Lost season

As UH loses another game, Applewhite and his staff deserve more scrutiny

Major Applewhite's first season at UH is not going well. Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Houston Cougars lost their third game of the season Thursday night, blowing several big leads in a 42-38 setback against Memphis.

When Major Applewhite was hired, the joke was that “we fire coaches for going 8-4,” a reference to Tony Levine, who was dismissed after just such a mark.

What about 6-5? What will they do then?

People forget Levine’s recruits -- many who litter the NFL -- helped Tom Herman land the Texas job, and eventually got Applewhite the UH gig. That’s not to say Levine should not have been fired; there is no way they would have gone 13-1 with him at the helm. But Applewhite deserves the same scrutiny.

I believe Applewhite will be a good coach. But part of being a good coach is hiring the right people. Levine made one bad offensive coordinator hire after another and stubbornly stuck with John O’Korn at quarterback when he had a much better option with Greg Ward, Jr. It cost him his job.

Applewhite made a bad hire with his defensive coordinator. Mark D'Onofrio was a terrible DC at Miami. Before that, he was awful at Temple. He had been out of work for a year when Applewhite called him. It was a baffling hire at the time and looks worse now.

Last week, his defense was riddled by a bad Tulsa team. Thursday night, it gave up 42 points in the second half alone.  They did not get ONE stop in the half. A team with the defensive talent UH has should never do that. Memphis made adjustments at halftime and their offense looked like a video game in the second half. UH never adjusted.

Applewhite has to realize the hire was a mistake and learn from that. If he does not fix it fast, it could be a fatal mistake. Hiring a guy with a track record of failure -- and then watching him fail some more -- is unacceptable. UH fans should demand better. They have seen this act with Levine.

Oh, and the Cougars QB situation is also a mess, but they were going to miss Ward no matter what. He was a terrific college quarterback. Kyle Postma is a nice backup thrust into a starter’s role. He played poorly at Tulsa and was OK against Memphis, although his late turnovers doomed any comeback attempt. The Kyle Allen experiment was just as big a failure as it was at A&M. And maybe, just maybe, Applewhite making the same mistake as Levine by not giving D’Eriq King a chance.

Applewhite also made a bad call late in the game by not going for it on fourth and short and instead trusting a defense that did not have a stop in the second half. Did we mention that?

And things could get much worse. 

The Cougars get South Florida next and still have Navy on the schedule. At 4-3, they are likely staring at a 6-5 finish, 7-4 at best. They are probably lucky the UTSA game was canceled or they could have conceivably finished 6-6. They have way too much talent on the roster for that kind of season.

We have seen this act before in Levine era. If Applewhite is to succeed, it has to start with firing D'Onofrio and finding a competent replacement. If not? The Cougars will waste another year of Ed Oliver next season, and will be looking for a new coach. Again.

Of course,  I hear Levine is available.

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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