A.J. HOFFMAN

NCAA basketball report: Texas gets off to fast start; Aggies drop one

Shaka Smart and UT are off to a good start. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

TEXAS LONGHORNS (3-0)

Last week (3-0): W- Eastern Illinois 71-59, W- Arkansas 73-71 (OT), W- UL Monroe 65-55

This week:  Friday vs. Citadel

Texas’ first game of the year went about as expected, but was highlighted by the return of Andrew Jones from his leukemia treatments. He didn’t exactly fill the stat sheet, adding a single point, rebound, assist and steal in his 9 minutes of floor time, but he clearly gave the crowd and his teammates something to cheer about. Jones is still undergoing chemotherapy treatments, and his availability will be sporadic, at least early in the season. Matt Coleman led the team with 13 points. Notably absent was Kerwin Roach II, who was suspended for the first game of the season. The biggest complaint for the Horns in Game 1 was that they hit only 32% from 3-point range. They have struggled the last two seasons with outside shooting, and this doesn’t instill much hope in a turnaround. Roach made his presence felt, including behind the 3-point line, in the second game of the week for Texas. Roach led the team with 18 points, including the 3-pointer at the buzzer that sent the game to overtime. Jericho Sims and Dylan Osetkwoski added 14 and 11, respectively. They were both bolstered by six free throw makes a piece, part of what kept Texas in the game during a terrible second half scoring drought. Texas played a back and forth game with UL Monroe on Monday, eventually pulling away in the last 10 minutes for a 10 point victory. Roach led the team with 13 points, but he was amongst the many who was inefficient behind the arc, as the Horns shot just 24% from distance. Texas gets Citadel this week. 

TEXAS A&M; AGGIES (1-1)

Last week (1-1): W- Savannah State 98-83, L- UC Irvine 74-73

This week: Thursday @ Gonzaga, Sunday vs. Minnesota

The Aggies knew they would have to run this season, and run they did in Game 1 of the season against Savannah State. That came with positives and negatives. On the positive side, that led to Savion Flagg putting up 24 points to lead an Aggie team that had five players in double digits. The negative was the Aggies turning the ball over 24 times. Despite losing so much size from last season’s team, the Aggies were still +25 in rebounding and blocked eight shots in the victory. The second game of the week didn’t go as well for the Aggies, as they dropped a hard fought game to the UC Irvine Anteaters 74-73. A quick glance at the box score explains why they couldn’t win this game, as the Aggies shot 21% from 3-point distance and 36% from the field. Irvine shot the ball well, especially late in the game. Saint Francis transfer Josh Nebo led the Ags with 15 points. Things won’t get easier this week, as Billy Kennedy’s crew heads to the Pacific Northwest for a battle against thirrd-ranked Gonzaga and come back on Sunday for a date with Minnesota. 

HOUSTON COUGARS (1-0)

Last week: W- Alabama A&M; 101-54

This week: Wednesday vs. Rice, Monday (11/19) vs. Northwestern State

Armoni Brooks, last season’s AAC 6th Man of the Year, started his season with a bang. Brooks hit 6 3-pointers as part of his 24 points against Alabama A&M.; Corey Davis, Jr. added 22 in a 101-54 rout. The Cougars were 61% from the field and 50% from deep in a completely lopsided game that was never in question. The Cougars get Rice on Wednesday and Northwestern State next Monday. 

RICE OWLS (2-1)

Last week: W- St. Leo 80-64, L- Penn 92-76, W- Alabama A&M; 73-59

This week: Wednesday @ Houston, Saturday vs. Northwestern State

The Rice Owls may have gotten two of the few wins they will get this season last week, notching an 80-64 victory over Division 2 St. Leo. Robert Martin went 6-of-6 from the field en route to his 18 points. He also added in six boards and three steals. Junior Aka Adams added 14 in the win. Game 2 of the week didn’t go nearly as well, as Penn blew the doors off of Rice in Philadelphia. Martin again led the Owls with 16 points off the bench. Sophomore Josh Parrish added 15 in the loss. The Quakers won the free throw battle by 15 points in the game. Rice never trailed against Alabama A&M;, pulling away to a 73-59 rout. Adams dominated the game, scoring 22 points (including 5 3-pointers) and bringing in 7 rebounds. Rice gets Houston and Northwestern State in the coming week.

