2022 NCAAT VII - Tyler Has The Scout: Houston

Mar 19, 2022

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First, a confession.

Illinois basketball did not inspire my initial love for college basketball. Yes, I grew up a fan of Eddie Johnson and Derek Harper. And yes, two of my earliest Illini hoops memories were staying up late to watch NCAA Tournament losses to Rolando Blackman and Kansas State in 1981 and to Pace Mannion in Utah in 1983. Yet my real "We Love No Other" fandom didn't really catch on until the Bruce Douglas-Efrem Winters-Doug Altenberger team that lost to Kentucky in the Elite Eight the following year in 1984.

My first true college hoops love? The 1983 Phi Slama Jama Houston Cougars. From pure memory: Starting five: Akeem (not yet Hakeem) Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Larry Micheaux, Alvin Franklin, Reid Gettys. Sixth man: Benny Anders. These dudes were bad ass.

To pinpoint things, it was that national semifinal game against Louisville (and Houston's subsequent loss in the championship game to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State) which solidified the NCAA Tournament as a permanent fixture in my life for the next 40 years.

So while I always kept a soft spot in my heart for the Houston program, that ended with abruptness when Kelvin Sampson came to town. Because seriously, screw that guy. It would be some poetic karma to plow through that dude on the way to our first Sweet 16 in 17 years, so let's get this scout going with a quick look on what to expect from these Houston Cougars.


Houston finished the season 30-5 - winning both the American Athletic Conference (Memphis, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Tulane, SMU, etc.) regular season and tournament championships. They finished the year at #4 in KenPom and #3 in NET, despite not winning a Quad 1 game until they beat Memphis in the AAC Tournament championship game. (They finished the season 1-4 in Quad 1 games). They made their efficiency money racking up big time performances in their Q2 (10-1) and Q3 (10-0) games.

Their season was also interrupted by two major injuries. They lost 10 point per game scorer Tramon Mark to a shoulder injury after just seven games and then also lost All-American caliber guard Marcus Sasser (17.7 ppg) after just twelve games. While these injuries did take a chunk out of Houston's offensive arsenal, their defense actually improved over the course of the season and they never skipped a beat from an efficiency perspective..

Their starters are as follows:

G- Kyler Edwards - #11 (6'4") Edwards is Houston's primary usage guy on offense. The transfer from Texas Tech averages 14 points per game - but he's more of a volume scorer than he is an efficient one. While he destroyed UAB last night to the tune of 6-8 from three and 24 points, he has been a streaky shooter on season and has turned quite a few clunkers over the past two months. This is probably Trent Frazier's guard tomorrow, but despite the size advantage Edwards has, he's much more a spot up shooter than a dribble drive guy so I like the defensive matchup. And despite Trent's shooting struggles last night - he did a masterful job defensively on Chattanooga's Malachi Smith.

In any case - you cannot go under screens with this guy...

Edwards will also fire up plenty of mid-range twos (46% on the season) - especially off ball screens. Here a simple ball screen with the UAB big in drop coverage (like we do) leads to an open mid range jump shot.

Our defense invites these long twos, but the problem is that Houston is one of the better mid range shooting teams in the country (Almost 1.1 points per possession on spot up jump shots per Synergy Sports). They shot the cover off the ball against UAB from deep last night (48%) , but let the record show that the Cougars only shot 34% on the season from three and UAB's rather feeble attempt at playing zone defense last night I think had a lot to do with that.

F- Fabian White - #35 (6'8") This guy is going to be a problem. He's that long and athletic inside/outside type of player in the EJ Liddell, Ron Harper, Jr., Donta Scott mold who has given us fits in the past. Houston will clear out the floor and let him operate one on one…

but he can stretch the floor as well - shooting almost 40% from three...

I mean he's really good…

We need you Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins' length can potentially make a huge defensive impact in this matchup so it's crucial that he be able to manage his emotions and stay in this game.

