Friday night the Cats will take on the Houston Cougars in Kansas City for the final spot in the Elite 8. Houston has an impressive 33-3 record and won both its opening rounds games by a double-digit margin.
Here’s the group that will tip off with the Cats in the Sweet 16 this weekend:
Houston’s starters average 50.6 points a game, with Davis Jr. and Brooks leading the charge. The Cougars average 76.2 points per game (half a point less than UK, which averages 76.5), meaning the 3-seed’s bench accounts for nearly 25.6 points a game (for reference, UK’s averages 15). Given that number, it’s reasonable to assume we will see Houston coach Kelvin Sampson rotate players in and out with great frequency. Here’s the numbers for the Cougars’ bench, listed in descending order of minutes averaged:
A name (or two) you’ll hear Friday
Corey Davis Jr. — The senior shooting guard and leading scorer set an American Athletic Conference record for three-pointers made in an NCAA Tournament game by draining seven in the Cougars’ opening round against Georgia State. He followed that outing up by dropping 21 on Ohio State in the Round of 32. Davis Jr. loves to let the triples fly; throughout the month of March (eight games) he shot an average of 10 threes and connected on 33 percent. With the rate the Davis Jr. shoots, that percentage can and has been very effective.
Armoni Brooks — The 6-foot-3 junior guard is second on the team in scoring, but leads the Cougars in rebounds with 6.6. Brooks has nabbed 226 boards this season, 71 more than the next Houston player.
Some things to note
Houston’s backcourt rebounds better than its frontcourt — The Cougars’ starting bigs only average 8.1 rebounds. Brooks is first on the team with 226 rebounds for the year, and second is sixth man Nate Hinton with 155. Starting forward Breaon Brady is next with 145, and fellow big man Fabian White is not far behind with 119. How are these numbers possible? Well…
Houston’s frontcourt is run by committee — The Cougars have no PJ Washington or Reid Travis (both of whom average nearly 30 minutes a game). Without a superstar, Sampson keeps a constant rotation of bigs. While the 6-foot-5 Cedrick Alley Jr. may come off the bench, the freshman leads all forwards in minutes per game (18.7). White Jr. and Brady both start, but neither play more than 18 minutes. Center Chris Harris Jr. rounds the group out and averages nearly 11 minutes per game. Keeping such a balance of frontcourt minutes means each player’s averages are low, but the unit is solid when looked at as a whole. Interestingly enough, Houston averages 41.2 boards a game — 2.8 more than Kentucky.
The Cougars shoot like Wofford — If you thought the three-point party ended in Jacksonville with the Terriers, think again. Houston has attempted 838 threes this season (Wofford’s number was 874), and has connected on 305 for a mark of 36.4 percent. To put that number in perspective, UK is 199/547 from behind the arc this year. Expect the shots to be flying yet again.
The Cougars play fast — Part of the reason Houston launches so many threes is Sampson’s coaching strategy. He wants his team to average over 70 possessions a game and maintain spacing on offense so that they are always one pass away from a corner three.
Houston is a good defensive team – The Cougars allow only 60.8 points per game, a mark that is sixth best in the nation. That statistic has sustained in the NCAA Tournament, too — neither Ohio State nor Georgia State (both teams that score 69 and 76.5 points a game, respectively) surpassed 60 points. It’s fair to say UK’s offensive attack has more firepower than either of the Cougar’s first two opponents, but the Cats only managed an uncharacteristic 62 points against Wofford.
UK finished the season ranked 7th in the AP poll. Houston was 11th.
The Cats opened up as a 2.5-point favorite over the Cougars, but that line could shift in a big way when more news on PJ Washington’s availability comes out later in the week.
It seems as though UK’s defense will be tested again by another boom-or-bust offense. Herro stepped up in a big way against Wofford, and a similar defensive effort from him or another Wildcat could go a long way in helping UK make its 38th Elite 8 appearance.
This marks Houston’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 1984. The Cougars won’t go down easy, but neither will the Wildcats.
It’ll be a cat-fight in Kansas City Friday night. Tip is set for approximately 10 p.m. on TBS.
May the better feline win.