Year one of James Dickey's tenure as head coach of the Houston Cougars was a struggle. The players Dickey inherited struggled to adjust to his personality, some of them getting suspended during the year. Others transferred before the season began. The team's record was indicative of all the things that went wrong, as UH ended up just 12-18, and 4-12 in Conference USA play.
The 2011-12 season was a second chance for Dickey's Coogs to make a first impression. The going has been tough after a season-opening 3-0 record, which included a win against Arkansas. After Tuesday night's last-second win over Texas-San Antonio, Houston stands at just 5-5, although their five losses have come by just a combined 14 points.
If you're an optimist, you look at the Cougars and say that an incredibly inexperienced squad is just a handful of plays away from having eight or nine wins. If they can learn to finish off games, they can compete with anybody. And with the majority of the team coming back next year, with the school's most touted recruiting class in decades incoming, the future is very bright.
However, coach Dickey has struggled through his first 40 games at the helm of the Cougar program to instill a sense of identity in his team. In a few short years, Dickey has proven himself to be a masterful evaluator and recruiter of talent. But his team is continuing to struggle with smaller, less athletic, less talented teams, and Dickey has to take some of the blame for that.
The talent is undeniable, but when watching the games, it's difficult to ascertain what it is that the Cougars do particularly well. They don't rebound very well - they're giving up over 14 offensive boards per game so far. Defensively, they struggle to defend the screen. Their offensive sets sometimes get stagnant for long stretches, which good opponents can (and have) taken advantage of. They don't force many turnovers from the opponent, and they don't do a good job of preventing turnovers of their own.
Of course, every time you're ready to write the team off, they play an inspired stretch of high-energy basketball, but it has been too little, too late in half of the team's contests this year. The Cougars should absolutely be better than 5-5, and that falls on the coaching staff.
Whatever it is that Dickey wants this team to become, he needs to figure out how to make it happen, and soon, as conference play is just three games away. And coach Dickey has done too good of a job in accumulating talent to let it go to waste.