University of Houston Cougars
KenPom: 138 (154 Offense, 144 Defense)
Head Coach: James Dickey
2013-14 Record: 11-9
The last meeting between UConn and Houston was most definitely one to forget (not just because it was on New Years Eve). Even without 3 starters (3!!), Houston was up 21 points at halftime. Despite a furious comeback to tie the game with nearly 12 minutes to go, UConn did not have enough left to close the game. Shabazz Napier's fearlessness was on full display against Houston, taking nearly all the big shots, but missing the one that counted most, having his game-tying layup blocked by TaShawn Thomas to end the game.
UConn will look to avenge their loss at Houston not at full strength. DeAndre Daniels has not practiced all week after suffering a high ankle sprain at Rutgers, but he is considered probable by Kevin Ollie. (Editors Note: DeAndre has been ruled out for tonight) Omar Calhoun, however, claims to be 100 percent healthy after missing Saturday's game with an ankle injury. Calhoun has been in a season-long slump, but hopefully after over a week of rest he can break out against an inferior opponent.
Houston (11-9) has lost 4 of its last 5 games all to the 4 teams ahead of them in the AAC standings. At the moment, they are out of the NCAA tournament conversation, but a sweep of UConn could go a long way. The Cougars are led by TaShawn Thomas and Danuel (pronounced 'Daniel'?) House. Thomas (16.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.2 bpg), standing at 6-8, has improved his shot blocking immensely, nearly doubling his average from last season, good for 14th in the nation. I actually like this matchup for Amida Brimah if he can stay out of foul trouble. Brimah has been most effective against undersized centers (see UCF game), and he is playing at a much higher level than the last time these two teams met in Texas, where he saw the floor for only 4 minutes.
Danuel House (no relation to former NBA journeyman Eddie House) is their second leading scorer at 13 ppg. He's a long, multidimensional player who should see a stable of UConn wingmen looking to slow him down. The Cougar's aren't too deep after that, and have not scored or rebounded particularly well this year. UConn is more talented and will certainly not take this team lightly after being outplayed last time out. Shabazz is on a tear as of late, nearly averaging 28 ppg over the last 3 games. He and Ollie will keep this team focused, refusing to allow what would be a majorly detrimental loss.
The Cougars ruined my New Years Eve, but I know UConn will not let them ruin my Thursday.
Prediction: UConn 84, Houston 68