USA TODAY Sports
How would you feel if Texas lost to "Cougar High"?
Still, I'm pretty excited about Texas' opening round matchup against the Houston Cougars (19-12). Unlike most Texas fans, this native Houstonian doesn't have an irrational hatred towards "Cougar High." I generally root for UH success, though I'll be sporting Burnt Orange tonight.
Yes, my Cougar alum friend and I somehow talked each other into attending the game at Hofheinz, however atrocious a performance it might be. Texas and Houston haven't played each other in men's hoops since 2000. Who knows when they'll play again?
The game is carried on something called AXS TV, which my cable tier apparently doesn't offer. That, and the fact that I know next to nothing about the other teams in the CBI, means this will likely be my last comprehensive preview. Of course, Texas could also lose.
The Cougars actually have some talent--dare I say they're more talented than Texas? Luckily for the Longhorns, James Dickey makes Rick Barnes look like a dynamite genius when it comes to actual coaching. Houston is fairly efficient on offense, and god-awful on defense, which contrasts nicely to Texas' profile and promises for a relatively good scoring game.
The two best players on the court will be Cougars. Let that sink in for a second. Sophomores TaShawn Thomas and Joseph Young were both top 100 players in their respective classes. Young, a star at Yates, sat out the 2010-11 season after walking out on his Providence LOI. As a freshman, Young struggled handling combo guard duties. His full-time move to the 2 this year has paid off, as Young leads the team in scoring with 17.9 PPG. His slash numbers are very efficient: .458/.421/.877 (FG/3-FG/FT), and he's a dynamite first-option scoring threat.
TaShawn Thomas is a prototypical undersized-4 that thrives in college ball. From nearby Killeen, Thomas is averaging 16.8 PPG and 9.5 RPG. A plus rebounder but average athlete and defender, Thomas really plays within his game and doesn't try to force much. He's not a primary scoring threat but will do work on the glass and near the paint to accumulate points.
Small forward Danuel House, a 2012 UnderArmour All-American, is the third threat to know. A star at Fort Bend Hightower, House was a borderline 5* prospect that surprised many when he chose the Cougars. House and Houston HYCA's Chicken Knowles (academically ineligible this season) gave Houston its best recruiting class in eons. A pure scorer (think Jordan Hamilton), House has somewhat struggled to adapt to the college game. He's third on the team with 12.4 PPG, along with 4.9 RPG, but has the potential to put up NBA Lottery Pick numbers in future seasons.
Redshirt freshman Jherrod Stiggers backs up House and Young on the wing. He's primarily a perimeter shooter, hitting 39.8% (66-166) from distance this year. Another wing freshman, LeRon Barnes, has a worse O-Rtg than Cameron Ridley. That's hard to beat.
Houston's problems arise at the 1 and the 5. Point guard has been a revolving door all season, with junior Tione Womack the current starter. Womack and Brandon Morris are both first-year JUCO transfers. Neither is very good. Womack is more of a slasher/distributor, while Morris is the scorer. Sophomore J.J. Thompson played with 2013 5* Keith Frazier at Irving. Thompson was mediocre but promising as a freshman, but has suffered from major confidence issues as a sophomore.
Sophomore Mikhael McLean and senior Leon Gibson rotate at the 5. Purely based on stats, Gibson profiles as the better player with solid rebounding and shooting rates. Like Texas' Sheldon McClellan, Gibson gets in the doghouse with bad effort and dumb play.
Junior J.J. Richardson, a Pitt transfer, has struggled with a foot injury all year but may get spot minutes in the paint. Houston's defensive lineup would be buoyed by freshman Valentine Izundu. Unfortunately, the Lamar Consolidated graduate is like a homeless man's Prince Ibeh and has zero concept of basketball fundamentals. Note that Izundu has sat out the past two games with a hyper-extended knee.
In a game of 2-on-2, Houston's duo of Thomas and Young could square off against the best in the country. Unfortunately, basketball is a five-man game, and the drop-off is precipitous. Offensively, Myck Kabongo should have a field day. All of UH's point guards are undersized and bad defenders. Young is equally mediocre at D, and Dickey isn't likely to risk foul trouble by playing Young on Kabongo anyway.
If Texas had a plus 4, the Longhorns could have focused their interior attack on Thomas. He can defend fine, but doesn't have great lateral quickness, and neither McLean nor Gibson are threats as help defenders. Unfortunately, Jonathan Holmes has averaged just 4.6 PPG since returning from injury, and Connor Lammert's high post game won't get Thomas in hot water.
Houston really has no plus defenders aside from the little-used Izundu. Even with Texas' shooting struggles, the Longhorns should be able to manufacture points by attacking the Cougars' soft D. Conversely, Houston is a decent shooting team that has slashing capabilities in House and Young. DeMarcus Holland and Julien Lewis will have their hands full with Young, and the freshman matchup of Ioannis Papapetrou and House will also be interesting.
The Cougars are 31-32 all-time against their former SWC rival, and Houston fans would love to stick it to Texas with an "even it up" win. There will be at least one Burnt Orange fan in Hofheinz, though, hoping for a Texas victory.
Houston: G - Brandon Morris (#2 - Jr.) | G - J.J. Thompson (#3 - So.) | G - Jherrod Stiggers (#21 - Fr.) | F - J.J. Richardson (#55 - Jr.) | F - LeRon Barnes (#4 - Fr.) | F - Leon Gibson (#15 - Sr.) | C - Valentine Izundu (#45 - Fr.)
Texas: F - Jaylen Bond (#5 - So. - Announced Transfer)
TEXAS (16-17) at Houston (19-12)
Wed., March 20, 2013 • 8 p.m. CT
Houston, Texas • Hofheinz Pavilion