Roundtable: Grading the Cougars’ up-and-down yet promising 2019-20
Two months of 2019-20 have come and gone for Houston, and, while not all of it has been pretty, the 12-4 Cougars have kept themselves in contention in the American Athletic Conference and for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougar’s sports staff took it upon themselves to grade Houston’s 2019-20 efforts so far:
Assistant sports editor Andy Yanez – B+
The Cougars have found their identity, which revolves around rebounding and defense, 16 games into the season. They are a gritty team that will fight for both halves and will out-hustle opponents more often than not.
The team also has its limits. The Cougars are not an offensive juggernaut that will shoot lights out for all 40 minutes of a game and will often go on cold streaks where they cannot buy a basket and can get sloppy taking care of the ball.
In Saturday’s game against Tulsa, Houston’s offensive struggles were exposed as the team shot only 39.3 percent from the field and had 52 of its 61 points come from only three players in redshirt freshman Caleb Mills, sophomore DeJon Jarreau and freshman Marcus Sasser.
Houston has a 12-4 record overall and is 2-1 against the AAC.
Sophomore guard Nate Hinton has been the epitome of the team’s identity. The 6-foot-5-inch Gastonia, North Carolina, native is averaging 11.9 points, and he leads the fourth-best rebounding team in the nation with 9.9 per contest.
Three of Houston’s four losses have come down to the wire, including a buzzer-beating loss to BYU in the second game of the regular season.
Houston had excelled in crunch time the past three contests before the loss to Tulsa.
Against then-No. 21 Washington, Houston trailed by one point at the five-minute mark when the team went on a 7-0 run that helped them upset the Huskies.
Against UCF, Houston held only a three-point lead in the second half and outscored the Knights 16-5 to seal that win, and against Temple, Houston trailed by one point at 59-60 when they outscored the Owls 11-2 to close out that win.
Sports editor Jhair Romero – B-
If you had posed the task of grading Houston’s 2019-20 so far only two weeks ago, the Cougars are an A- team on the come up after winning the Diamond Head Classic over a tough Washington team in Hawaii.
After an ugly 63-61 defeat at Tulsa on Saturday that, like their losses to BYU, Oregon and Oklahoma State, highlighted the Cougars’ biggest weaknesses, UH drops a letter grade.
A sometimes shaky offense mixed with the inexperience of many of the young players on the team, made up of eight underclassmen, can equal a world of headaches for Houston.
As it stands, outside of their win over the Huskies and South Carolina, the Cougars came up short in some of its biggest games of the season, which isn’t ideal when trying to build a resume for a deep March Madness run.
But that can change completely starting this weekend.
Six of the Cougars’ 15 remaining American Athletic Conference games are against heavyweights and perennial conference contenders, beginning with No. 23 Wichita State on Saturday on the road.
Houston’s gauntlet continues with another meeting with the Shockers, this time at home on Feb. 9, and four games against Cincinnati (Feb.1 away, March 1 at home) and No. 21 Memphis (Feb. 22 away, March 8 at home).
The Cougars’ have the tools to be a Top 25 team like Memphis and Wichita State in Hinton, Mills and sophomore guard Quentin Grimes, but they must shake off jitters that have overcome them in their losses to get there.
Staff writer James Mueller – B
The first two months of this year’s basketball season has been a period of learning and growth for a young Houston team.
Early in the season, the Cougars struggled to put together a full 40 minutes of solid basketball, resulting in close losses to BYU and Oklahoma State and a blown eight-point first-half lead in their defeat at the hands of Oregon.
But UH has shown improvement as the season has progressed, earning wins like the one over then-No. 21 Washington, in a large part due to Hinton’s emergence as the Cougars’ emotional leader.
Hinton brings incredible energy when he is on the court and the team feeds off this. Hinton is also always flying to the ball and as a result has doubled his rebounds per game from last season, averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game.
Another big story has been Mills’ emergence as a force for UH.
Mills, Houston’s third-leading scorer averaging 12.9 points per game, has proven his ability to create his own shot which is something the Cougars desperately needed.
The one thing Houston has consistently been great at all season is rebounding. The Cougars are the fourth-best rebounding team in the country, averaging 43 rebounds per game.
If the Cougars continue to show growth and improvement, there is no limit to how high the ceiling can be for this team.