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 Longhorns rallied late for a 2-0 start, as the Houston Cougars look to begin their season on the right note following an exhibition win.

College basketball report: Week 1

Shaka Smart. Jamie Squire/Getty Images


TEXAS LONGHORNS (2-0)

Last week (2-0): W-Northern Colorado 69-45, W-Purdue 70-66

This week: Tuesday vs. California Baptist, Friday Prairie View A&M

The Texas Longhorns are off to a 2-0 start to begin their 2019-20 college basketball season. Led by Andrew Jones who scored a career-best 20 points (8-13 FG, 4-5 3PT) in an emotional return following treatment for leukemia, Texas opened the week with a 69-45 victory over the Northern Colorado Bears. Following the blowout victory, The Longhorns finished the week with an early-season test at Purdue on Saturday. Behind junior guard, Matt Coleman III —who recorded 22 points and seven assists— the Longhorns knocked off the Boilermakers in a 70-66 comeback victory inside the Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, IN. Texas trailed 62-57 with a little over three minutes remaining in the second half before closing the game on a 13-4 run. Up next, the Longhorns will return to Austin to take on the California Baptist Lancers on Tuesday, and the Prairie View A&M Panthers on Friday.

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (1-0)

Last week (1-0): W- Northwestern State 77-63

This week: Monday vs. ULM, Friday Gonzaga

The Aggies opened their season with a 77-63 win over the Northwestern State Demons inside the Reed Arena in College Station. Texas A&M new head coach, Buzz Williams, picked up his first win thanks to a 22 point performance by Savion Flagg. Up next, the Aggies will continue their four-game homestand against the University of Louisiana Monroe Warhawks on Monday, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Friday.

HOUSTON COUGARS (0-0)

Last week (1-0): W-ASU 106-42 (exhibition)

This week: Tuesday vs. Alabama State, Friday BYU

The Houston Cougars have yet to open their 2019-20 college basketball season, but still found their way into the win column with a 106-42 exhibition victory over the Angelo State Rams. The Cougars will tip-off their new season with a two-game homestand on Tuesday against the Alabama State Hornets, and the BYU Cougars on Friday.

RICE OWLS (2-1)

Last week (2-1): L-Arkansas 91-43, W-Pennsylvania (80-61), W-Wayland Baptist 65-40

This week: Tuesday at Northwestern State, Saturday at UCSB.

With a full set of games to begin the season, the Rice Owls had a solid start to their 2019-20 campaign. After opening the new year with a loss to Arkansas Razorbacks (91-43), the Owls won back-to-back games against the University of Pennsylvania Quakers (80-61), and Wayland Baptist Pioneers (65-40). The Owls will begin a two-game road trip starting on Tuesday against the Northwestern State Demons and the UC Santa Barbara on Saturday.

BAYLOR BEARS (1-1)

Last week (1-1): W: Central Arkansas 105-61 -57, L: Washington 67-64

This week: Friday vs. Texas State

The Baylor Bears' 2019-20 season got off to a convincing start with a 105-61 victory over the Central Arkansas Bears. In the win, Baylor recorded 18 3's with Jared Butler leading the way with 30 points and eight triples on the night. The celebration would not last for Baylor as they closed out the week with a 67-64 loss to the Washington Huskies. The Bears will look to bounce back from a disappointing outing against Washington on Friday when they take on the Texas State Bobcats.

TCU HORNED FROGS (1-0)

Last week (1-0): W: Southwestern University 83-62

This week: Tuesday vs Louisiana

The TCU Men's Basketball team recorded their first victory of the new season with an 83-62 win over the Southwestern Pirates on Thursday. Senior guard, Desmond Bane, kicked off his final year with 26 points shooting 63% from the floor and 50% from behind the arc. The Horned Frogs will hit the floor for one game next week against the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns on Tuesday.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (2-0)

Last week: (2-0) W: Eastern Illinois 85-60, W: Bethune-Cookman 79-44

This week: Wednesday vs. Houston Baptist

The Texas Tech Raiders have opened their new season with back-to-back blowout victories. The first came in an 85-60 win over the Eastern Illinois Panthers, and a 79-44 win over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. The Raiders' defense played a tremendous role in their victories, as Texas Tech held its opponents to an average of 52.0 points on 35% percent shooting, 27.3% from behind the arc. The Raiders will return to the court on Wednesday for a game against Houston Baptist inside the Chaparral Center in Midland.

SMU MUSTANGS (1-0)

Last week (1-0): W: Jacksonville State 74-65

This week: Tuesday vs. New Orleans, Saturday vs Jackson State

Unlike their in-sate AAC rival (UH), the SMU Mustangs opened their season on Tuesday with a 74-65 victory over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. SMU's junior guard Tyson Jolly poured in a career-high 21 points, eight rebounds and two steals in the win. The Mustangs will host the New Orleans Privateers on Tuesday, and the Jackson State Tigers on Saturday.

LSU TIGERS (1-0)

Last week (1-0): W: Bowling Green 88-79

This week: Wednesday @ VCU, Saturday vs Nicholls

Although they did not create the same buzz as their acquaintances on the gridiron, the Tigers opened their season with back-to-back home wins over the Louisiana Tech Readies, and the Bowling Green Flacons. The Tigers will hit the road for a battle against VCU on Wednesday and will return home for an in-state match against the Nicholls Colonels.

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