Houston coach Kelvin Sampson remains in search of the best method to reshape the 11th-ranked Cougars on the fly after a pair of injuries to frontline guards weakened the rotation.
One thing that hasn't changed for the Cougars, even following the losses of Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, is their ability to find ways to overcome opponents. Houston (14-2, 3-0 American) remained unbeaten in conference play with their 76-66 home win over Wichita State last Saturday. The Cougars will look to remain unblemished when they travel to Tulsa this Saturday.
Without Mark and Sasser, who was leading the Cougars in scoring at 17.7 points per game, Houston has turned to senior center Josh Carlton, a Connecticut transfer. Carlton was named American Player of the Week after averaging 26 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in victories over South Florida and the Shockers. He scored a career-high 30 against South Florida.
"We pride ourselves on player development," Sampson said. "Some teams, recruiting and having talent is how they win, and that's great. There's nothing wrong with that. We take guys like Quentin Grimes (a first-round pick of the New York Knicks in the 2021 NBA Draft) and put him on the track where he's got a chance to develop and sell him on development.
"Josh has been a joy to coach. He follows instructions, he does exactly what you ask him to do. He's a great teammate. Is he better than I thought? I don't know if I look at things like that."
Grimes transferred from Kansas and enjoyed a breakout junior season while leading Houston to the Final Four last season. At some point, opponents will adjust and attempt to lessen the impact Carlton is having for the Cougars offensively. Given their results without Sasser and Mark, both of whom were lost prior to the start of conference play, the Cougars should thrive nonetheless.
"Having those three options (helped), and those were our first three options: Marcus one, Tramon two and then we were starting to play through Josh," Sampson said. "But now with Marcus out and Tramon out, it's not like we had a ton of other choices."
The Golden Hurricane (6-8, 0-3) dropped the first of two home games this week on Wednesday, falling to Temple 69-64. It marked the first game back for Tulsa following a five-day pause due to COVID-19 issues within the program that included a postponement of the road tilt at UCF on Jan. 8. The Golden Hurricane lost at Memphis 67-64 in what was their second conference game on Jan. 4.
Including their three-game skid, the UCF postponement and cancellations of scheduled games against Colorado State (Dec. 18) and North Texas (Dec. 21), the Golden Hurricane last tasted victory against Alcorn State on Dec. 16. It's been a challenging stretch for Tulsa, but one not too unfamiliar for a number of programs across the nation.
"Hopefully it won't be an issue with us the rest of the way," Tulsa coach Frank Haith said of the virus outbreak. "A lot of teams are going through this throughout the country."
--Field Level Media