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All numbers in the Stat Box are from the 2013-14 season

Make no mistake: this is, and should be, a big deal. An American Conference team, a conference trying to position themselves as a “power conference” is playing a road game at an OVC arena.

Houston isn’t Cincinnati, Memphis, or the defending National Champion UCONN Huskies, all members of the same conference. But this is a team coming off a winning season, that saw the Cougars beat Memphis and Connecticut last year. After their coach stepped down for “private family matters,” Houston went out and got former Indiana coach and NBA assistant Kelvin Sampson, as his five-year show clause penalty for recruiting violations has come to an end.

The coaching change did change the face of the team. The team’s three leading scorers were all underclassmen — but all transferred to other programs. Four seniors also graduated, meaning Sampson’s new tour in the college ranks begins with a lot of new faces.

One guy that is back, you don’t want to leave open on the perimeter. L.J. Rose hit 41% from three-point range last year. He was actually a worse shooter inside the arc, hitting just 40% from the field combined. He’ll run the point for the Cougars — and is a talented passes, averaging more than five assists a game last year.

When you see a guy listed at 6’10, you’re rightfully thinking “center.” Technically, sophomore Danrad Knowles is, but don’t be shocked to see him step out and take three’s. He took 26 last year, and knocked down 10 — a solid 38.5%

To try and speed the rebuilding process, Sampson brought in six JUCO transfers over the summer as well.

Murray State really needs no introduction. T.J. Sapp, who didn’t lack for playing time after he became eligible mid-season, moves into the starting lineup to replace Dexter Fields, and everything else is pretty much the same.

In fact, Fields was the only senior on last year’s team.

The one big question facing the Racers this year is a very similar one to last: depth. Sapp is no longer available to come off the bench in the backcourt, which means the Racers could heavily rely on another transfer, sophomore Justin Seymour, who came to the Racers from Utah. They’ll also look to freshman Kendrick Flomo. Both saw about 18 minutes in the Racers’ opener, although Seymour was much more effective offensively.

The backcourt rotation is the same as always, with Tyler Rambo providing most of the backup time to Jarvis Williams and Jonathan Fairell.

That is, if he’s available to play. An administrative academic issue of some sort, which head coach Steve Prohm says is in no way Rambo’s fault, could keep him out. How long? We don’t know.

That’s troubling given the injury situation with Jonathan Fairell, who Prohm recently described was at 60%, still recovering from a hip injury. The combination of the two could force the Racers to play a four-guard lineup in spells.

The Racers have long been among the best mid-majors, and what Houston’s did during the years of Clyde “The Glide” Drexler are nothing short of revolutionary. It speaks volumes to the Racers program to get this game at their place.

Of course, they’re not looking at Houston’s past. They want to get back to the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t been in two year. Tonight a good benchmark to start that quest.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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