When it comes to James Dickey's Houston Cougar basketball team, and one only hopes that first impressions won't be lasting impressions. Yes, UH won the game, but by a slim, 71-68 margin over Division II Abilene Christian.
I don't want to make too big a deal of an exhibition game in which two of Houston's top players - point guard Zamal Nixon and forward Kendrick Washington - did not play. So in the interests of making only constructive criticism, let's go with the tried and true method known as the compliment sandwich.
Compliment: The Cougars shot for a very high percentage from the field, connecting on 22-of-40 field goal attempts. Shot selection, as promised, was much better than it often was under the previous regime.
Criticism: You know what else was true under the previous regime? The Cougars consistently ranked near the top of the NCAA in turnover margin. On Saturday, Houston turned the ball over a whopping 26 times. The rebounding was a mess, as Houston surrendered 20 offensive rebounds to the Wildcats. The overall defense (ACU shot 40%) wasn't horrible, but it wasn't good. Just generally speaking, if you watched the game without context, you wouldn't have guessed that one team is supposed to be a level above the other.
Compliment: The Cougars did a good job of being physical with the ball and getting to the free throw line. They ended up shooting 35 free throws, although admittedly in a game in which the referees were quick to blow the whistle on anything.
Newcomer Alandise Harris was a microcosm of the Cougars as a whole in the game. He made all five of his field goal attempts (including an emphatic dunk), got to the line ten times...and grabbed just one rebound in 27 minutes of play, despite being a more physical presence than most anybody on ACU.
After the game, Dickey commented on the absence of Nixon and Washington, saying that Nixon had a badly sprained ankle, and Washington had committed a violation of team rules. There is no timetable for the return of either.
It's not the end of the world. But with the season opener against Nicholls State coming up on Friday, I hope Dickey's got some tricks up his sleeve. Because what we saw on Saturday won't cut it.