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 Houston Cougars shot 50.0% from the field and 52.9% from behind the arc in a blowout victory over the Gamecocks

Cougars record third straight victory in blowout win over the Gamecocks

Getty Images

The Houston Cougars jumped out to a 7-0 lead to begin the game and never let up for a 76-56 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks, Sunday afternoon, inside the Williams-Brice Stadium in S.C. With the win, the Cougars improve to 5-2 on the season while riding a three-game win streak.

Quentin Grimes scored a game-high 24 points (9-17 FG, 4-7 3PT), as the sophomore guard from the Woodlands recorded his second connective game with 20 or more points.

Houston's defense played a tremendous role in the wire-to-wire victory, as their defensive presence made baskets hard to come by for the Gamecocks. South Carolina connected on 30.3% of their field goals in the first half as the Cougars took a 39-27 lead into the break.

A made 3-point field goal by Justin Minaya made it a competitive game for a short amount of time, while the Gamecocks trailed the Cougars 14-12 with 10 minutes left before the half. Houston closed out the period with a 25-12 run, led by sophomore guard Nate Hinton, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half, to go along with 11 boards for the game.

The Cougars opened the second half building their lead to a 15 point advantage, as Grimes scored 16 of his final point total in the second period. Although Houston shot 53% from behind the arc, the Cougars' won with their transition offense, outscoring South Carolina 15-4 in fastbreak points.

In the loss, the Gamecocks shot 32.3% from the floor and an abysmal 24.0% from deep. Senior forward Maik Kotsar led South Carolina in scoring with 12 points, while second-year guard A.J. Lawson recorded 10.

Following the win, the Cougars will return to the Fertitta Center on Wednesday for an in-state showdown against the Texas-Arlington Mavericks. Tip-off is slated for 7 P.M. CT.

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