For the vast majority of Houston Cougar fans, I would guess the match-up with Texas State isn’t particularly noteworthy.
The Cougars are facing a team that was solid a year ago, but in the last couple decades of state of Texas basketball and even Texas mid major basketball has been mostly an afterthought.
As someone who 2 years ago was relocated by a now former employer to San Marcos, Texas I've found myself drawn to the rise of my current town's college’s basketball team.
The fact that the Bobcats’ Strahan Arena is a 5-minute drive from my house is a decent amount of the appeal, but last year much to my surprise I found myself somewhat rooting for the home team rather than being a neutral observer.
This is a program with an identity that starts with head coach Danny Kaspar. Because he’s coached mostly out of the limelight, I think Kaspar is one of the more underrated college coaches in the Lone Star State.
Kaspar’s first head coaching opportunity came at Incarnate Word in 1991 where he won over 80% of his games in 9 seasons in the NAIA. That success allowed him to get the head coaching job at Stephen F. Austin, a program with zero NCAA appearances all time when he took over in 2000. It took a while, but the Lumberjacks made their first Big Dance appearance in 2009 and won 20+ games in 5 of Kaspar’s last 6 seasons in Nacogdoches.
That ability to win at a place where many had failed previously caught the eye of Texas State and in 2013 he took over a Bobcat program with all of 1 winning season in the 21st century. The last NCAA appearance came during the 1996-97 season where the Bobcats were a 16-seed.
Understandably, the build has been slow in San Marcos but in 2 of the last 3 seasons the Bobcats have won 20+ games and played in a postseason of some kind (hey, the CBI and CIT count when you haven't been March Madness this millennia).
The descriptor ‘blue collar’ gets overused in sports, but it fits the Bobcats to a ‘t’. They don’t play fast, eye catching basketball, they go slow and win games with tough defense and rebounding. Right now, the Bobcats are 280th nationally in Adjusted Tempo and if they ended the season at that number it’d be by far the fastest they have ever played under Kaspar.
Even if the team identity is geared more towards tough, brawler kinds of players senior guard Nijal Pearson has been consistently excellent on the offensive end. Pearson isn’t an elite outside shooter but can do a lot of things well offensively and when he’s in a rhythm is extremely hard to slow down. Pearson leads the Bobcats in scoring with 18.1 points/game.
One of the Bobcats’ new starters and most interesting stories is sophomore point guard Mason Harrell. At a listed 5 foot 8, Harrell flew under the radar of most Division 1 schools, despite being the 2018 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year and one of the most prolific scorers in state history. Harrell is currently 2nd on the team in scoring (10.1) and assists (2.9).
First-year junior college arrival Isiah Small has good size and athleticism to spare, but like most 1st year Division 1 players hasn’t been super consistent. The other Bobcat big men who’ll see extended action are: senior Eric Terry and sophomore Alonzo Sule (both Houston area products) but neither are consistent threats on the offensive end. Sule did have a double double with points and rebounds in the Bobcats' last game since Hartford.
Off the bench, Caleb Asberry, Marlin Davis and Quentin Scott should see extended action against the Coogs. Davis and Harrell have shared the Bobcats' point guard duties this season, and its been nearly a 50/50 minutes split between the 2 players.
I am not sure the Bobcats slowing the game down will be beneficial to the Cougars, but I am not sure the Bobcats have enough strengths in areas that exploit the Cougars' weaknesses. They don't take many 3-pointers (333rd nationally in 3-pt attempt %) and aren't shooting a good percentage (32.1%- 193rd nationally).
The only opponent the Bobcats have seen that's comparable to the Coogs is Baylor, who the Bobcats lost to by a score of 72-63 in Waco. Its worth noting 72 points is tied for the season low for Baylor and this was tied up at the half.
This will be the first of 2 defensive-minded and not particularly offensively sophisticated opponents. I look forward to seeing my worlds collide and hopefully seeing the Coogs beat a tough opponent who'll be looking for a program-defining win.