BAYLOR BEARS (2-1)

Last week: L- Texas Southern 72-69, W- Southern 80-53,  W- Prairie View 91-80

This week: Thursday vs. Nicholls 

Texas Southern is a good team, but Baylor couldn’t have thought they would be starting the season 0-1. Baylor had gone 56-0 against SWAC teams before this one, but TSU wasn’t worried about history. King McClure led the Bears with 23 points. The Bears struggled mightily at the free throw line, shooting a pathetic 27%. The Bears got in the win column against Southern a couple days later. Southern led about five minutes into the second half, but Baylor pulled away and never looked back. They forced 21 turnovers in the win. Devonte Bandoo led the charge for the Bears with 25 points. The Bears got another win against Prairie View on Monday, 91-80. Freshman Jared Butler led Baylor with 22 points, and McClure added 21 in the win. The Bears had their own turnover problems in this one, giving it away 16 times on the night. The Bears play just one game this week, a home tilt with Nicholls. 

TCU HORNED FROGS (2-0)

Last week: W- CS Bakersfield 66-61, W- Oral Roberts 79-62

This week: Thursday vs. Fresno St.

CS Bakersfield gave the Frogs all they could handle in the season opener. TCU trailed by double digits for a good portion of the first half. Desmond Bane took over at halftime, though, and the Frogs escaped with a victory. Bane had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Alex Robinson had 12 points and 9 assists in the game. TCU shot only 19% from distance in the win. TCU had an easier time against Oral Roberts, but the main contributors were the same. Bane and Robinson combined for 45 points in the win. The Frogs played stout defense, and were able to get their 3-point percentage up to 47%. TCU has Fresno State at home this week. 

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (2-0)

Last week: W- Incarnate Word 87-37, W- Mississippi Valley St. 84-52

This week: Tuesday vs. Southeast Louisiana, Monday (11/19) vs. USC

One team who you can’t accuse of starting slow is Texas Tech, as their average margin of victory in the first week was 41 points. Jarrett Culver scored 16 points in the season opener against Incarnate Word. Defensively, Tech dominated. They allowed just 7 points on 3 of 30 shooting in the 2nd half. Tech used 13 players in the win, showing some of their depth, presumed to be a strength this season. Davide Moretti led the way for the Raiders in their 84-52 win over Mississippi Valley State, scoring a career high 17 points, including 5 of 7 from distance. Jarrett Culver also added 12 points for the Raiders. Tech gets Southeast Louisiana and USC in the week ahead. 

SMU MUSTANGS (1-1)

Last week: W- Northwestern State 69-58, L- Southern Miss 74-64

This week: Wednesday vs. Western Carolina, Saturday vs. Lipscomb

SMU didn’t look as sharp as they would have hoped in the first game, but they escaped with an 11 point win over Northwestern State. The Mustangs shot 39% from the field and just 25% from 3 in the win. Jimmy Whitt, Jr. was one of the bright spots for the offense, scoring 19 points with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. They couldn’t get away with sloppy in their next game, as the Southern Miss Golden Eagles downed SMU 74-64. Ethan Chargoise scored 25 points in 32 minutes. Whitt, so great in the previous game, only added 2 points in the loss. The Ponies will look to rebound this week with matchups against Western Carolina and Lipscomb. 

LSU TIGERS (2-0)

Last week: W- Southeastern Louisiana 94-63, W- UNC Greensboro 97-91

This week: Tuesday vs. Memphis, Friday vs. Louisiana Tech

To the dismay of the SEC, LSU’s recruiting class looks as good as advertised. All four Tiger freshmen were in double digits in the season debut against Southeastern Louisiana, led by Nad Reid’s 17. Marlon Taylor added 15 in the 94-63 win. The Tigers were inefficient from behind the arc, shooting only 25%, but they dominated on the defensive end, forcing 20 turnovers in the game. The Tigers had a tougher time against UNC Greensboro, holding on late for a six-point victory. Reid and Tremont Waters combined for 50 points in the win. The Tigers shot 50% from the 3-point line, but Greensboro was able to hang by hitting 19 3-pointers of their own. The Tigers will look to build on their fast start, with matchups against Memphis and Louisiana Tech this week. 

