‘They’re the best team in the conference:’ An in-depth analysis of what makes No. 11 Houston one of the top teams in the country


Marshall Sunner

Houston’s DeJon Jarreau motions to the Wichita State student section after the final buzzer on Jan. 18, 2020 inside Charles Koch Arena.

Ever since Wichita State joined the American Athletic Conference in 2017, Houston has dominated the Shockers time and time again. 

Houston Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has quickly turned the Cougars into one of the top teams in the country, notably on the defensive end. That was made evident in last year’s match up between the Shockers and Cougars which led to the WSU’s worst loss in the Gregg Marshall Era. 

WSU’s Interim Head Coach Isaac Brown said that knowing the history, the upcoming game between the two teams presents their biggest test of the season.

This Houston game will be a tough game right now,” Brown said. “They’re the best team in the conference. The last time we played them down there, they beat us pretty good. I think we’ve lost four in a row to those guys. It is a big challenge for us to be able to go down and play.”

Here is a breakdown of what makes Houston so successful. 

Double Teams in the Post

One of the unique defensive strategies that Sampson has implemented at Houston is the use of the double teams on post-ups. Last year, WSU struggled heavily against these double teams, but they were not the only teams effected. 

According to Synergy, teams are turning the ball over at a 34.8% rate on these post-ups. The Cougars are also only allowing 0.608 points per possession in these situations, which is 44th-best in the country.

One of the ways that the Shockers are hoping to limit the effectiveness of these double teams is by not having its centers post up far away from the basket. 

“They’re trying to force turnovers and we’ve got to do a better job with our bigs of not posting up off the lane,” Brown said. “I already told the bigs that we need you posting up under the rim. If you’re off the lane, I don’t want the guards really throwing it to them because they are just going to try to come to trap you in that situation.”

At 13.6% and No. 8 in the country, Houston possesses one of the highest steal percentages, according to KenPom. Overall, Houston has a 24.9% turnover rate, which is the 15th best and a big reason for its defensive success. 

 Jump Shot Contests

In its nine games so far this season, Houston has defended jump shots at a high level. Currently, teams are only shooting 24.5% on three-point attempts against the Cougars. 

Overall, teams are struggling to find consistency on jump shots as teams have gone 59-210 (28.1%). Teams are only scoring 0.719 points per possession on their jump shots. That rate is the 18th highest for any defense this season. 

As the Shockers are a team that relies on the jump shot for a good fraction of its point, the upcoming matchup will be intriguing for basketball fans. According to Synergy, 31.8% of WSU’s points this season have come off jump shots. 

“I think when you can make three-point shots, it just allows you to spread the floor,” Brown said. “We’ve got a couple of guys that can make shots. Dexter Dennis, Tyson (Etienne), Trey (Wade) can make them late in the game. The three-ball is a weapon, so if your team can make double figure threes, you’ve got a great chance of winning that game.”

This will present a challenge for WSU’s leading scorer, sophomore Tyson Etienne who is currently getting 40.7% of his points off of the jump shot. Etienne has been the Shockers’ most consistent shooter this season 37.5% from deep.

 Offensive Rebounding

One of the areas that Houston has excelled on the offensive end over the years is offensive rebounding. As a team, the Cougars have the fourth-best offensive rebounding at a 40.4% rate this year, according to KenPom. 

Senior Justin Gorham has developed into one of the best offensive rebounders in the country this season. Gorham is rebounding at an 18.9% rate on the offensive glass, which is also fourth-best in the nation.

The Shockers have struggled up to this point to limit their opponents’ effectiveness with offensive rebounding. Against Ole Miss, WSU’s center position only collected one rebound total while the Rebels collected 15 offensive rebounds in the contest. 

“I think our bigs have to get better at rebounding,” Brown said. “We’re not rebounding at a high level like we need to. I think those guys can rebound at a high level. We’ve just got to start taking it from practice into the game.”