In a wide open Conference USA, with a lot of talent on the roster, the Cougar faithful were hopeful that the 2011-12 season could be the beginning of a renaissance in Houston hoops. That hasn't exactly been the case, as the Coogs are off to just a 7-5 start against a mediocre non-conference schedule, but there have certainly been reasons for optimism. Houston has played competitive games against everybody, with none of their losses coming by more than five points. And the talent level of youngsters like sophomore Alandise Harris, and freshmen Joseph Young and TaShawn Thomas, is undeniable. The consistency isn't where it needs to be, but the talent is absolutely there.
The good news is that Houston's last non-conference game, a 94-71 avenging of an early loss to Texas State, was one of the Coogs' most impressive performances of the year. There were still some ebbs and flows in performance, but in terms of defending ball screens, rebounding, and getting consistently good looks on offense, Houston looked pretty good.
The other good news is that Conference USA is still wide open. Heavy favorite Memphis (whom I absolutely called out as overrated before the season began, thankyouverymuch) began the season ranked in the top ten, but has five losses already. (Admittedly all five coming to teams that have been ranked at some point this year.) After a disappointing season-opening loss to Denver, a Southern Miss squad that was not picked among the conference favorites has lost just one more game, a double-overtime affair to undefeated Murray State. The Golden Eagles have beaten Mississippi and Arizona State along the way. Tulane lacks a signature win, but a team that was expected to finish near the bottom of C-USA is off to a 10-2 start. Schools you could usually count on to be near the top of the conference ladder - UTEP, Tulsa and UAB - are all playing .500-or-worse basketball.
Bottom line, if the Cougars fire on all cylinders the rest of the way, they are absolutely capable of ending up near the top of the conference.
That starts tonight, as Houston hosts Tulsa at 7:00 PM at Hofheinz Pavilion. Both teams have under-performed thus far, and both teams will be highly motivated to get off on the right foot in conference play.
Look for the x-factor tonight to be Houston's lone senior in Darian Thibodeaux. "Tip" leads the team in minutes played, and checks in at just sixth in scoring, but his defensive contributions are where he earns his playing time. He and the Cougar backcourt will have their hands full with the Golden Hurricane's pair of impressive scoring guards in Jordan Clarkson and Scottie Haralson.