The Layup Line: Houston

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati leads the overall series with Houston 22-1 although they haven't met since 2005. Can the Cougars stun the Bearcats in Houston?

So that game against Memphis was surprising, huh? The 'Cats blew out the Tigers and got outrebounded. And here I thought they'd have to have a +7 margin to pull off the upset. My credibility's shot, but you'll read on anyway. Thanks in advance.

On paper, this game against Houston (10-5) shouldn't be that challenging. The Cougars have five losses already (one to RPI #236) and are playing without 3 of their starters - all sitting because of injuries. With the way Justin Jackson & company are playing right now, this game should be easier than a Tri-Delt after midnight.

Just kidding, ladies; I love you...

But, for some reason, this Cougar team appears to be playing better without their starters. They knocked off then #17 UConn 75-71 at home just a week ago. And this past weekend, they cruised past an easy USF squad to remain unbeaten in AAC play. Besides UC and UH, the only other undefeated team in conference play is Louisville, so Tuesday's game between the Bearcats and Cougars is, like, pretty much a first place battle.

  • Game: Tuesday, January 7 @ 9:00pm ET
  • Location: Hofheinz Pavilion; Houston, TX
  • TV/Radio: CBSSN; 700WLW

Houston is led by 6'8" junior TaShawn Thomas (#35 in your program) and he's playing a Justin Jackson-like role on this Cougars team lately. He averages 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds on the season, but his stat line this past weekend against USF went a little something like this: 13 points, 4 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists, 6 steals, and 1 turnover in 35 minutes on the court.

Houston, we have a problem.

I didn't want to type such an overused phrase, but there wasn't a choice, really. As for you - you should keep repeating that name over and over in your head - Thomas, Thomas, Thomas - so that you sound smart when you tell your buddies how good he is. Controlling him just might be the key to a UC victory.

Another guy to look out for is 6'10" redshirt freshman Danrad Knowles (#0). He's really come on strong during conference play (partly due to his increase in minutes thanks to other injuries). Two things to know about Knowles: he comes off the bench, and boy is he skinny - listed at a whopping 190lbs in the media guide - but he's averaging 12.5 points and 7 rebounds over his last 2 games. I'd like to think the Bearcats can muscle him out of the lane for rebounds, but stranger things have happened.

The other Cougar to watch is Jherrod Stiggers (#21), a 6'5" guard out of Texas. After starting 9 games this year, Stiggers has come off the bench in each of Houston's AAC contests. He's averaging 10.1 points on the entire season, and he's likely to hit a couple of 3-point shots.

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Avoid that victory champagne. Saturday's win over Memphis - in Memphis - was a big statement for the Bearcats. And it means absolutely nothing come Tuesday night, so hopefully Cincinnati doesn't have a hangover.
  • Protect the paint. In their upset over the Huskies, Houston had a -5 turnover margin but made up for it in the paint where they outscored UConn by 12. The Bearcats should be on the better end of the turnover margin in this game, so they'll need to protect the paint, Mr. Mean Face.
  • Keep an eye on Thomas. This goes hand-in-hand with the above, but Thomas is responsible for over 25% of Houston's scoring in AAC play. The Bearcats don't have to completely shut him down, but it'd be nice to limit his impact on the game.

My predicition: Well, I'll actually be watching this one from somewhere in Las Vegas - far away from single digit temperatures. And, yes, I'm rubbing that in. I know Houston beat up on UConn a week ago, but I like Cincinnati in this one. The Bearcat seniors are battled tested, and they'll put the Memphis game in the rear-view mirror. Bearcats win: 67-61

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