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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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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