There still isn't an Aubrey Coleman on the Houston roster.
And scoring certainly hasn't been what it was under former head coach Tom Penders (the Cougars were averaging just 71.2 points per game through Nov. 29).
With the scoring machine Coleman gone and Penders no longer running the show, the Cougars have certainly shown a brand new brand of basketball under new head coach James Dickey through the first month of the season.
The goal under Dickey is to turn Houston into a tough team from a finesse, run-and-gun squad.
"It's a physical game," Dickey said. "We talked to them about toughness both mental and physical and I don't want our guys to cry about a foul. If a foul occurs, I want that to be icing on the cake and to get a basket and if we get an and-one, that's just icing on the cake. That's an area we have to improve on. It's tough out there and it's going to tougher every game. We have to be strong and we have to be physical."
These definitely aren't Penders' Cougars anymore.
Dickey has Houston playing defense first (teams were shooting just 38.4 percent on the Cougars in the first month of the year compared to a C-USA worst 46.1 percent clip in the 2009-10 season).
The Cougars pre-conference portion of the schedule is loaded with small school teams that may not have much size or depth.
It's clear the scheduling is an effort to instill in the Cougars before league play a belief that they can be a physical, defense-minded team after years of ignoring that part of the game.
Whether Dickey can truly change the program's identity by the time league play starts remains to be seen, but he's off to a good start, even if it is against teams that aren't putting up the same fight C-USA opponents will.
--Houston easily led C-USA in steals in 2009-10, averaging 9.4 per game. In the first month of the James Dickey head-coaching era, while defense has been the emphasis, taking unnecessary risks has not been.
That has resulted in far fewer steals. Houston averaged 5.5 steals per game through Nov. 29, tied for the second lowest average in C-USA.
--The Cougars weren't taking care of the ball very well in the first month of the season and head coach James Dickey won't stand for that kind of sloppiness. Houston ranked dead last in C-USA in turnover margin through six games at minus-3.0. Point guard Zamal Nixon was the exception on the team. He actually took care of the ball with 36 assists to just 15 turnovers. Of the other seven players averaging 16 or more minutes per game, six had more turnovers than assists and the seventh, G Darian Thibodeaux, was nearly even (12 assists, 10 turnovers).
KEEP AN EYE ON: San Diego transfer G Trumaine Johnson was only averaging 16.3 minutes per game in Houston's first six. His conditioning continues to improve and assuming that remains the case through December, he could be in line for some increased minutes come league play as he has the potential to be a great defender and that's something Dickey wants on this team.
STRENGTHS: Senior PG Zamal Nixon is playing a good point and distributing the ball well, averaging 6.0 assists per game in the first six outings. It's the Houston defense, though, that has been the biggest difference, which is exactly what the team's new head coach had hoped for. If the team can continue to hold opposing teams to 38.4 percent from the floor, that's a very good start for Year 1 under Dickey considering how much defense was ignored under previous coach Tom Penders.
WEAKNESSES: Of course with that improved defense has come an expected tradeoff on offense. The Cougars weekly media notes boasted through six games about G Adam Brown scoring 20 points in three games in November. A year ago, that wouldn't have made the note package because Houston was scoring like crazy. He'll need consistent help and Fs Maurice McNeil and Kendrick Washington have been that so far, but another guard in that conversation would be welcome. The team isn't taking care of the ball very well, either, averaging 17.5 turnovers per game through Nov. 29.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm happy you all stuck around as well as our fans because I certainly wouldn't have blamed anyone had they left at halftime." -- Houston head coach James Dickey to reporters after a sloppy Nov. 23 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
RECRUITING RETURNS: Houston head coach James Dickey took a balanced approach to his first early-signing period. The new head coach landed one junior college player (F Jonathon Simmons) and three prep stars (F TaShawn Thomas, PG Jevante Thompson and G Jherrod Stiggers). They join hometown G Joseph Yates who is already in school but redshirting as he originally committed to Providence. Dickey said all four signees this year can defend, a deficiency in recent Houston rosters.
DECEMBER OUTLOOK: The Cougars have six December games, four of which are against Southland Conference teams Sam Houston State (home and road), UT-San Antonio and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. A Dec. 6 home game with Nevada is Houston's only game of the month against a team from a mid-major or higher conference. Sam Houston is a very good low-major team and Nevada is usually solid, but in the grand scheme of things, December isn't exactly going to get the Cougars battle tested for league play in January.
--Hometown recruit Joseph Young, a 6-3 guard from Houston Yates High School, hasn't played yet this season and will redshirt this year after he originally committed to Providence.
--F Kendrick Washington was held out of Houston's two first games of the season and did not start the next four games after a preseason violation of unspecified team rules.
He's acclimated well once he was able to play, though. In four games through Nov. 29, Washington was averaging 22.0 minutes off the bench, shooting 64.0 percent from the field, grabbing 5.3 rebounds per game and was third on the team in scoring at 11.5 per night.