Alabama Basketball Opponent Preview: Houston Cougars

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Alabama basketball takes on the nation’s top-ranked team for the second time in two weeks when it travels west to play the Houston Cougars on Saturday afternoon.

This top-10 matchup should be intense from the opening tip. The two teams played a very physical, closely-contested game in Coleman Coliseum last year that saw the Crimson Tide win 83-82 with a defensive stand  in the game’s final seconds.

The Houston program and fan base is still convinced it was robbed in that game, and would like nothing better than to beat Bama. Regardless of the added motivation, the Cougars may be the toughest opponent Alabama Basketball faces all year.

Houston currently sits at 9-0, having mostly dominated lower-tier competition. The only high-major team the Cougars have played all season is a struggling 4-5 Oregon team that they beat 66-56. This matchup wasn’t the only example of a low-scoring “struggle win” from Houston this year. In recent weeks, they have beaten Saint Mary’s by a score of 53-48 and Kent State by a score of 49-44. Houston has beaten its remaining six opponents by an average of 38 points per game.

The Cougars are led by senior guard Marcus Sasser, who is widely considered to be a first-team All-American. Sasser missed the majority of last season with an injury, but was healthy for the Alabama game in Tuscaloosa and poured in a game-high 25 points. He is currently averaging 16.9 points and 2.9 assists per game.

Joining Sasser in the backcourt are fellow veterans Tramon Mark and Jamal Shead. Mark also missed most of last season with an injury, but is back on the court this year. The 6’5” junior is averaging 10.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Shead is a gritty, pass-first point guard that stepped up in Sasser’s absence last year. He was so good that the two now co-exist in the Cougars’ backcourt. Shead is averaging 6.7 points and a team-high 6.2 assists while spearheading the Houston defense with a tenacious on-ball mentality. Freshman guard Terrance Arceneaux provides wing athleticism off the bench.

A trio of undersized but athletic bigs man the paint for Houston. Junior J’Wan Roberts, freshman Jarace Walker, and senior Reggie Chaney all bring toughness and a physical edge to the back line of the Cougars’ defense, as well as the glass. Chaney is a fifth-year senior that comes off the bench to provide energy. The 6’8” forward is not much of a scoring threat, but he is difficult to keep off the offensive boards. Roberts, a 6’7” redshirt junior, is enjoying a breakout season, averaging career-bests of 9.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Jarace Walker was a 5-star recruit and has been an excellent complement to Chaney and Roberts. Walker has started every game so far, and has parlayed his superb athleticism into 9.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

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Alabama basketball has already proven it can be one of the nation’s best teams. Today, it will have the opportunity to prove its toughness and resolve. To leave Houston with a victory would take not only physical toughness, but the mental grit to operate in what will be a raucous environment.