. UConn, Sunday vs. USF

Winners of eight out of their last nine games, the Houston Cougars swept through their opponents picking up wins against the SMU Mustangs and the Wichita State Shockers.

In the win against No. 16 Wichita State, the Cougars had one of their best defensive performances of the season, as Houston recorded nine blocks and held the Shockers to 32.2% shoot from the field, and 20% from behind the arc. Following the win, the Cougars will come into Thursday showdown against UConn tied with Wichita State atop of the American Athletic Conference.

RICE OWLS (9-11), (1-6)

Last week: (0-3): L - Louisiana Tech 72-56, L- Southern Miss 81-68, L - North Texas 79-59

This week: Thursday vs. UTEP, Saturday vs. UTSA

Loser of seven of their last eight games, the Rice Owls are currently riding a three-game losing streak after a winless week.

The Owls suffered a blowout defeat in all three games, losing by an average margin of 16 points, with their worst coming at the hands of North Texas on Monday. Up next, Rice will look to end their worst skid of the season on Thursday in a CUSA showdown against UTEP.

BAYLOR BEARS (16-1), (6-0)

Last week: (3-0): W - Iowa State 68-55, W - Oklahoma State 75-68, W - Oklahoma 61-57

This week: Saturday vs. Florida

While improving their national rank to No. 1, the Baylor Bears extended their conference play winning streak to six with wins against Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma over the past week.

In the win against Oklahoma, Macio Teague led the Bears to a close win with 16 points and three steals. Following their overall 15th straight victory, the Bears will put their winning streak on the line against Florida on Saturday.

TCU HORNED FROGS (12-5), (3-2)

Last week: (0-2): L - West Virginia 81-49, L - Oklahoma 83-63

This week: Tuesday vs Texas Tech, Saturday vs Arkansas

After riding a four-game winning streak, the TCU Horned Frogs dropped two consecutive conference games in a loss against West Virginia and Oklahoma last week. In both games, the Horned Frogs lost by an average margin of 26 points, which indicates their two worst two-game stretch of the season.

Up next, TCU will look to return to their winning ways against the No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders on Tuesday, before taking on the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (12-5), (3-2)

Last week: (2-0): W - Kansas State 77-63, W - Arkansas 72-52

This week: Tuesday vs TCU, Saturday vs Kentucky

After dropping two of their first three conference games, the No. 16 Texas Tech Red Raiders had a prefect week picking up wins against the Kansas State Wildcats and Iowa State Cyclone.

Against Iowa State, the Red Raiders finished the game shooting 54.3% from the floor and connecting on nine 3-point field goals in the win. Sophomore guard Kyler Edwards registered a career-high five 3-pointers and finished with 22 points inside the United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Up next, Tech will look to extend their winning streak against the TCU Horned Frogs on Tuesday.

SMU MUSTANGS (13-4), (3-2)

Last week (1-1): L - Houston 71-62, W - Temple 68-52

This week: Wednesday vs ECU, Saturday vs Memphis

The SMU Mustangs opened the week dropping their second straight game in a loss to in-state rival, the Houston Cougars. In the loss, the Mustangs did not have an answer for Houston's Fabian White Jr., as the junior forward recorded 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win.

Following the loss in Houston, SMU returned to their winning ways in a home victory over the Temple Owls, a game in which Tyson Jolly had one of his best performances of the season with 25 points and 14 rebounds, two steals and a block in the win.
The Mustang will stay home for an AAC showdown against ECU on Wednesday before traveling to Memphis to take on the Memphis Tigers on Saturday.

LSU TIGERS (13-4), (5-0)

Last week (2-0): W - Texas A&M 89-85, W - Ole Miss 80-76

This week: Tuesday vs Florida, Saturday vs Texas

No. 10 LSU Tigers continued their hot start in conference play and extended their winning streak to six last week.

Both games went down to the wire as the Tigers needed an additional five minutes to pull off a win against the Aggies, a game where LSU nearly blew a 10 point lead at the half. Five players scored in double-digits for LSU with Trendon Watford and Skylar Mays each scoring 19 points apiece.

The Tigers will return home on Tuesday for a match against Florida before a Big-12 showdown against the Texas Longhorns on Saturday.

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