A coach's view on the Cougars
Houston brought in eight new players this season, which is one reason why one Conference USA coach believes it took the Cougars until the very end of the season to round into form. After winning four straight games to claim the Conference USA tournament crown, Houston advanced to the NCAA tournament where it will face Maryland in the first round on Friday night in Spokane, Wash.
The coach said Houston has not changed much in terms of its approach on either end of the court since the beginning of the season, which makes the jump the Cougars made from going 7-9 in conference play to becoming the conference tournament champions all the more perplexing.
"They're a very, very talented team that had a lot of turnover after last season," said the coach, who was granted anonymity in return for his candor about a conference opponent. "Perhaps it's just taken them this long to figure it out."
Houston's centerpiece, senior guard Aubrey Coleman, tallied just 13 points (roughly 12 points below his season average) on 4 for 20 shooting in the C-USA tournament title game against Texas-El Paso. Coleman did register nine rebounds, six assists and four steals. The coach said Coleman's relatively low point total against UTEP was an aberration.
"He'll find a way to get his 25-30 points a night," the coach said. "It's just an issue of how many possessions it will take to get that. But the ball is in his hands just as much" as it was earlier in the season.
The coach said Houston prefers to spread the floor and that its players like to create off the dribble. He said the Cougars do not run many set plays, but they do employ a fair number of ball screens. Aside from Coleman, Houston will run a few "special things" designed for senior guard Kelvin Lewis, but that's about it.
"Everybody else picks up the scraps after Aubrey gets done," the coach said.
Coleman might only stand 6-foot-4, but the coach described him as a strong guard with great hands. Coleman is the team's leading defensive rebounder, which enables him to ignite transition scoring opportunities, and ranks second on the squad in offensive rebounds, which provides him chances for put-backs.
"He's explosive and strong," the coach said. "When he puts it on the deck, you can put your forearm on him, but it's not going to derail him."
In terms of defending Coleman, the coach said the best plan is to be persistent, try to stick with him and not lose track of him, and attempt to limit his second chance opportunities.
"The bottom line is he's going to score his points," the coach said. "It's all about the other guys."
Those other guys include Lewis, who the coach said has a quick release and "deep, deep" range. Lewis is shooting 39.8 percent from three-point range.
They also include senior forward Sean Coleman, junior guard Adam Brown and freshman foward Kirk Van Slyke, all of whom, the coach said, "can go off on a given night."
Defensively, the coach essentially threw up his hands. Or, at least, I imagined him throwing up his hands as he spoke to me on the other end of the line. He said Houston is a "rambling, gambling group on defense. You don't know what you're going to see from night to night."
The coach said he's seen the Cougars run a variety of defensive schemes this season, ranging anywhere from a triangle-and-2 to a box-and-1 to different zones to man-to-man looks. They might switch defenders off of every screen, he said, or they might not switch off of any screen.
"Gary is just going to have to take a wild guess as far as what they're going to do defensively," the coach said. "Penders is liable to come up with something they haven't run all season. You just have to worry about what you do on offense."
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