THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: On Rockets-Warriors, college hoops and the curious case of Bill O'Brien's contract

Rob Gray and the Cougars missed a chance at a signature win. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Imagine having shelled out for Beatles concert tickets in their heyday, the show went on, just without John Lennon and Ringo Starr. That was pretty much the Rockets and Warriors at Toyota Center Thursday night with no James Harden for the Rockets and no Kevin Durant for the Warriors. Bummer. You still had Paul and George (though no Paul George), a couple of surefire future Hall of Famers playing in Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, but the concert just couldn’t be the same with neither the Beard nor K-D taking part. Oh well. The teams meet again, in Houston again, in a couple of weeks. Perhaps Harden’s recovery froma hamstring tear is more rapid than expected and peak marquis value will be fulfilled.

As for the game the better team won, that is Golden State. The reigning champs forged a three game lead over the Rockets atop the Western Conference. With Harden sidelined for at least another couple of weeks, the Rockets chances of finishing atop the heap are slim and soon seemingly drifting closer to none.

A look at college hoops in the city

For college basketball, Houston has long been a wasteland. There is no worse major market in the country in terms of college hoop interest. In major league sports towns the pros almost always come  first, but here the colleges need upgrades to become afterthoughts. Nevertheless, let’s cover some college hoops!

The University of Houston basically being in a quarter century basketball coma is of course part of Houston’s rampant disinterest in college hoops. There are parents of current UH students with little to no recollection of the Cougars winning an NCAA game. They’ve even been in the NCAA tournament once in the last 25 years. They last won a tourney game in 1984, beating Virginia ahead of losing to Georgetown in the National Championship game. Five of the eight Ivy League schools have won NCAA games more recently. As have Hampton, Lehigh, Coppin St., Vermont, and more than 150 other schools.

It’s been more than 12 years since the Cougars appeared in the Top 25. A win at 9th ranked Wichita State Thursday night would have done the trick, but the game went about as well for UH as Waterloo did for Napoleon. Kelvin Sampson is a very good coach, the American is a very good basketball conference made better with the Shockers joining this season. The Cougars non-conference resume is weak beyond a rout of Arkansas (go Hogs in SEC play!). Short of winning the AAC Tournament, UH will need multiple signature wins over the likes of Wichita State, Cincinnati, and SMU.

Meanwhile, the best NCAA Tourney bet in town is again Texas Southern. The Tigers play in the SWAC,  which is one of the weakest D-1 leagues in the country. But someone has to make the tournament and Head Coach Mike Davis has things where someone is usually TSU (three of the last four years). The Tigers began this season playing 13 straight road games. 13! The Tigers went 0-13 including losses by 28 at 18th ranked Gonzaga, by 31 at 21st ranked Baylor, and by 43 at 3rd ranked Kansas. But there is method to the madness. The program picks up some decent paychecks along the way, and by playing against a bunch of opponents better than anything TSU will face in conference play the Tigers are toughened up.

It's O'Brien's world now

It’s Bob McNair’s money but a multi-year contract extension for Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien is silly. His four year win-loss record is 31-33, his worst season the most recent and much worse than his best season was good. I think O’Brien is a better bet to at some point to excel in his job than was Rick Smith as General Manager but that’s not exactly choosing between Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lawrence. If O’Brien rides a healthy Deshaun Watson to a fruitful 2018 and then has leverage for a fatter contract or even chooses to walk, so be it. A good Texans team in 2018 would make the job attractive. A bad Texans 2018 season, and, well, why would you still want O’Brien? Smith is done as GM. Taking a year’s leave of absence as his wife works to conquer breast cancer is commendable. Replaced as GM it also sets up Smith to keep the sinecure post of Executive Vice President of Football Operations, or to move on. Smith the GM has been a mediocrity (86-90 over the 11 seasons he’s been a major factor in roster construction). The Texans hiring a one year temp GM would be laughable. Who of quality would even take the job with that scenario?

Buzzer Beaters

1. Central Florida makes itself look small and silly claiming its football team is the real National Champion    2. I’ll take Georgia plus the points vs. Alabama Monday night   3. Best sandwich meats:  Bronze-roast beef  Silver-pastrami  Gold-corned beef

 

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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