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What Virginia Basketball fans need to know about fifth-ranked Houston

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Photo: UVA Athletics

Houston, as Virginia fans can remember from last year, can play defense with the best of ‘em.

The fifth-ranked Cougars (10-1) sit at second in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency ratings in 2022-2023, and the 0.829 points per possession allowed is a borderline astonishing number, even with the small sample size.

They haven’t been tested all that much yet. Kelvin Sampson’s schedule has had three KenPom Top 50 games – #10 Alabama (71-65 L), #19 St. Mary’s (53-48 W) and #38 Oregon (66-56 W).

One other game stands out – the 49-44 win over KenPom 63 Kent State on Nov. 26.

You can see the trend there. Houston, like Virginia, can win ugly when necessary.

The adjusted tempo is very Virginia-like – 63.5 possessions per game, 348th among the 363 teams in D1.

Virginia’s adjusted tempo: 60.3 possessions per game, 361st.

There are actually teams that are slower, is the message there.

I should say, there are actually teams that are more patient, because that’s what it is here.

Both Houston and Virginia play deep into the shot clock on offense, make their opponents play deep into the shot clock on the other end, the aim being to wear their opponents down.

And it usually works.

How does it work when they face a mirror image?

The Houston rotation

Ten players average double-digit minutes for Sampson, though he tends to go with a tighter seven-man group in more contested games.

The centerpiece is 6’2” senior guard Marcus Sasser (16.2 ppg, 41.9% FG, 30.6% 3FG), who had 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting in Houston’s 67-47 win over UVA last November.

The point guard, 6’1” junior Jamal Shead (7.5 ppg, 5.7 assists/g, 34.8% FG, 33.3% 3FG), is the driving force to the UH offense, and defensively, he averages 2.4 steals per game and limits opponents to 24.7 percent shooting, so, elite.

No one aside from Sasser averages in double-figures in scoring, but there’s depth.

Jarace Walker, a 6’8” freshman forward, is tough in the post (9.3 ppg, 6.5 rebounds/g) who can stretch defenses on the perimeter (37.5% 3FG).

J’Wan Roberts (9.3 ppg, 7.1 rebs/g, 65.3% FG) is 6’7”, 230 – basically Houston’s Jayden Gardner.

The other starter is 6’5” junior Tramon Mark (9.3 ppg, 39.8% FG, 34.5% 3FG).

Bench depth:

  • 6’8” sophomore Ja’Vier Francis (6.1 ppg, 4.6 rebs/g, 68.2% FG)
  • 6’5” freshman Terrance Arceneaux (5.4 ppg, 4.0 rebs/g, 37.9% FG, 28.6% 3FG)
  • 6’8” senior Reggie Chaney (3.6 ppg, 3.1 rebs/g, 58.6% FG)
  • 6’4” sophomore Ramon Walker Jr. (3.6 ppg, 2.9 rebs/g, 38.5% FG, 28.6% 3FG)

Projections

  • KenPom: Virginia 57-56, 52% win probability
  • Bart Torvik: Houston 56-51, 72% win probability
  • ESPN BPI: Houston +1.5, 57.1% win probability

Chris Graham

In addition to being the editor of Augusta Free Press, I've written seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For my commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to my YouTube page, youtube.com/chrisgrahamAFP. Want to reach me? Try [email protected].