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

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.

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The Astros host the Orioles on Friday night. Composite Getty Image.

Say it with me: The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet! The odds favor them missing the postseason for the first time since 2016, but they definitely aren’t dead yet. Too much season left.

The Astros sure hope they hit their season standings rock bottom in falling 10 games back of Seattle in the American League West Tuesday. Two wins over the hapless White Sox later, coupled with two Mariner losses in Cleveland, and the deficit is eight going into the weekend. The Astros’ real race may be for a Wild Card. On that front they sit six games behind Minnesota, six and a half back of Kansas City. The Twins and Royals currently hold the second and third Wild Card slots. The Astros also trail Boston by five games.

The Astros’ season needs some positive jolts if it is not to slip away. A shot at one comes Friday night with pitcher Jake Bloss called up from Double-A Corpus Christi for his Major League debut. He is merely tasked with facing the best offense in the AL as the Baltimore Orioles visit Minute Maid Park this weekend. Bloss was the Astros’ third round draft pick last summer. He turns 23 on Sunday. He started well this season at High-A Asheville earning the move up to AA. As a Hook, Bloss was spectacular in posting a 1.61 earned run average over eight starts with a scant 19 hits allowed over 44 2/3 innings. Bloss gets the fast big league call out of necessity (with Justin Verlander on the injured list), because he excelled, and because the Astros have no significant pitching prospect knocking at the door from Triple-A Sugar Land. Not one guy in the Space Cowboys’ rotation has given up fewer hits than he has thrown innings. The Pacific Coast League is a hitters’ league, but that is a damning stat.

Blame game

With the Astros’ season a big fail to this point, it is the nature of the beast for some to call for the head(s) of Manager Joe Espada and/or General Manager Dana Brown. Espada has certainly not distinguished himself as some brilliant rookie skipper, but blaming numerous lackluster player performances on him is classic scapegoating. Brown is in his second season and does have a couple of stains on his early record, but the foremost task Brown was charged with at hire was rejuvenating the Astros’ weak farm system. It takes two or three draft classes to infuse some depth of young talent. If the Astros are sellers as the trade deadline approaches, selling is another avenue through which Brown tries to add good prospects.

Brown picked Bloss. Brown’s first first round pick was shortstop Brice Matthews who also recently earned promotion to Corpus Christi. If Jeremy Pena doesn’t show improvement, and if Matthews is fulfilling his potential, he could be challenging for the shortstop job by the end of next season. 2023 second round pick, pitcher Alonzo Tredwell, has been bad so far with the Low-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

Midsummer Classic

The first phase of All-Star balloting ends Thursday at 11AM Central Time. The Astros’ representation on the American League team is simple: three definites and one maybe. Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez all rightfully are poised to be elected starters. Altuve has to hold off the Rangers’ Marcus Semien, but at minimum will be added as a reserve. For Altuve it will be his ninth All-Star team, adding on to his franchise record after not making the team last year because he missed the first month and a half of the season with a broken thumb.

Tucker and Alvarez will both become three-time All-Stars. Neither has been voted a starter before. Even with the time he’s missing on the injured list, Tucker belongs in the outfield with the Yankees’ superstar combo of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto. Alvarez’s opportunity to win the vote at designated hitter opened up when Shohei Ohtani switched leagues in signing with the Dodgers.

Last year the Texas Rangers dominated the AL lineup with five starters. It was not an omen that they would go on to win the World Series. This year Arlington hosts the game at Globe Life Field, but Semien is the only Ranger anywhere close to the lead in the fan voting.

As for the one Astro All-Star maybe, that is Ronel Blanco. The 30-year-old has come out of nowhere to be the Astros’ ace, but he is not a lock. I don’t think his foreign substance suspension hurts much other than it factors into Blanco having pitched fewer innings than almost all other candidates. It’s a matter of math. A maximum of nine starting pitchers make the squad, there may only be eight taken. It’s not hard to name nine guys who could get the nod over Blanco, especially when you factor in that every team must be represented. Tyler Anderson is the most deserving Angel. Erick Fedde or Garret Crochet is the most deserving White Sox (Sock?). The Seattle Mariners have no deserving everyday player, though some might argue Cal Raleigh if three catchers are taken. The M’s are dominating the AL West on the back of stellar starting pitching. It’s hard to see no Mariner starter getting picked, although only Logan Gilbert at 2.93 has an earned run average within 0.50 of Blanco’s 2.43. Blanco has three more starts to strengthen his case before the staff is named July 7.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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