After winning two straight games to start their season, the Red Raider men’s basketball program will face its first true competition in a top-25 matchup against the Houston Cougars.
“They’re gonna play defense . . . rebound . . . be physical . . . play the game the right way . . . [and] use the three-point shot,” head coach Chris Beard said following a victory against Sam Houston State on Friday. “You’ve gotta match their physical toughness, you’ve gotta match their mental toughness before the game ever starts and we will, this is Texas Tech basketball.”
The last time Tech faced a top-25 team while also ranked in the top-25 themselves was last season against the Kentucky Wildcats.
The Cougars were selected to win the American Athletic Conference in the league’s preseason poll. Houston carries a deep, talented roster with several scoring-minded guards.
Redshirt sophomore guard Caleb Mills is arguably the Cougars best player, making the AAC’s All-Freshman Team last season and the Naismith Trophy Preseason Watchlist this season. Mills, however, suffered a sprained ankle that has limited him to just 17 minutes in Houston’s first two games.
Regardless of Mills’s health, the Cougars still have plenty of offensive options.
Sophomore guard Marcus Sasser is leading the team in scoring with 35 points over the first two games, according to UH Athletics. He also leads the team in three-point field goals made, making 9-of-16 deep shots so far this season.
Junior guard Quenten Grimes and freshman guard Tramon Marks are the team’s second and third leading scorers. Grimes has scored 33 points on 30 field goal attempts, while Marks has already taken 17 free throw attempts this season, according to UH Athletics.
Houston also has three strong rebounding forwards down low. Redshirt freshman J’wan Roberts and redshirt seniors Brison Gresham and Justin Gorham have combined for 43 rebounds in two games this season, according to UH Athletics.
The Red Raiders, however, are no secret to offense themselves. Tech is averaging 92.5 points per game after their first two games, according to Tech Athletics.
Tech has also had seven different players make a three-point field goal this season. The Red Raiders as a team have made 15 of their 37 three-point attempts, or 40.5 percent.
Leading the team in scoring is junior guard Mac McClung, who has scored 38 points in his first 40 minutes of Tech basketball, according to Tech Athletics.
As efficient as the Tech offense has been so far this season, defense has been the story.
The Tech defense has held opponents to just 33 percent shooting from the field and 22 percent shooting on three-point attempts, according to Tech Athletics. They have also generated 37 opponent turnovers to just 13 opponent assists. Tech has yet to trail in a game this season.
These figures have helped Tech become the nation’s third best defense in Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball ratings.
Defense will be ever-important to a victory in this game due to Houston’s multiple ball-handling guards and strong rebounders down low.
“We know Houston’s a great team,” junior guard Kyler Edwards said following a victory against Sam Houston State. “We know their identity is offensive rebounding, and just rebounding and being tough and physical.
“We’ll have to match their physical[ity] and toughness on Sunday.”
The game will be played at 4:30 p.m. CT in Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, TX, and will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN2.