Men's Basketball Sports

‘Sometimes you got to shake things up’: How Sampson’s lineup trickery has worked so far

Sophomore guard Quentin Grimes, shown putting up a shot in Houston's win over SMU on Jan. 15 at Fertitta Center, was notably absent from the starting lineup after head coach Kelvin Sampson held open tryouts following the Tulsa loss. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

Sophomore guard Quentin Grimes, shown putting up a shot in Houston’s win over SMU on Jan. 15 at Fertitta Center, was notably absent from the starting lineup following the Tulsa loss. | Lino Sandil/The Cougar

The Monday following Houston’s Jan. 11 loss to Tulsa, head coach Kelvin Sampson announced on his radio show that he was going to change up the lineup. Since then, the team has responded well to the moves in both practices and games thereafter.

“Sometimes you got to shake things up,” Sampson said, with the team now ranked No. 25 in the nation. “I said, ‘If you’re not going to play the way we want to play, then I’m going to play somebody else.’ ”

In their loss to the Golden Hurricane, UH’s first conference defeat of the season, the Cougars were outscored 9-1 in the final five minutes of the game and turned the ball over 15 times. 

Freshman guard Marcus Sasser, redshirt freshman Caleb Mills and junior guard DeJon Jarreau combined to score 52 points, an impressive feat, but the problem was the rest of the Cougars combining for only nine points.

Heading into its home matchup against SMU, Houston went with a different starting lineup that included Sasser, Jarreau and senior center Chris Harris Jr. 

Sophomore guard Quentin Grimes, who’s been struggling since the American Athletic Conference play games, has averaged only 6.8 points per game since Jan. 3 and was benched along with Mills and junior center Brison Gresham.

The starters combined for 51 points in the win against SMU, and Mills added 15 points as a reserve.

Houston knows its roster is flooded with talent, so the Cougars have not let lineup changes bother them. 

“I think we got a lot of (players) that can potentially start,” Sasser said on his mindset in practice after being moved to the starting lineup. “Just coming in and going at them every day, (it’s) just getting us better as a whole, and I think we put the best group out there on the floor.” 

The switch in the starting lineup changes has worked, however, translating to stronger performances in practices and games.

“Every practice is a competition basically: red versus white,” Sasser said. “Whoever had a week of good practice, that’s who he’s going to be put in the starting lineup.”

The Cougars have won two-straight games with the new starting lineup, including a 65-54 win against No. 16 Wichita State on Saturday afternoon.

In those two games, the starters are averaging 48.5 points and the bench is averaging 19.5 points per contest.

On top of the changes in the starting lineup, Sampson has also tried out a different combination of pairings, which has included going small at times.

Against SMU, the Cougars trotted out lineups that did not use a traditional center and instead had four guards on the floor, which saw sophomore guard Nate Hinton playing the power forward position and junior forward Fabian White Jr. playing center.

“We’ve had success (with the small-ball lineups) in the past,” Sampson said. “When we played at Cincinnati last year to clinch the conference championship, I think we finished with a lineup of DeJon, Nate, Corey (Davis Jr.) and Armoni (Brooks) with Fabian in there.”

Being able to try a variety of combinations comes down to the strengths of Houston’s personnel.

“Nate and Fabian up front with three guards, we are comfortable doing that,” Sampson said. “The reason that works is because Nate rebounds so well at the four spot.”

For Sampson, the reason behind any changes is simple. The goal is to win, and he is not afraid of shaking things up if they aren’t working.

“I’m not going to keep rolling the same (players) out there and expect a different result,” Sampson said during his radio show. “Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Well, I ain’t insane.”

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