Move over Rockets, there's new basketball team in town. Joe Buvid/Houston Athletics

Houston Basketball is on the rise, yet many people within the city haven't recognized the tremendous campaign they are putting together. Here are my reasons as to why you should buy into the 2018-2019 Houston Cougar Men's Basketball team:

1) Coach Sampson

Kelvin Sampson is in his fifth year in Houston. He won AAC Coach of Year last year, making it his fifth said honor in his career. He has successfully built a program that seniors have bought into. Sampson has had much success considering the outdated facilities he inherited and overcoming the challenge of recruiting very average players. He's had great success developing his players into great ones, where the likes of Devon Davis and Rob Gray led the team into the sweet sixteen round in last year's March Madness tournament. He is also a great tactician, which was in display in their comeback win vs. LSU this week. After being down 15, Sampson went to the board and changed their approach to the game after realizing how open LSU was leaving the driving lanes, which enabled Galen Robinson to have a huge game and also allowed the team to collect the majority of offensive boards. He is also a class act. After their game vs. OSU, Sampson went up to his old nemesis, Coach Sutton, to pay his respects and even gave him a kiss on the cheek after seeing how badly his health had deteriorated. I also had the pleasure of attending the UH Basketball Tip Off dinner this year where many fans buy tables as a means to fundraise money for the program. I was impressed by his ability memorize the player's family members by name, and his ability of building long life relationships with them.

2) Community

Houston Cougar Basketball has become one of the hottest tickets in town for many reasons. Their success on the court has permeated out of campus and onto the city where even professional athletes have taken notice. Astros' Alex Bregman and Rockets Eric Gordon were in attendance in the matchup vs LSU. Chris Paul called Coach Sampson prior to the same game and told him he would go with 'friends.' Turned out they didn't show but the takeaway here as that they have caught notice. Amongst other rumored attendees were JJ Watt and Lebron James. The student section has also bought into this year's team. They have filled the stands every home game since the opening of the new arena. They are loud and proud, where even I thought they couldn't surpass the deafening ruckus from the upset win vs. Oregon. But the Fertitta Center saw a new standard in the comeback win vs LSU.

3) Intangibles

This team has displayed qualities that surpass the physical realm. It really started last season, where they upset numerous teams as they punched their ticket into March Madness. They were beat by a then 3 seed in the Michigan Wolverines on a walk off buzzer beater 3. Houston competed the whole way, and you could even argue that the loss was really mainly due to self-inflicted wounds, especially because of the missed free throws in the final minutes. I talked to Corey Davis at the annual tip off dinner this year and he told me his team is hungry to get back in the tournament. The juniors and seniors now have a taste of what the big dance is all about. If they make it again this year, they will bring something they didn't have before, experience. Houston also has displayed grit. They learned a lot about themselves in their comeback win vs LSU this week. Galen Robinson dug deep when he began to hear LSU chants when his team was losing by 15. "It really touched a nerve. I was like, there's no way we're losing this game," said Robinson. A humbling loss in the sweet sixteen round last year, and a gut check win vs LSU will definitely bring out maturity and leadership within this roster.

4) The Players

Senior point guard Robinson has had a great offensive start to this season. In their matchups vs LSU and Oregon, Robinson has displayed the ability to completely take over games. He has also adopted the role of a leader in the locker room, where Coach Sampson said he heard Robinson's loud rally cry towards his teammates through a wall that separated the coach's and player's rooms at halftime vs LSU. Junior guard Armoni Brooks has been as advertised. He remains an integral part of the offense with consistency, and showcases the most versatile talent on the Houston roster night after night. Senior guard Davis continues to struggle this season, but I do believe he will turn it around. It's hard to believe otherwise after his incredible season last year. Sophomore point guard Dejon Jarreau made his first start of the season vs LSU. He didn't have the greatest of games but there are many reasons as to why. Jarreau has recently lost his grandmother and has suffered from tough injuries that have sidelined him. The UMass transfer remains an important player to this team by allowing Robinson to have precious resting minutes. The upside in Jerreau is tremendous. Lastly, Freshman Guard Nate Hinton must live up the title of Preseason AAC Freshman of the Year. He's showed great flashes, so keep a sharp eye on this projected up and comer. Houston has all the right pieces to the puzzle. The seniors have completely bought into Coach Sampson's philosophy and have prior experience in the big dance. The trick is finding the right mix of players and keeping them healthy all the way into selection Sunday.

5) Ferttita Center

OK, we talked about this last week, so I'll keep this one short. The new arena has successfully been able to pull many fans back into campus. The scarlet red and the strategically placed student sections have been staples of the incredible atmosphere the Fertitta Center hosts. UH is currently on a 22 home game win streak, 19 of which happened at TSU. The history of where the arena sits is also something to note. Many loyal UH Basketball fans even label it as hallowed grounds that have seen players like Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon and Clyde "The Glide" Drexler. This entails a certain aura to the new arena, where you can almost even feel its past and foreshadow future success. You can read last week's article on the Fertitta Center here.

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