A 33-point victory over the Wichita State Shockers leads to the largest win of the season for the Houston Cougars.

Defense leads to Cougars largest win of the season against Wichita State

The University of Houston Men's basketball team (19-5, 9-2) took a 76-43 wire-to-wire victory over the Wichita State Shockers (17-6, 5-5), Sunday afternoon, inside the Fertitta Center in Houston. The 33 point victory by the Cougars was their largest margin of the season while handing the Shockers their worst defeat since February 2003.

Making his return to the starting lineup in back-to-back games, sophomore guard Quentin Grimes scored a game-high 14 points (6-9 FG), to go along with six rebounds and five assists in the win.

"The most important thing our kids can do in our program is to surrender to our culture," head coach Kelvin Sampson said after the win. "The effort it takes to play here, the toughness that we required is not easy to do — especially for our young guys."

Early in the first half, the No. 25 Cougars set a tone defensively that would carry over throughout the game. At the 10:41 mark, Caleb Mill completed a chase-down block on Wichita State's Tyson Etienne, which led to a made 3-point field goal by the freshman guard.

Mill's rejection of Etienne summarized what could have been the Cougars' best defensive performance of the season. During the first period, Houston recorded 14 points off turnovers, eight steals and two blocks, while holding the Shockers to shoot an unpleasant 25.0% from the floor.

An exceptional defensive performance by the Cougars led to a 38-18 halftime led over Wichita State — Houston's lowest points allowed by any opponent this season.

"That was a tough game for Wichita St. today coming off back-to-back losses against Tulsa and Cincinnati," Sampson said. "We came out sharp on the defensive end, and since we are not a good jump-shooting team, we had to find a different way to win. One team was playing uphill while the other was playing down hill."

In his first game back after serving a one-game suspension, DeJon Jarreau helped the Cougars' second unit record a season-high 30 points, as the junior guard from New Orleans registered a dozen on 60% shooting from the field and seven rebounds off the bench.

"Every individual is starting to buy into the system more, and we are maturing more and more day by day," senior big man Chris Harris Jr said. "We are believing in our principals to become a better defensive team."

During their worst game in 17 years, Wichita St. was led by sophomore guard, Dexter Dennis, who finished with a team-high 10 points and six rebounds in the loss.

Up next, the Cougars will hit the road on Wednesday to face off against the (11-12, 4-6) UCF Bulls inside the Addition Financial Arena in Orlando, FL. Tip-off is slated for 8 P.M. CT.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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