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The Scholarly Spotlight: Houston Cougars

In sports, a common saying is "defense wins championships", and basketball is no stranger to that catchphrase. The Houston Cougars defense has been the pinnacle of their success this season, as they are ranked # 1 in the country. Under head coach Kelvin Sampson, the Cougars are thriving in their first year in the Big 12, winning the regular season title. They finished with a 28-3 record and a 15-3 conference record, with National Championship goals in mind.

Led by senior guard L.J. Cryer, he is having a career year while putting Houston in the national spotlight. Cryer is averaging 15.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals with shooting splits of 41.3/39.1/87.1%. He is also making 3.1 three pointers per game, which leads the Big 12 conference. Cryer is no stranger to playing for championship teams priding on defense, as he transferred from Baylor who won the National Championship in the 2020-21 season. He only played a small part in that season, only averaging 10 minutes per game, but it's shaped him into the defender he is today. In a their game against #21 BYU, he scored 23 points, got 1 steal, and hit 5 three pointers while beating a tournament team on the road. Cryer isn't alone in his efforts to guide this team, as the Cougars have plenty more talent to help them win.

Jamal Shead is starring at point guard for Houston, impacting on both offense and defense. He is averaging 13.2 points, 6.2 assists (third in the conference), and is second in the conference with 2.3 steals per game. Shead is a big part of Houston's defense, leading them with 2.8 Defensive Win Shares. This makes him the hardest player for anyone to score on, which identifies his defense as the most valuable on the team. In the Cougars' 82-61 win against Texas, Shead really shined with nearly a triple-double. He scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and showcased his defense with 6 steals in the conference win. Leading the frontcourt for Houston is senior forward, J'Wan Roberts. He is averaging 9.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. He is also the second best player on the Cougars in defensive win shares, with 2.4. This indicates Roberts is their second-best defender, which is important because they have elite defensive talent in both the front-court and back-court. Houston is talented enough to win it all, but how do they compare to the rest of the field?

The Cougars defense is the best in the country, where teams typically shoot 38.5% from the field, and score 57.3 points per game. Their offense isn't the best however, as they only average 74.1 points per game. Houston has the potential to lock down teams and win in that way, but they could be on upset alert if their opponent catches fire from the field. On February 3rd, Houston fell to the Kansas Jayhawks on the road as they were caught under fire early. The Jayhawks shot 68.9% from the field, and made six three's shooting 46.2% from that range. Falling to the Jayhawks on the road was tough, but their best win was when that same team came to H-Town. The Cougars won 76-46 on March 9th, only allowing #14 Kansas to make 33.3% from the field and 14.3% from downtown. The best way to avoid upsets in the NCAA Tournament is to not allow teams to shoot well from deep.

When Houston's record is split by Quadrants, they are 7-2 in quad 1 games, 7-1 in quad 2 games, and 14-0 combined in quad's 3 and 4. If wins are home games vs. teams RPI ranked 1-30, neutral games vs. 1-50, and away games vs. 1–75, they are classified as Quad one. For example, their games against Kansas identify as quad one. A Quadrant 2 victory would be at Home against the RPI 31–75, neutral 51–100, and away wins over the RPI 76–135. The Cougars 14-0 record against the quad 3 and 4 teams is massive because it demonstrates they take care of business against bottom teams. The selection committee really identifies top seeds through the quadrant system, and another effect one is KenPom ranking. Houston is ranked as the top team in the KenPom ranking, proving they should undoubtedly be a top seed in the tournament. They rank as the top defense in the adjusted defensive efficiency, only giving up 88.0 points per 100 possessions. In a field with no definitive favorite, the Cougars look to complete their near perfect resume heading into the Big 12 Tournament.


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