Considering the tailspin the Houston Cougars are in, they can't afford to waste opportunities like the one that's coming up.
Houston suffered its fourth consecutive league loss game Jan. 18, falling 70-54 to SMU on the road. But the Cougars will face a struggling East Carolina team in Houston at the Hofheinz Pavilion on Jan. 21.
The Cougars had a five game win streak from Dec. 20 through their C-USA opening win over Tulsa on Jan. 4, but second-year head coach James Dickey has seemingly lost his team ever since.
Not only have the Cougars lost four in a row, but each setback has been by double figures. In fact, the average margin of defeat for Houston in losses to UTEP (Jan. 7), UCF (Jan. 11), Memphis (Jan. 14) and SMU (Jan. 18) has been 20.3 points.
But with the Pirates game comes hope. ECU is 0-4 in league play, but has been far more competitive over the past two weeks than Houston, losing two of those four league games by just one basket.
After losing to Memphis on Jan. 14 by 34 points (89-55), Houston freshman guard Joseph Young said the team was determined to turn things around.
"In the sport of basketball, that happens," Young said in the Houston Chronicle. "The game is about runs. You have to overcome adversity after that. Lose by 30, lose by 1, you still have to come out and play the next game."
Unfortunately for the Cougars, that next game ended in a 16-point loss to SMU in a game the Mustangs led by double figures pretty much the entire second half.
TRENDING: Where have the Houston starters gone? During the team's dreadful four-game losing streak since Jan. 7, Houston has had just three double-figure scoring outings from a starter (twice by sophomore F Alandise Harris and once from freshman F TaShawn Thomas). That's 20 opportunities (five starters per game over four games) and 17 of those starting spots have resulted in players not exactly showing up in the scoring column. It's no wonder the Cougars scoring average in the four-game skid is just 55.5 points.
--Houston had its six-game home winning streak snapped at Hofheinz Pavilion in a big way when it was routed by Memphis 87-53 on Jan. 14. The Cougars were 8-4 at home this season, 0-3 on the road and 1-1 on neutral courts through Jan. 15.
--Perhaps Houston was road weary for the loss to Memphis. After all, the Cougars had flown over 3,000 miles to their previous two games in a seven-day stretch.
First, the Cougars traveled 1,352 miles round trip to play Texas-El Paso on Jan. 7. That was followed by a round trip of 1,694 miles to Central Florida on Jan. 11.
--More than half of Houston's field goal attempts and exactly half of the team's points in a Jan. 18 loss at SMU came from beyond the arc. Houston was 9-of-24 from 3-point range in the 70-54 defeat.
BY THE NUMBERS: 8.3 percent -- Houston's shooting accuracy from 3-point range in the loss to Memphis. The Cougars went 1-for-12.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Humiliating." -- Houston freshman forward TaShawn Thomas, on the Cougars' 87-53 loss to Memphis on Jan. 14.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--East Carolina, Jan. 21V
KEY MATCHUPS: Junior G Miguel Paul was averaging 16.0 points, 5.6 assists and 1.6 steals a game through Jan. 15. Senior F Darrius Morrow was averaging 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds, and junior F Maurice Kemp was averaging 10.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. Houston had a three-game winning streak against East Carolina snapped last season.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman G J.J. Thompson had started the last nine games at the point through Jan. 15, and Houston coach James Dickey has liked what he has seen. Thompson had averaged 5.4 points and 3.0 assists in his starts, but he also had enabled freshman G Joseph Young to move to his natural shooting guard position, where he averaged 11.2 points in the last nine games.
"He really wants to get better, and he really wants to make the team better," Dickey said of Thompson. "I think that's important when you talk about a point guard. He's an extension of the coaching staff. He has the ball in his hands more than anybody else, he's got to get everybody involved, he's got to realize who has the hot hand, who do we want to go to, what sets are we in ... so that's a lot of responsibility."
--It wasn't the worst game the Houston Cougars have had on the offensive boards this season (the team had just three offensive rebounds in a Jan. 7 loss to UTEP), but it was pretty close. Houston grabbed just four offensive boards in a Jan. 18 loss at SMU. G Jonathon Simmons had a team-high two offensive rebounds and freshman F TaShawn Thomas, the team's leading rebounder at 7.4 per game, had just one offensive board and two total rebounds in the game.
--Junior F Kirk Van Slyke came off the bench Jan. 18 at SMU and scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 16 minutes of play. It was the first game Van Slyke scored in double figures since exploding for a career-high 28 points in a Nov. 22 win over Oakland. Between Nov. 14 and Nov. 22, Van Slyke scored 65 points in a three game stretch (21.7 points per game). In his next 12 games before the Jan. 18 loss to SMU, Van Slyke scored 58 points (4.8 per game). The Cougars, obviously, hope whatever caused Van Slyke's horrendous scoring drought finally came to an end at SMU.