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.

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Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images.

NASCAR makes its inaugural trip to the Daytona Roval for the Go Bowling 235. This will be one of the most anticipated races in recent memory considering that for many years, it was considered that NASCAR would run here in this configuration and now it's finally has come. It will be extremely hard to predict what will go on and to add on there will be no practice and qualifying. This should be one of the most insane races in recent memory and I have no idea who will win this one. This will be a race you don't want to miss

Kevin Harvick dominated the doubleheader last week as he won both races on Saturday and Sunday. He led a combined 182 laps in both races and was easily the best car. The main headline of the race was NASCAR's new choice box rule. This was implemented last week for the first time in a points paying event as NASCAR tried it out in the all-star race at Bristol in June. This rule allows each driver to go to either the outside or the inside of the orange painted box after the start finish line. This allows them to line-up in either lane they chose. It paid dividends for a lot of drivers including Bubba Wallace and Joey Logano as they both picked up a number of spots on Saturday on the final restart. Overall, I really like this new rule but NASCAR once again decides to change everything up in the middle of the season. I echo the sentiments of what Clint Bowyer's spotter Brett Griffin was saying on his door bumper and how NASCAR needs to stop making such massive changes in the middle of the season. Regardless, I look forward to seeing how this works going forward.

As the silly-season continues, one of the big dominoes to fall was Christopher Bell as it was announced (as expected) that he will drive the #20 Toyota next season for Joe Gibbs. This was bound to happen the moment Bell moved up to the Cup Series this year for Leavine family racing. This was very similar to the trajectory of how Erik Jones got his ride back in 2017 when he replaced Matt Kenseth in the same car. While I hate to see Erik out of a ride, I have a feeling he will land on his feet and have a career resurgence wherever he goes. Besides, more than likely he'll be at the top of the list for Rick Hendrick to take over the #48 ride. This silly season continues to twist and turn as there were also rumors that a driver that isn't currently in the sport also was interviewed by Rick Hendrick for the ride. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks.

As we get closer and closer to the playoffs, the battle for the 16th and final spot in the standings is heating up. Currently, 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones both sit 17th and 18th in the standings. This has been a season of such promise for both of these drivers and as everyone knows this is Jimmie's last season. It would be a shame to see both of them miss the playoffs as both have a lot to race for. In the next few weeks, don't be surprised to see these guys get desperate. In fact, Johnson has changed his paint scheme to white as he believes the black and purple look has given him bad luck. Both of these drivers have the speed to get in and it will be crucial for them to pick up as many stage points as possible, something they have struggled with all year. It will be interesting to see who falls over the next few races.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Ryan Blaney. Like I said earlier, this will be very difficult to predict considering this has never been done before and that there will be no practice. But if there is anyone who can get it done on a Roval, it has to be Ryan Blaney. Back in 2018, he won the first race at the Charlotte Roval and while both are extremely different, it would only make sense to see him win here. This year has been tough on the second generation driver and while he is solidly in the playoffs and has led the points at one point, he still has yet to capture that elusive first win. I expect all that to change come Sunday. Look for Ryan Blaney to take the checkered flag.

Tune in this Sunday, this is definitely going to be one for the books. There will be a lot of beating and banging and a lot of things that we aren't used to seeing. With the chance of rain as well, we could also see history as NASCAR has the rain tires at the ready for this occasion. This will be one you won't want to miss.

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