Getting to Know the Cougars With Houston Beat Reporter Joseph Duarte
While March Madness got its start early Thursday afternoon, Ron Hunter and his team are still preparing for Friday night’s matchup with the Houston Cougars. I was lucky enough to be able to speak with University of Houston beat reporter Joseph Duarte and find out more about this Houston team. Duarte has been covering UH Athletics for the Houston Chronicle for 8 years and was incredibly helpful in my effort to learn more about the Cougars. The article below will include the questions I asked and what I was able to learn from his answers.
1) What can you tell me about this trio of starting guards for Houston? (Armoni Brooks, Corey Davis Jr. Galen Robinson Jr.)
Senior guard Galen Robinson Jr. is the “heart and soul” of this Houston team. Robinson is the primary ball handler for the Cougars and averages 4.9 assists per game. An elite defender, Robinson’s biggest impact on the offensive end will come from his court vision and ball-handling skills. The senior also has 101 career wins as a Houston Cougar, which would make him only the second player in school history to do so.
Corey Davis Jr. is a former JUCO All-American that transferred from San Jacinto College two years ago. The 6’1” senior guard plays the 2 spot for the most part when on the court and serves as the team’s main gunner on offense, averaging 16.7 points per game. Davis Jr. makes almost three three-pointers a game and is sitting at 38% from beyond the arc on the year. One thing to look watch with regards to Davis Jr – he’s currently dealing with a hip strain after taking an elbow to the side in the AAC championship game.
Armoni Brooks is the second leading scorer on Houston, averaging 13.6 points per game. Brooks’ length makes him both an excellent defender and a knockdown shooter that’s very hard to defend. A rhythm scorer from beyond the arc, Brooks feeds off of the energy of his teammates and can get hot quick. Look for Armoni Brooks to be a big part of the Cougars offense tomorrow should they go on a run against Georgia State.
2) Can you help me figure out Houston’s big man rotation? From what I can see, all of the Houston big men average around 15 minutes per game.
Breaon Brady is Kelvin Sampson’s starting center, but has struggled at times this year with getting into foul trouble early. Behind Brady in the rotation, you’ll find Brison Gresham and Chris Harris Jr taking minutes at the 5 spot for Houston. All of these players play solid, gritty interior defense and are very physical in the post. Armoni Brooks, however, is the team’s leading rebounder, sitting at 6.5 per game on the year. Defense is a collaborative effort for Houston and rebounding is not a responsibility exclusively handled by the Cougar big men.
Fabian White Jr. is the starting Houston power forward. White doesn’t contribute much on the offensive side of the ball (averaging only 6 points per game) but is a solid defender at the 4 spot and can use his impressive length to make life difficult for opponents looking to score inside. Backing up Fabian White Jr. is freshman forward Cedrick Alley Jr.
Much of the Houston offense comes from perimeter shooting, so this rotation of big men often takes a back seat on the offensive end to the multitude of scoring threats in the the Cougar backcourt.
3) What one stat do you think will be the deciding factor in Friday’s game?
Houston is a team that hustles harder than almost any team in the country. Defense, rebounding, and hustle make up the core mantra preached by two-time American Conference Coach of the Year Kelvin Sampson (2018, 2019). Houston is a top-10 defensive team in the country this year. If Houston is going to be successful in Tulsa on Friday, it’ll be on the strength of their defense and perimeter shooting.
4) What do you see in this Georgia State team that piques your interest?
D’Marcus Simonds is the first thing about this Georgia State team that comes to mind. Anyone receiving an honorable mention All-American nod as a mid-major player is clearly an excellent player. Georgia State also shoots the ball extremely well from beyond the arc. On the defensive end, they don’t overwhelm any teams with their size, but all of the players seem to be bought into Coach Hunter’s system and it’s clearly working for them. On the topic of Ron Hunter, he’s a great coach with a lot of personality, and that overabundance of personality seems to be ever-present in the culture of this Georgia State team. They have a lot of fun and don’t seem to be a hyper-serious team like you see a lot of come the tournament. I even heard him refer to Kelvin Sampson as “grandpa” in one of his press conferences earlier. He’s had a lot of success with this group at Georgia State and seems to have a great time doing so.
5) Houston only lost 3 games all season, all in conference play. Was there a common thread in all three losses?
Each of those games were different in their own right with regards to what the deciding factor was that led to the loss. The loss against Temple in early January can be attributed to poor free throw shooting down the stretch. The UCF game was probably Houston’s “worst loss” of the season. The team made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes, specifically turning the ball over down the stretch. Those two games can be thought about as kind of “missed opportunities” for this team. The loss in the American Conference title game was their one blowout of the year if you can call it that. Jarron Cumberland exploded that game and Houston didn’t have an answer. Each loss is different, but the Temple and Central Florida games are one that I think Kelvin Sampson and his team would categorize as missed chances.
6) Can you explain to me the buzz around Kelvin Sampson’s tie, please?
Kelvin Sampson is a bit of a superstitious coach that coaches the game with a lot of passion. You’ll almost never see him coach with a suit jacket on, as that usually comes off very early in the game – sometimes before the game has even started. The tie is another story. He always wears the same shirt-tie color combination – light blue dress shirt with a red tie. Whether the tie comes off early or late depends on the game. However, one thing is almost certain with Coach Sampson – the tie will come off. Sometimes he’ll mess with people by loosening the tie, then retightening it, only to throw it off later in the game. The tie usually comes off when the game is getting serious or coming down to the wire, so we’ll be on #TieWatch for an indicator of how he feels the game is going.
I’d like to again extend my gratitude to Joseph Duarte for taking the time to speak with me ahead of the Panthers match against the Houston Cougars on Friday. He can be found on Twitter @Joseph_Duarte for more information regarding all things University of Houston athletics.
Georgia State tips against the University of Houston Friday, March 22nd at 7:20pm and can be found on TBS.