Texas State (0-0) at Houston (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 8, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Hofheinz Pavilion (8,479) -- Houston, Texas. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Texas State 0-0, Houston 0-0. Away Record: Texas State 0-0, Houston 0-0. Neutral Record: Texas State 0-0, Houston 0-0. Conference Record: Texas State 0-0, Houston 0-0. Series Record: Houston leads, 11-2.
GAMES NOTES: Double-double machine TaShawn Thomas and the Houston Cougars will kick off their season on Friday at Hofheinz Pavilion with an instate matchup with the Texas State Bobcats.
Thanks to a year-long struggle on the defensive end last year, the Bobcats went just 12-22, while having five wins in 18 tries against the rest of the Western Athletic Conference. That final record meant Texas State has gone a decade without a record above .500. The hopes of breaking that streak rest in how well the Bobcats play in their first season as members of the Sun Belt Conference. There are four starters back on the squad from last year's team.
Just like Texas State, Houston is making the move to a new conference this year, although the Cougars' new home is the American Athletic Conference, which features teams that include last year's national champion Louisville. The Cougars are making the jump to the AAC coming off their first 20-win season since 2009. However, they have had 18 or more wins in seven of the last nine years. That run hasn't equated to much past the conference tournament as the Cougars have made just a single NCAA Tournament appearance during that time. In fact the trip in 2010 was the only one the team has made since 1992. Thomas teams with Danuel House to form a strong frontcourt, but the Cougars did lose top scorer Joseph Young, who transferred to Oregon.
Thomas was in his freshman year last time these teams met up. Thomas hung up 16 points and 16 boards in that game to carry Houston to a 94-71 victory. Dominance for Houston has colored the all-time series with the Cougars having 11 wins in 13 total matchups.
It wasn't the offensive end of the floor that kept Texas State out of the win column last year. The Bobcats scored the second most points per game in the WAC (70.5) but were bogged down by a lack of pressure on the defensive end. Texas State let up 75.2 points per game on better than 45 percent shooting overall. Joel Wright (17.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) has the offensive skill to carry the Bobcats, but he needs to continue to e productive despite the loss of frontcourt partner Matt Staff (11.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Losing Staff will mean Wright will be keyed on more, as there was no other double-figure scorer on the roster last year. Reid Koenen (8.1 ppg) and his 6-7 frame could help take some of the pressure off. Wesley Davis (6.5 ppg) and Phil Hawkins (6.4 ppg) really need to step up to force teams to guard the perimeter.
Thomas (16.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) is the key for Houston, as he is an impressive forward that can post a double-double just about every game. Thomas is the centerpiece for Houston, which led C-USA in scoring (78.1 ppg) and rebounding (38.7 rpg). To make sure teams don't just single in on Thomas, House (12.4 ppg., 4.9 rpg) needs to be an even better offensive threat. House fits in just fine as another option and with his size (6-foot-7) he can score from just about anywhere. Jherrod Stiggers (8.1 ppg) will be a bigger part of the offensive gameplan as well. The Cougars will also look for increased production from Mikhail McLean and Brandon Morris.
The battle on the blocks between Thomas and Wright will be the key matchup in this contest. Even if Wright can contain Thomas down low, the Bobcats will have trouble stopping Houston's other offensive weapons.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 82, Texas State 68
11/08 10:46:28 ET