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.

The American Athletic Conference will once again be one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball this season.

AAC preview: Which team will come out on top in 2020?

Last season, the American Athletic Conference established itself as one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball. Eight of the 12 teams finished the season with a winning record, while four basketball programs (Cincinnati, Houston, Temple and UFC) played their way into the bright lights of March Madness last spring.

Ahead of the 2020 NCAA season, the AAC is poised to produce another exciting season with Cincinnati, Houston, Temple and UFC looking to ride their wave of success into the new year, as other schools (Memphis, Wichita State, South Florida, and UConn) awaits to establish themselves as one of the conference's most elite programs.

With arguably the nation's best player residing in Memphis and a few coaching changes that will surely improve a few teams, the AAC will be one of the most intriguing conferences to watch next season.

Five AAC Players to watch

James Wiseman, Memphis, Freshman:

Arguably the most exciting player to walk the campus of Memphis since Derrick Rose, James Wiseman is by far the most compelling college basketball player in the AAC this season. ESPN ranked the 7'0 center as the nation's top basketball recruit coming out of high school, and is the reason why the Memphis Tigers have high expectations heading into next season. Without playing a single game, Wiseman has all but wrapped up the AAC Freshman player of the Year award, and is an early favorite to take home the Naismith honors next spring. A projected No.1 overall pick for the 2020 NBA Draft, Wiseman recorded 25.8 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5.5 blocks as a High School McDonald's All-American last year in Memphis.

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati, Senior:

From the AAC's newest star to their oldest, Jarron Cumberland enters his final season with the Cincinnati Bearcats as the conference's most established player. As one of the best guards in the country, Cumberland took the reins as the Bearcats leading scorer, averaging 18.8 points per game—which ranked third in scoring for the AAC. While helping Cincinnati reach the NCAA tournament, Cumberland's play awarded him the AAC's Player of the year honors and first-team All-Conference in 2019. After testing the waters for the NBA, Cumberland may have the most outstanding year of any AAC player in 2020, as Cincinnati looks to punch another ticket to the Big Dance in March.

Quinton Rose, Temple, Senior:

Entering his senior year, Quinton Rose may be the most explosive player in the AAC heading into the new season. In 2019, the 6'8 guard from Rochester, NY, finished top-10 in the conference in scoring (16.3) and led the Temple Owls to a 23-10 (13-5) record. In each of his three years with the Owls, Rose has taken his game to another level, and one should expect him to do the same under Temple's new head coach, Aaron McKie. A projected first-round pick for the 2020 NBA Draft, Rose has the potential to end the season as the AAC's top scorer, while building a case to take home the AAC's Player of the year award in 2020.

Dejon Jarreau, Houston, Junior:

The Houston Cougars are entering the new season of college basketball with hopes of winning more than an AAC regular-season title in 2020. Although it will be a hard feat to accomplish due to the departures of Corey Davis Jr., Armoni Brooks, and Galen Robinson Jr, the Cougars should not be overlooked due to the emerges of the third-year guard, Dejon Jarreau. In 2019, Jarreau played an enormous role in helping the Cougars reach the Sweet-Sixteen as a spark off the bench, averaging 8.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. After earning the AAC Sixth-Man of the Year honors, Jarreau has the potential to help Houston surpass their success as the team's top talent.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis, Freshman:

If James Wiseman falls short of winning the AAC Freshman Player of the Year award, then his teammate Precious Achiuwa may have been a greater standout. Similar to Wiseman, Achiuwa is an ESPN top 25 recruit (No. 17) and is another reason why the Memphis Tigers have high expectations heading into the new season. He is a long and athletic forward who will make the Tigers frontcourt nearly impossible to defend playing next to Wiseman.

Bold Predictions

Memphis will fall short of the AAC title:

Heading into the 2019-2020 college basketball season, all eyes will be on the Memphis Tigers. With head coach Penny Hardaway revamping the basketball program, the Tigers came away with the best recruiting class in the country—headlined by projected No.1 overall pick, James Wiseman. Although the Tigers will emerge as the top team in the conference, one should expect Memphis to fall short of the AAC title to either Cincinnati or Houston. The Tigers are talented, and the hype surrounding them is real. But expect their young talented core to suffer the same fate as Duke (19) and Kentucky (15).

Cincinnati will win the AAC Title:

Last season, the Cincinnati Bearcats pulled an upset to defeat the Houston Cougars for the 2019 American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball title. Although they entered the Big Dance has favorites to reach the Sweet-Sixteen, Cincinnati's had a premature exit by losing to No.10 seed Iowa during the NCAA Tournament. With star guard, Jarron Cumberland, returning for his senior year, look for Cincinnati to break the hearts of Houston or Memphis en route to their third consecutive conference title.

Houston, Memphis, and Cincinnati will make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament:

Heading into the 2019-20 season, the American Athletic Conference has several teams who will be in contention for a tournament bid, but only three teams will have a chance to dance in March. Memphis, Cincinnati and Houston will all represent the AAC in the NCAA Tournament, with the Bearcats advancing the farthest into the elite eight.

Top-5 Must Watch Games

  1. Nov. 12 Oregon at Memphis
  2. Dec. 18 Tennessee at Cincinnati
  3. Jan. 15 Wichita State at Temple
  4. Feb. 1 Houston at Cincinnati
  5. Mar. 8 Memphis at Houston

Projected finish

  1. Memphis
  2. Cincinnati
  3. Houston
  4. Wichita State
  5. Temple
  6. South Florida
  7. UConn
  8. Tulsa
  9. UCF
  10. SMU
  11. Tulane
  12. ECU

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