1)Return to prominence?: Coach Tom Penders took over the Houston program this year, hoping to return the team to the significance it had during the Phi Slamma Jamma era. After the Cougars stumbled to a 17-38 combined record the past two seasons, it will take some time for him to turn things around. Still, Houston has decent talent for a mid-level Conference USA team that went 9-18, 3-13 in league play, last season. Although the Tigers still hold the edge in that category, the Cougars will be able to run, which Brown had little success doing, managing just two fast-break points last night.
2) Observe Owens: Houston guard Andre Owens is the Cougars' top player, a member of the preseason All-Conference USA team who averaged 160 points and 5.4 rebounds last season. He will make his 56th consecutive start tonight, but he'll be trying to forget about No. 55. Owens suffered through monumental struggles in Houston's 72-69 win against Sam Houston State yesterday, shooting 1-of-15, including 1-of-8 from 3, to finish with six points.
Owens found other ways to contribute, chipping in six assists and eight rebounds, but he will be looking to make up for lost time tonight. In case Owens needed it, Penders gave him a little extra motivation in his post-game press conference, suggesting the Cougars were fortunate to beat the Bearkats after receiving "some really subpar performances, namely by Andre Owens." Slowing Owens will be the most difficult challenge the Tigers will face this month.
3) Inexperience inside: Penders brought in several newcomers to refashion the Cougars interior game, meaning Houston lacks Division I experience in the post almost as much as Missouri does. Junior forward Ramon Dyer came on late against the Bearkats, scoring all eight of his points in the second half to spark the Cougar rally. He represents Houston's most experienced post option; trailing him is a grab bag of players: redshirt freshman Andrew Francis (six points in 22 minutes against SHS), junior transfer center Sergio de Randamie (four points in 15 minutes), junior transfer forward Englebert Cherrington (two points in 13 minutes) and junior transfer center Rodney Hannah (two points in 12 minutes).
Missouri, meanwhile, will be without suspended junior center Jeffrey Ferguson for the second game. It should be interesting to see how the coaching staff reacts if junior Kevin Young or sophomore Linas Kleiza gets into foul trouble; freshmen Marshall Brown, Glen Dandridge and Kalen Grimes all received playing time against Brown, but nobody stood out. Grimes appears to be the best defensive option, but he picked up two fouls in just nine minutes against the Bears.
4) Hitting the mark: Missouri looked ugly against Brown, making 34.8 percent of its shots, including 26.9 percent from 3. Amazingly, Houston was even worse against Sam Houston State, hitting 34.4 percent of its shots, 26.7 from 3. That should change tonight.
After Kleiza and sophomore guard Thomas Gardner combined to go 14-of-34 from the field last night, look for both to try to establish themselves early against the Cougars. Kleiza looked particularly frustrated against Brown; an aggressive 2-3 defense pushed him out of his comfort zone. Houston did not play much zone against Sam Houston State, but they should against Missouri, after seeing how much it disrupted the Tigers.
5) Predicted headline: Houston, you have a problem
And the name of that problem is Jason Horton. The freshman point guard receives the first real test of his collegiate career and has a strong day on both ends of the court, scoring 12 points and dishing out five assists. Horton slows down guard Lanny Smith, who led the Cougars with 22 points against Sam Houston State, and Houston is unable to match the production the Tigers get from their bench.
This could be a close game; I wouldn't be surprised if Houston leads by half a dozen points at halftime. Missouri's athleticism takes over the game late and pushes the Tigers to Kansas City for the semifinals of the Guardians Classic next week.
Final score: Tigers 83, Cougars 75