THE COUGARS ARE ON A ROLL

Here's what is going right for the 5th ranked Coogs

The Cougars play again this Tuesday against Tulsa. Photo by Getty Images

After stopping play and pausing basketball activities for 15 days due to COVID-19 concerns, the Houston Cougars returned to the hardwood on Sunday, December 20th.

The team had a tune up game against Alcorn State on Sunday before starting conference play against the Temple Owls on Tuesday, December 22nd.

Both games proved to be easy victories for the Cougars as they defeated Alcorn State by 33 points and Temple by 26 points respectively.

Defense continues to be key for Houston

The biggest takeaway from these two games was Houston's commanding defense, which has become their best attribute. They held the Braves and Owls scoring totals to 55 and 50 points, and is the 6th time in seven games in which the Cougars' defense held their opponents scoring under the 60 point threshold. Houston has held opposing teams to 54.6 points per game this year. This is the fifth-lowest among all Division 1 teams.

Quentin Grimes was the leading scorer in both contests as he secured 27 and 22 points respectably in each game. He averages the most minutes and points per game for Houston this season, and is becoming the face of this Cougar team.

Houston looked to continue their winning ways and remain undefeated with their first true road test outside of Texas on Saturday the 26th against the UCF Knights.

There was no offensive magic in Orlando as the Cougars had to overcome a freezing cold shooting slump with elite level defense to beat UCF 63-54.

Head coach Kelvin Sampson was not thrilled with their performance as he compared watching their offensive struggles to watching Miss America walking across a stage and noticing she has a bunion on one of her feet.

"I'm not looking at the bunion," Sampson said. "That's a great road victory."

Marcus Sasser led the way with 19 points and Caleb Mills delivered 12 points off the bench. Through most of the game these two were the only bright spots on offense and this is the best Caleb Mills has looked all season after being named the American Athletic Conference's Preseason Player of the Year before the season started.

Although the offense was suspect throughout most of the game, Houston was able to come out on top with tremendous defense and hold the Knights scoring to only 54 points the entire game. In the second half, the Cougars prevented UCF from scoring a field goal in the remaining 8 minutes of the game with lockdown perimeter defense.

As good as Houston was defensively though, the Knights were just as tough on the Cougars.

UCF ramped up their defense in the second half by continuously switching their coverage strategy from man-to-man to zone; therefore, disrupting the Cougars offensive flow.

Houston was able to overcome this by shifting their offensive focus from perimeter shooting to obtaining more points in the paint. This worked for a while, but Houston was only able to pull away when the Knights got into foul trouble and the Cougars were consistently able to make their free throws. They went 11 for 11 from the foul line to finish the game.

Mills was the only Houston player to score any field goals in the final seven minutes of the game, and put the game away with an and-1.

One Thing to Note: The Cougars moved up to the 5th ranked team in the country after Iowa's loss to Minnesota booted them from number 4 to number 10 in the rankings. Only Villanova, Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga rank ahead of Houston currently.

Kelvin Sampson also moved up by improving his career win total to 571 games. This victory ties him with John Beilein and Steve Fisher for 49th place in all-time coaching wins for men's college basketball.

Sasser, Grimes and DeJon Jarreau have become the best guard trio in college basketball, and they are winning not only by outscoring their opponents but also playing all-pro level defense. Expect all three to get some sort of defensive awards or nominations once this season comes to its conclusion

Up Next: Houston continues their road trip to face a 4-3 Tulsa team on Tuesday looking to play spoiler for the Cougars' magical season and make their own Cinderella run in the American Athletic Conference.

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The Rockets are collecting a lot of young talent. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Good parents are protective of their kids. Some helicopter parents are a little too protective and take it too far. Kenyon Martin Sr came out and wanted his son traded to a contender where he can flourish in a winning environment. He felt as if Jr wouldn’t be able to flourish as much as he thinks his son can in Houston. With the arrival of the number three overall pick, most likely being a frontcourt guy, they must’ve thought his playing time would decrease. Less time means less development means less money you can ask for on the next contract. I get it. I’m a parent. I understand. But there’s a point in which you have to be realistic.

Things like this are actually a good problem to have. It speaks to the Rockets having an abundance of talent, young talent at that. Whenever a team has a bevy of young talent in the NBA, they’ve been losing a lot and have stockpiled high draft picks. That, or they’ve developed a bunch of young guys that are now getting playing time and are on the verge of perhaps breaking out. Teams love it because crafting and shaping their future is easier when there’s a ton of options. They can choose to play and develop the guys they want to keep and trade the ones they don’t…provided they have any value.

Sr may think Jr is a future All NBA guy, and maybe he is, but he hasn’t been able to beat out Jae’Sean Tate for playing time in that tweener 3-4 combo position. One of the main things people point out is his ball handling. If he can’t handle the ball and make plays, he can’t play effectively enough in this system at that position. While he’s been able to give them valuable minutes, he’ll have to continue to improve and fight for those minutes. With the possibility of yet another player at that position with lofty draft status and expectations coming in (not to mention a unique skillset), the writing was on the wall.

When Sr came out recently and stated Jr is committed to staying here and getting better and Jr reiterated that at media availability this week, it helped quiet down the rumors. Would I be surprised if he’s traded? Not at all. He’s a good young athletic player who’s improved his shot. He could be a valuable rotation player for any team that has him. Do I want him to stay? Of course! I’d love nothing more than this team to grow together and stay together.

That’s in a perfect world and that’s somewhere we don’t live. Acquiring this much talent has paid off in the recent past. I wrote last week that this team can do what the Warriors and Celtics did if they continue to draft well, develop their talent, and surround their core with the right kind of role players. If playing time and meeting their potential for too many players becomes a problem (cap-wise, playing time, or any other reasons), they can always make deals and turn that talent into more draft picks. OKC did it with James Harden and flipped assets into about 3 million draft picks over the years. Blueprints are out there for the team to follow. Let’s keep hoping Rafael Stone can push the right buttons at the right times and continue to build this team back into a contender.

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