G- Taze Moore - #4 (6'5") Moore is not a particularly strong shooter from deep (32%), but with his size he is effective as a penetrator and/or a "back a smaller defender" down guy...

He's also a good finisher - converting 54% on his two point attempts on the season. I would expect DMW to draw this defensive assignment.

G- Jamal Shead - #1 (6'1") Shead is the one guy who emerged after Sasser's injury - basically doubling his scoring production since December. That said he's mainly a pass first guy when he has the ball in his hands (34% assist rate). He's also not a great shooter from three (30%) but he will camp in the corners looking for skip passes if his man tries to sneak way to help in the low post...

(Although we likely won't be playing any zone)

**C- Josh Carlton - #25 (6'10") **A transfer from UConn, Carlton is their big man, but unlike DeSousa from Chattanooga, he brings enough size and strength to give Kofi a challenge defensively on the block. Similar to us, Houston likes to find Carlton off of high-low sets..

He's also an effective screen-roll target if his defender hedges too much on high ball screens…

Probably the biggest concern for me - especially after last night - is the offensive glass. The Cougars are a dominant offensive rebounding team - collecting 38% of their misses on the season which was 4th best in all of college basketball.


… and our perimeter guys simply have to find a body when a shot goes up.

Somewhere along the way this season, we've become just an "OK" defensive rebounding team (allowing offensive rebounds 26% of the time) and last night we were flat out terrible - giving up 16 offensive rebounds and giving the Mocs 16 more shots than we took. Quite simply, Houston wins games by winning the shot volume game and if we give up that many offensive rebounds again tomorrow, we might get run off the floor.

They play at a glacially slow pace (333rd in tempo per KenPom) and squeeze every bit out of the shot clock. They are perfectly content in grinding down possessions, putting the ball up on the rim, and then going to get it for second chance points.

They move the ball crisply on offense and use a lot of ball screens, ball reversal and dribble penetration to get open jump shots - as evidenced by almost 60% of their baskets coming off assists.

While Houston is certainly a solid offensive team, they really make their money off their lock down defense. They do just about everything well on that end of the floor. They allow just 44% on two point attempts (9th in college basketball) and 29% on threes (11th in college basketball. They will have the size advantage on the perimeter which has been a problem for us this season.

They turn teams over on 22% of possessions (31st in college basketball) - which includes a steal rate of 12% (18th in college basketball).

And oh yeah, they are also 3rd best in the country in blocking shots - with White and Carlton doing most of that damage.

One other little note - Houston is the worst free throw shooting team remaining in the round of 32. They shoot just 66% from the line - which might be one reason why they were just 2-3 in one possession game this season. Something to watch if this game comes down to the wire.

For me this game comes down to containing Fabian White, finding our range from the perimeter, and most importantly limiting Houston's second chance opportunities. Quite simply, points are going to be at a premium again tomorrow - which is why the shot volume "game within the game" feels so important to me.

I'm on the Robert vibe - BELIEVE.


IlliniJoe81 on March 19, 2022 @ 10:32 PM

We can win this if we play well but if not we might get crushed.

Eagle on March 19, 2022 @ 10:41 PM

You used the term that I use all the time. Win all the little "games within the game" and you'll win the big overall game. BU can't correct their cold perimeter shooting but he will correct their passive rebounding. Should be a helluva game.

IlliniJedi on March 19, 2022 @ 11:23 PM

You are right, Brad's is spot on that this tournament is all about effort. It used to be called Matto points, whatever the current metric is for grabbing rebound and loose balls we need to prevail in those categories to win.

neale stoner on March 20, 2022 @ 12:26 AM

Excellent scout. Thank you.

Swimmom30 on March 20, 2022 @ 03:41 AM

Nice job, I’m excited for tomorrow!

djchi on March 20, 2022 @ 04:04 AM

I believe 1983 was the greatest year in college basketball history.

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