Men’s Basketball: The Herd rolls in to face UH
Anyone who’s taken the time to watch the Cougars play their last few games might have noticed how much more active the team seems to be on the defensive end.
It started three games ago against Southern Methodist University, when Houston head coach Tom Penders unleashed a new defense on an unsuspecting Mustang squad and forced 20 turnovers and 13 steals on the way to a 99-71 blowout.
Since that point, Texas-El Paso (23 turnovers) and Rice (29 turnovers) have each fallen victim to a style of defense Penders hopes will give them an edge against an up-tempo, athletic Marshall squad Saturday night at Hofheinz Pavilion.
"We’ve changed the defense," Penders said. "We’re doing a lot of trapping, rotating, changing things up and disrupting the other team. It’s kind of like blitzing in football. We’re doing a lot of safety blitzes.
"It’s not straight man-to-man. It’s not a zone. It’s a combination of both. With some teams, we extend it. With other teams, like UTEP, we didn’t extend as much but we trapped at certain times and took away the middle."
At first glance, UH fans could mistake it with the style of defense that helped label the 2005-06 team as one of the most dangerous defensive-minded teams in the nation. That team, which lead the nation in steals per game, ran switching man-to-man defense with very little trapping and rotating, Penders said.
He said his current defense is more exhausting to play compared to the other style and he’s been able to run it because of the team’s depth.
Players like sophomore guard Kelvin Lewis, who has averaged 14.3 points per game since the switch and scored career highs against SMU then UTEP, said the new defense takes pressure off of the offense and could come in handy against Marshall.
"It makes the defense a lot more exciting and a lot more fun to play. It makes you play harder," Lewis said. "Even when you’re tired, you push through it because the traps translate into offense. Now you don’t even think about offense, because you’re so focused on getting steals in the traps."
Marshall is a 10-7 team (2-2 in Conference USA) that Penders said matches up well with the Cougars and Saturday could be a game determined by a few defensive possessions, fast-break points and fan support.
"It’s a game against a very good team, a team that’s coming off a great performance against West Virginia (66-64 loss)," Penders said. "They went into Louisville and almost beat Louisville (85-75 loss). They’re one of the most improved teams in the league.
"Last year I thought they were real athletic. This coach has taken the athleticism and turned it up a notch. They’re a team that we’re going to have to play well to have a chance to win."
Penders said he felt that, of all the factors mentioned, student turnout for Saturday’s 7 p.m. matchup could be the determining factor.
"Like always, more than anything we need to have our students out there," Penders said. "We’ve got to have our students to have a chance. We can’t afford to have a bad student turnout. It could ruin the whole season. It could ruin everything. They mean 10 points to us when they come out."
With a win against the Thundering Herd, Penders would improve his career wins record to 599, which would set up the possibility for his 600th win against Memphis on Wednesday.