Men's Basketball Sports

Growing into new defense is key for Men’s basketball

Senior Galen Robinson Jr. could enter the top five for career assists in UH history. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

The Houston men’s basketball team’s regular season tips off Saturday as the Cougars host the Alabama A&M Bulldogs at H&PE Arena.

After graduating key seniors Wes VanBeck, Devin Davis, Nura Zanna and Rob Gray, this year’s Cougar squad will have some big shoes to fill.

New year, new leaders

With so many integral players leaving the Cougars after the team’s first NCAA appearance since 2009-2010, it should come as no surprise that head coach Kelvin Sampson will now rely heavily on his new trio of seniors: guards Corey Davis Jr. and Galen Robinson Jr. along with forward Breaon Brady.

Brady will be expected to do what he has always done: use his 6’8″ frame to be an imposing presence in the paint and soak in as many rebounds as possible.

Last season, Brady started 31 games for the Cougars and averaged 4.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per contest. Brady was also a leader in fouls with his aggressive defensive style.

Without Gray, Robinson Jr. will now be the new guiding hand of the Cougars’ offense. He was second in assists during last year’s campaign with 130, trailing only Gray who notched 148 dimes on the season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Robinson Jr. knows just how to turn his guiding hands into a pair of quick hands, as he led the Cougars with 46 steals in 35 games played.

Long-distance sniper Davis Jr. will likely be this season’s leading scorer.

Last year, he was second only to Gray with 13.1 points per game on 44 percent accuracy from the field and 43 percent accuracy from deep. With Gray’s team-leading 488 field goal attempts no longer in the system, Davis Jr. will have plenty of opportunities to fill up the stat sheet.

Defensive mindset

“I like this team, but we have a long way to go before we’re a good team,” Sampson said. “I really like our senior class, they provide great leadership. Those three guys play hard every day, they understand what our culture is all about and they hold the other players accountable to our culture.”

The culture Sampson is referring to is one that preaches defense above all else.

“Last year, the reason why we were good was because we were good defensively,” Sampson said. “There’s 351 schools in America. We were ranked No. 13 in the nation in defensive field goal efficiency. That’s why we won.”

With notable opponents this season like the Oregon Ducks, Wichita State Shockers and Cincinnati Bearcats, that defensive-minded culture should prove quite useful.

The Ducks have been a pillar of NCAA consistency, as Oregon has totaled eight-straight 20-win seasons along with eight-straight postseason appearances.

In addition to Oregon being a capable opponent, the Dec. 1 match against the Ducks will be the inaugural game at the newly-furnished Fertitta Center.

Caging the Bulldogs

The Cougars’ first-game opponent, the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, are coming off a rough 3-28 season.

This year, A&M has a relatively experienced team composed of mostly sophomores and juniors but has just three seniors left on the roster.

One of those seniors is Arthur Johnson, a 6’2″ guard who was the only player to average double-digit points for the Bulldogs last season.

Being one of the only three seniors on the team, he will likely lead the younger players and take on an even bigger role this season, much like the new seniors for the Cougars.

On the Cougar side of things, with lethal three-point shooters like Davis Jr. and junior guard Armoni Brooks, Houston will look to prioritize playing inside-out in its half-court offense, taking advantage of Brady’s post-play while also trying to set up looks for its outside shooters.

The game against Alabama A&M will start at 2 p.m. Saturday at Texas Southern’s H&PE Arena.

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