Houston Basketball had a tough mid-major foe last night in Oral Roberts but it proved to be an easy game overall. Here are some takeaways from the game.
One of the best college basketball teams in America, Houston Basketball, made a statement last night with a dominating 83-45 win over Oral Roberts. A win over a Summit League opponent doesn’t normally stand out for a team that is a national contender but in Houston’s case, it is the perfect demonstration as to why Busting Brackets has them as one of the best teams in college basketball.
They’re a little bit of a throwback basketball team, winning games on defense, rebounding, and toughness. They don’t shoot the lights out. They don’t run a flashy, boy-genius offensive scheme. They don’t play up-tempo. But they beat the hell out of you and smother you in the paint on offense and defense. The dominant win over ORU is the perfect microcosm of what makes Kelvin Sampson’s team so great.
They held the Golden Eagles’ best offensive weapon (and the preseason Summit League Player of the Year) Max Abmas to a comically low point total and shooting night, they cleaned the offensive glass and displayed the type of depth that is needed to make a championship run in March. Not only are these my takeaways from this game, but it outlines just what makes the Cougars so dangerous.
Houston put on a clinic against ORU on the defensive end. It’s nothing new. The Cougars always do a great job of limiting their opponent’s quality paint touches by sending extra help on dribble drives and either forcing turnovers or rushed shots. Last night, they didn’t force a ton of turnovers (forced 11 but Houston committed 12 themselves) but they did make sure every single shot that ORU took from the field was heavily contested.
Let’s start with the job Jamal Shead did on ORU star guard Abmas. Abmas is the focal point of the Golden Eagle offense and is an elite-level shooter and scorer (he was named preseason player of the year in the Summit League for a reason). The game plan was obviously to make sure he didn’t kill you from the perimeter and to make the rest of his teammates beat you. Shead made sure that was the case. He guarded Abmas on almost every possession, rarely switching and never helping off of him.
Every Abmas three-point attempt was heavily contested and mostly forced to be off of the dribble and out of the flow of the offense. The result? An atrocious 1-13 shooting from the field and 1-9 from three-point range, the only make being a deep three-pointer that was several feet behind the line. Shead and the Cougar defense also made sure to keep him off the free throw line. Zero freebies for Abmas and nothing easy.
The individual defensive performance by Shead needed to be noted but so does the overall team defense. They forced ORU to shoot a miserable 22% from the field and an eFG of 29%. The Golden Eagles scored their first bucket from the field on a crafty out-of-bounds play under the Houston basket that resulted in an easy lob to 7-5 center Connor Vanover. Outside of that play, they did not generate a field goal from their halfcourt offense until the 8:40 mark in the first half. They only managed eight points in the paint for the entire game.
I can spit out the stats all day about how tough this defense is to score against, but head coach Kelvin Sampson still considers it a work in progress.
“I’m not ready to evaluate whether I like it or not. We’re just progressing. I don’t look at stats; my eyes are my stats,” Sampson said after the game about his team’s defense. “We’re getting better at the things we teach. It’s hard to be a good defensive team, and I don’t want people to take this stuff for granted. If it’s easy then everybody would do it, but we really work at it, and I give a lot of credit to our kids and our staff because they’ll buy into it.”
Tramon Mark scores career-high 23 points
Offensively, Houston displayed scoring depth that might separate this team from last season’s. Exhibit A: Tramon Mark scoring 23 in the win. It was a new career-high for Mark and a great way to get him back in the swing of the offense after missing most of last season.
Mark was 8/12 from the field and scored from a variety of ways including a catch-and-shoot corner three and multiple dribble drives that got him into the paint for mid-range jumpers. Mark has a good-looking shot and displayed a great ability to use his athleticism to create his own shot off the dribble. If he becomes a reliable scorer, that will alleviate some of the scoring burden placed on preseason All-American Marcus Sasser.
Bench scoring displays championship-level depth
The bench players came in and defended exceptionally. You have to if you are to earn any minutes on a Sampson-coached basketball team. But they displayed some depth on the offensive end as well.
Freshman Terrance Arceneaux knocked down three of his six three-point attempts and was the leading bench scorer with 14 points. Ja’vier Francis came off the bench and contributed an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double. Four of his eleven rebounds were offensive, which led the team in what is their most dominant trait.
Reggie Chaney and Ramon Walker Jr. came off the bench and grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds each, contributing to the massive offensive rebounding advantage the Cougars had over ORU.
The main point is this: if you want a game that displays the ceiling of this Houston basketball team, this is it. They shut down the opposing team’s best player and forced him into a hideous shooting performance, Marcus Sasser scored 19 points but another contributor stepped up and provided additional scoring (Mark’s career-high 23) and dominated the offensive glass (rebounded half of their missed shots) to increase their offensive margin for error.
As fun as Gonzaga is to watch on offense, Houston is to watch on defense. They’re playing a unique, old school brand of tough basketball and this game is only a microcosm of their identity.