Cougars thinking NCAA Tournament berth for 2007-08
The Cougar football team will command fans’ attention over the next several weeks, but the men’s basketball team will also catch a few glances.
The latter will begin its fourth season under head coach Tom Penders in November and appears to have its strongest team in years. More so, the Cougars have a realistic chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992.
Visions of trips to the Big Dance have kept fans dreaming big for the last two seasons, but the results haven’t matched the expectations. That was the case last season when the Cougars stumbled to an 18-15 finish and failed to reach even the NIT for the first time in three seasons under Penders.
What makes this year any different? The Cougars return three starters and four lettermen from last year’s squad, including All-Conference USA first team guard Robert "Fluff" McKiver. Senior point guard Lanny Smith, a three-year starter who sat out much of last season with a foot injury, will also be in the mix.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Cougars will suit up seven promising newcomers this season. Among the notables are freshman guard Zamal Nixon and center Marcus Cousin, a transfer from Seton Hall who had to sit out the entire 2006-07 season because of NCAA transfer rules.
Nixon, a highly-touted combo guard from New York, is a speedy playmaker who could play some serious minutes as a freshman. Cousin, a 6-11, 245-pound big man, is expected to provide the Cougars with the steady inside presence they’ve lacked since Penders hit campus in 2004.
Could this be the year the Cougars punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament? Fans certainly hope so because the current lineup gives the Cougars their best shot.
McKiver, who led the team in scoring at 19.2 points per game last season, is a scoring machine who can drop 20-plus points in a heartbeat. Now that Smith is back to take over the point-guard duties, McKiver should be a more dangerous scorer.
Smith is the cog that will make the Cougars’ offense run smoothly, and he’s a leader that will keep his teammates in line. But Smith, McKiver and four other seniors will depart after this season, leaving the Cougars with only memories.
If fans are lucky, one memory will be of the Cougars making a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Savery rolling in dough
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday that former Rice pitcher Joe Savery had reached a contract agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies.
The lefthander reportedly received a $1.37 million signing bonus and is expected to report to Class A Williamsport (Penn.), the Phillies’ short-season affiliate, by the end of the week. Phillies officials were expected to confirm the decision after Savery’s scheduled physical on Tuesday, but have yet to do so.
Savery, the 19th overall selection in the major-league draft, went 11-1 with a 2.99 ERA in his final season at Rice. He was the C-USA Player of the Year, and was named the C-USA Male Athlete of the Year last week.
Savery pitched and played first base for the Owls while battling discomfort from offseason shoulder surgery. Some draft analysts predicted that teams would likely shy away from picking him in the first round because of uncertainty about his shoulder.
The Phillies, however, were too enthralled with his potential to let him slip too far.
Lewis doesn’t have to sit
Earlier this week, Houston guard Kelvin Lewis, who transferred from Auburn, announced that the NCAA had approved his transfer waiver.
Lewis, son of Cougars assistant coach Kevin Lewis, won’t have to sit out a year and is immediately eligible to play. That works well for Kelvin Lewis, who transferred to be nearer to his ailing mother Veronica.
"This means a lot to me," Lewis told the Houston Chronicle. "This means that I’ll be closer to help my mom through some tough situations. And it’s a plus that I’ll be able to help us (the Cougars) this season."
Almond off to good start
Former Rice guard Morris Almond made his professional debut, starting for the Utah Jazz’s summer league team against the Atlanta Hawks at the Rocky Mountain Revue. He’s been shooting jumpers ever since.
Almond, the 25th overall pick in the NBA draft, has played in four games so far, averaging 11.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 24.3 minutes per game. He’s shooting 42.6 percent from the field.
Almond, the 2007 C-USA Player of the Year, averaged 26.4 points as a senior at Rice.
Guards and more guards
It’s no secret Houston men’s basketball head coach Tom Penders is a "guards coach" and he doesn’t plan to stray from that moniker this season.
The Cougars currently have 10 guards on their roster. Contrast that with the five frontcourt players (forwards and centers) listed on their roster, and it’s clear to see where Penders’ best interests lie.
One thing is for certain: It should be an interesting battle for minutes at point guard and shooting guard.
Odds and ends
Memphis senior power forward Joey Dorsey was selected Tuesday to compete with Team USA at the 2007 Pan American Games, scheduled for July 25-29 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil…. Former University of Alabama-Birmingham guard Carmen Guzman was tabbed last week to participate in the Caribbean Basketball Confederation Championships, scheduled for Aug. 10-14 in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Guzman, the 2007 C-USA Player of the Year, will play for the Dominican Republic…. Former Southern Methodist golfer Colt Knost claimed the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship on Saturday.