Houston Basketball: Can Cougars overcome Fabian White Jr. injury for 2020-21?

Houston Basketball won’t have Fabian White for all of next season? How big of a blow is this for the Cougars and their postseason chances?

Each offseason, there seems to be a couple of players who suffer devasting injuries that have a big impact on their respective teams. Last year, it was Clyde Trapp for the Clemson Tigers. This time around, forward Fabian White Jr. suffered an ACL injury that’ll likely keep him out for Houston Basketball for the 2020-21 campaign.

In the three seasons with the Cougars, White has been an impactful player in the frontcourt who continued to grow. As a full-time started this past season, the 6’7 forward put up 9.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg in 24 mpg. He’s not elite in anything but really just solid and consistent overall on both ends of the court but every now and then can put up big numbers. In the last game of the season, White produced 18 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Memphis, with half of the boards coming from the offensive end.

White was prepared to be a senior leader for Houston next season as they prepare for their AAC title defense. The team already suffered a blow earlier this week with Nate Hinton, the team’s leading rebounder (8.7), electing to stay in the 2020 NBA Draft. And with 6’10 center Chris Harris graduating, that has the team’s top three rebounders from this past year not available for 2020-21.

What makes the now-absence of White hurts for Houston so much is that he was the top returning frontcourt player for the team, at 6’7 and 230 pounds. The Cougars have had one of the smallest overall rotations in the country in the past couple of seasons but it hasn’t been too problematic overall, winning a conference title and making the Sweet 16 the year prior. But there was at least some size to plug in there at times with Harris, while guards such as Hinton have proven to be elite rebounders in their own right. Looking at the projected roster right now, there’s a clear hole in the frontcourt, with no realistic alternatives in the transfer portal at the moment.

The Cougars also aren’t in the running for top class of 2020 remaining big men out there such as Moussa Cisse and Frank Anselem, who could get 30 mpg as freshmen if they went to them. Head coach Kelvin Sampson is used to working with small-ball lineups and the AAC won’t punish Houston since this team will have the advantage on the perimeter in almost every game played, thanks to the return of Caleb Mills, Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser.

The big key to Houston’s ceiling now will be senior wing/forward Dejon Jarreau, who is still in the NBA Draft process himself. But with White out for the season, Jarreau can have a huge season and improve his own stock, showing his versatility and scoring prowess. The Cougars have a scholarship available if a capable big is out there but otherwise, they’ll use “small ball” to win a lot of games next season.

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This is a program better suited to play that style of ball more than most but without having a true big man to counter teams with lethal frontcourts, it’ll be easier to gameplan against Houston Basketball in key moments.

Coach Sampson will have to do some of his best work to offset the loss of Fabian White Jr.