After 3 straight match ups against varying degrees of efficient, perimeter-oriented teams, 2 of which were away from the Fertitta Center, the idea of playing Houston Baptist at home is a welcome one.
It’s not as if HBU is an old school, slow it down and pound the ball into the low post kind of team, quite the opposite as we’ll get to momentarily.
But to use a clumsy music comparison, Oregon, BYU and even Rice to an extent are efficient well-oiled virtuosos playing the kind of music even a Philistine like me can appreciate. HBU? They go fast and aren’t very eye catching doing it, like a Ramones cover band consisting of guys who learned how to play guitar and drums a year ago.
HBU isn’t just a basketball team that plays at an above average tempo, at this moment they’re #1 in the country in Adjusted Tempo per KenPom. That is recklessly fast.
In their 4 games in the current season, the Huskies have been a part of 3 games where the teams combined for over 80 possessions. That’s an absurdly high number, for comparison the crazy high scoring UH/Rice game last week only had 78 possessions. Last Friday when the Huskies played Michigan, the 2 teams combined for 86 possessions and that wasn’t even their season high (that’d be 89 vs. Oral Roberts on 11/08).
The Husky player who’s benefited the most from this frenetic tempo is Jalon Gates, the team’s leading scorer at 19.3 points/game. Gates is the team’s lone senior who can be called a key contributor and is averaging an eye-popping 10 3-pointers attempted per game, making 41.5% of them.
Ian Dubose, a junior guard from Durham, NC, is HBU’s 2nd leading scorer but is shooting only 29.9% from the field and only shooting 30.2% (13-43) on 2-pointers. Dubose is also the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 6.8 boards per game.
Looking at the team metrics, they’re a solid 103rd nationally in 3-point shooting % but 330th on 2-pointers. Defensively, the Huskies are 330rd in Defensive Efficiency and 323rd in Opponent Effective field goal %.
The biggest Cougar advantage will unsurprisingly come on the glass where HBU is getting out rebounded by 10 per game and are 333rd in opponent Offensive Rebounding %. The Huskies have played 3 guys listed over 6’7” but none are players I’d classify as a difference maker to this point.
To this point, the Huskies have undeniably played a brutal schedule with roadies to Michigan and Texas Tech on the early slate. The good news for HBU faithful is after this game and the next game at Dayton, the Huskies only have 1 more game against a projected top 100 KenPom team: New Mexico on 12/22.
I am sort of fascinated by the career arc (and program arc) and level of patience the school has shown with longtime head coach Ron Cottrell. The HBU men’s basketball program was actually in a hiatus the 2 seasons prior to Cottrell taking over in 1991, when the Huskies were still in the NAIA.
It took until Cottrell’s 7th season to get the Huskies to the NAIA Tournament, but that kicked off an incredible run of 10 straight NAIA tournament appearances. The pinnacle of this stretch was the 2002-03 season where they finished the regular season #1 in NAIA and with a 31-3 record.
That consistent success gave HBU the ambition to jump to Division 1, initially as a member of the Great West Conference (RIP) and in 2014 as a member of the much more competitive and local Southland conference.
Despite growing up about 10 minutes from HBU I have no ties or lingering sentiment as it relates to the school or its athletics teams, but it’d be kind of novel for the Huskies to be the 4th city of Houston team to make the Big Dance.
Anyway, I’ll cut the HBU tangent here before I write 1,000 words on the Southland's 9th best program.
This will be at least a 1-game breather from a surprisingly difficult early schedule and I think all of us, whether player, coach or fan, can be grateful for that as Thanksgiving approaches.