Key Departures: Quentin Grimes (NBA); Dejon Jarreau (NBA); Justin Gorham (Grad); Brison Gresham (Grad)
New In Town: Kyler Edwards (<–T. Tech); Josh Carton (<–Uconn); Taze Moore (<–Cal S Bak) Ramon Walker (#139); Ja’Vier Francis (#144); Robbie Armbrester (#236)
State of the Program:
Kelvin Sampson has had a career mired in controversy, but in Houston he has found a home and elevated the program to a perennial power, culminating in last season’s Final Four trip. Sampson has been able to restore a program that peaked in the 80’s but had largely been a losing program since the Southwest Conference broke up in the 90’s. Last season was the first trip to the Final Four since 1984 and they are welcoming back several key pieces from that group to try and make a repeat run. The returners include starters Marcus Sasser (JR) and Reggie Chaney (SR), as well as role players Tramon Mark (SO), Jamal Shead (SO) and Fabian White (SR). That returning group along with the incoming class position Houston to once again be the top dog in the American and with the defensive minded culture Sampson has been able to put in place they should be able to compete with any team in the country.
Leading the incoming group is Texas Tech transfer G Kyler Edwards (SR). Edwards has been a really solid scorer, while never being the primary option in his 3 years at this level. He’s an elite 3-point shooter and solid defender, making him an ideal replacement for the backcourt losses from last season’s team. He should start in the backcourt with returning guards Sasser and Mark and he should be heavily leaned on as a scorer with the losses of Grimes and Jarreau. Another transfer coming in is wing Taze Moore (SR) out of Cal State Bakersfield. Moore has been an All-Defense selection as well as an All-Conference selection and will be huge in terms of depth on the wing for this team. He is more of a slasher than a shooter, although he did shoot a high percentage from outside a year ago he isn’t a confident, consistent shooter. He plays a physical brand of basketball though, and that fits in perfectly for this Houston program. The last transfer is former Uconn big man Josh Carlton (SR), who has been productive in his career but is not a dominant force by any means in the interior. Carlton is 6’11” though and is the tallest player on the roster and will likely be the primary backup inside behind the tandem of Chaney and White. Carlton is not a shooter but has good athleticism which allows him to be an effective shot blocker as well as rebounder, especially on the offensive end. The best of the Freshmen is 6’5” wing Ramon Walker (#139), who is a beast physically and has a developing offensive game that gives him the potential to be an All-Conference talent. He has a strong frame and can get after it defensively and on the glass, and with an improving jumper and ability off the bounce he has a chance to be the surprise of the class and is a perfect fit for the style of Houston. He should get some minutes off the bench and has a shot down the line to be a star. Next up 6’8” big man Ja’Vier Francis (#144), who fits the mold of the big men Sampson has excelled with as he’s undersized but plays extremely hard and with great physicality. He needs to develop his skillset as a big man but with time he should fill right in as a productive big for Sampson, but this season will likely not see much time. Another big rounds out the FR class in 6’6” Robbie Armbrester (#236) who unsurprisingly fits the similar role that Francis does as an undersized interior player who relies on his athleticism and motor to be productive. He, like Francis, will need some time to develop his skillset, but should be a versatile interior weapon for Sampson down the road.
This Houston team does not have the ceiling it had a year ago without their star Grimes, but they do still have solid scoring options with Sasser, Mark and Edwards in the backcourt. White and Chaney should round out an experienced lineup that should be still lockdown defensively as they have been in years past, and that alone puts them just behind Memphis in the AAC hierarchy. While I don’t think they can make another run to the Final Four they absolutely should be dancing again, and the development of Sasser and Mark as playmakers will be the thing to watch. The 3 starters in the backcourt will be leaned on heavily for scoring, and that burden will be what holds them back in terms of another run. They were a top-10 offense a year ago, which will not happen again this season without their two best playmakers and no obvious guys to fill in the holes. Look for Houston to be nipping on Memphis’ heels in the American and probably win a game or two in March but a tiny step back this season ultimately.