Two opponents jumped off the page of the Houston Cougars’ nonconference schedule, but after completing their early slate with the second-most wins in program history, it’s clear that the Cougars gained much more than those contests against Alabama and Virginia.

No. 3 Houston (12-1) will open its American Athletic Conference schedule at Tulsa (4-7) on Wednesday off an 83-44 home victory over McNeese State last Wednesday.

The 2018-19 Cougars’ 13 nonconference wins are the most in program history, and this current iteration seems poised to do extensive damage this season with its blend of ample experience and burgeoning youth.

The nonconference schedule was designed to take advantage of what the Cougars had to offer.

“We’ve researched the teams,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We just don’t grab the phone and start calling people. Norfolk State had five starters back from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament. Rob Senderoff is the all-time winningest coach in the history of Kent State and he has his best team coming back. So we knew how good Kent State was, we knew how good Norfolk State was.

“Colorado State won at Saint Mary’s and Northern Colorado won at Colorado State. They’ve (Northern Colorado) got the player of the year in that league back and their entire starting backcourt.

“If you go down the list of the teams that we scheduled, we do this every year. People are always going to have comments about your schedule but you don’t pay attention to what they say because they don’t know what they don’t know. We do.”

That attention to detail has yielded a Cougars team poised to claim another conference crown, a group thriving off the balance provided by four starters averaging approximately nine-plus points per game: senior guard Marcus Sasser (16.0), freshman forward Jarace Walker (9.5), sophomore guard Tramon Mark (9.1) and junior forward J’Wan Roberts (8.9). Junior guard Jamal Shead averages 7.6 points and a team-high 5.8 assists while Roberts leads the Cougars by averaging 7.2 rebounds.

Tulsa had limited three consecutive opponents below 40-percent shooting before Loyola Marymount shot 45.6 percent, including 23 of 39 inside the arc, in a 76-64 road loss on Wednesday. Much of the Lions’ success came via converting 16 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points.

“We’ve talked about that our first-shot defense is getting better and better,” Tulsa coach Eric Konkol said. “We’ve got to be able to make it just one shot (allowed per possession). If we can clean up that rebounding more and more consistently, we can see those numbers drop even more, which would be a good thing.”

Showcasing vulnerability on the defensive boards is especially worrisome against the Cougars, who are annually one of the top offensive rebounding programs in the nation and were ranked 16th nationally entering Tuesday in grabbing 13.6 offensive boards per game. Completing a defensive trip with a rebound is a foremost goal for the Golden Hurricane, who are well aware of all the Cougars bring to the table as a highly-ranked national program for several years running.

“They’re obviously off to a great start and have been a really good program now for a number of years,” Konkol said of the Cougars. “We’re looking forward to that being our next home game.”

–Field Level Media