Trying To Turn Around the Historical Disaster That Is Rice Basketball

John Royal
Rice basketball doesn't really have a lot to brag about
It's a dreary Saturday evening in early December. The 1-6 Rice Owls are hosting the St. Edwards Hilltoppers, a Division II college from Austin. The Hilltoppers are supposed to be a patsy, one of those obscure schools that fills out a schedule so the big school can get the easy win.

The game's a struggle for the Owls, though, as have been all of the games this season. The team's undersized, the roster's small, and the players aren't quite talented enough to play the preferred full-court fast-break offense preferred by new head coach Mike Rhoades. So he's slowed the game up a bit, with lots of passing and running a slower half court offense. The Owls get tons of great shots with open looks that players die for. It's just that they miss these shots time and time again, allowing the Hilltoppers to stay in the game.

The Owls eventually pull out the 54-49 win. Sophomore big man Andrew Drone leads the team with 14 points and nine rebounds, and the Owls, heading into the finals break, have their second win of the season. It's not pretty, but it's not about being pretty this season. The Owls will take the win, any win, this season, beauty be damned. Especially after so many of their losses this season have been close and somewhat down to the wire.

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Rockets Recap: Running Down the Rockets Injuries (Hint: There Are a Bunch)

Categories: Basketball, Sports

Still winning, but for how long?
Record Since Last Recap: 5-1
MVP Since Last Recap: Donatas Montejunas
Best Win Last 2 Weeks: vs. Grizzlies
Toughest Loss Last 2 Weeks: vs. Clippers
Current Record: 16-4
Next Five: at Warriors, at Kings, vs. Nuggets, at Nuggets, vs Pelicans

No matter what comes of this season for the Rockets, the first month plus has been remarkable. They have literally lost what constitutes an entire starting lineup to injury, forcing them into using different starters reaching double digits. Yet, they are an incredible 16-4.

But, here's the brutal reality of the NBA's Western Conference. That record places them fourth in the conference, just two games out of first place and yet only six games ahead of tenth placed New Orleans, which is 10-10. This is contrasted with the East, where three teams under .500 are in the top eight. In the wild West, 10 teams are at or above the mediocre mark and one of those below it is the injury-ravaged Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that is just now getting back their missing players.

Conference realignment anyone?

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Five Reasons the Rockets Continue to Win Despite Injuries

Categories: Basketball, Sports

The Rockets are winning, but how?
At the moment, it is arguable that the four guys making up the injury list for the Houston Rockets currently are better than the Rockets best four healthy players. Subtract James Harden from that list and it's not even an argument. Starters Terrence Jones (nerve), Patrick Beverley (hamstring) and Dwight Howard (knee) remain out, and now back up point guard Isaiah Canaan (ankle) will miss time as well.

Despite the wealth of talent spending more time in the training room than on the floor these days, the Rockets continue to win. Currently, the only teams with better records in the Western Conference are Memphis, Golden State and Portland. That's, quite frankly, remarkable.

But, how are they doing it?

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Kelvin Sampson Begins the Biggest Challenge of His Career

John Royal
Kelvin Sampson watches his team in action last week against Morgan State
An writer was at Hofheinz Pavilion Saturday night working on a story on new Cougar head coach Kelvin Sampson. He stood in one of the bunkers ringing the top of the arena, looking out over the mostly empty stands. He asked when the crowd was going to show up. Those of us in the local media standing next to him just shook our heads and said he was looking at the crowd, that this was the best it was going to get.

The Cougars won the game, defeating a winless Morgan State program by a 72-57 score. It was only the second game of the season for Houston, and it looked it. The Cougars only shot 32.9 percent from the floor (going only eight for 32 in the second half). When the players were missing badly with shots, they were turning it over with an ease not seen since Matt Schaub suited up for the Texans (23 turnovers for the game). And the free-throw shooting brought back memories of Phi Slama Jama, an era back when the inability to hit free throws probably cost the team a NCAA title.

It was an ugly game to watch. It was an ugly win. But the team pushed the ball up the court at a quick pace and pulled down 60 rebounds, a rebounding figure not seen from a UH basketball team since 1995.

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Rockets Recap: Team Defense Keeping Rockets on Winning Track Despite Injuries

Categories: Basketball, Sports

Holding it together while short handed.
Record Since Last Recap: 2-1
MVP Since Last Recap: James Harden
Best Win Last Week: Mavericks
Toughest Loss Last Week: Lakers
Current Record: 11-3

On Saturday night, there was a sequence of plays that represented the antithesis of what people thought about James Harden's defense last season. Not only was he effective, it was his tenaciousness on the opponent's end of the floor that won them the game. Before the season started, Harden and the Rockets were adamant they were going to be better defensively. Certainly the addition of Trevor Ariza helped, but no one expected a renewed commitment to defense would take them from one of the worst in the NBA to one of the best in one year. Yet, that's what happened and much of it is owed to the change in Harden.

No, his defense alone is not enough to elevate the entire team, but his added hustle combined with his readily apparent leadership on the court is. On Monday night before their win over the New York Knicks, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander presented Harden with the gold medal he earned as a member of Team USA in the offseason, which he led in scoring. Harden has frequently cited being around that team as his reason for an invigorated defense and desire to lead his team. Whatever they told him worked because he has rapidly become one of the best guards in the game.

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Rockets Recap: Despite Record, Cracks Beginning to Show

Categories: Basketball, Sports

The Mexico City curse seems to be in full effect.
Last week, the Rockets made an early season trip south of the border to play a game in Mexico City. Basketball is an international game and like NFL games in London, sending NBA teams to other countries is good business. The Rockets took care of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but it would seem Mexico took care of them.

Since they returned from Mexico, they have slogged around the floor like they are suffering from Montezuma's Revenge. They have won two of three games, but not in impressive fashion. They survived the lowly Sixers and managed to score only 69 points in a near loss to the ailing Thunder. But, when they got to Memphis Monday night, they came up against an opponent that would capitalize on their offensive struggles and hand them their second loss of the season in a 119-93 drubbing that wasn't close by the end of the first quarter. Not exactly the best way to launch your new sports network, especially considering how a great deal more than 40 percent of the city can see you for the first time.

Despite one of the best records in the NBA, the Rockets are not one of the league's best teams, not by a long shot. They have feasted on weaker teams and beaten all of them, including a Spurs team resting its stars. Their only quality win was against the Heat and their two losses have come against Western Conference rivals Golden State and Memphis. In short, they may be winning games, but they aren't winning many that matter.

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Rockets Fans, Meet Your New Best Friend: Root Sports Southwest

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Tonight I will leave work after my show is over, I will settle in, fix myself a plate of whatever tasty treats my girlfriend Amy has prepared for dinner, sit down on the couch and do something that I've been unable to do since the end of the 2011-2012 NBA season:

I will watch a local Houston Rockets broadcast from the comfort of my own home!

It almost sounds weird to say it, it's been so long since I've been able to do this, and I feel like Red in Shawshank Redemption. I mean... Bill, Clyde, and Bull, complemented by the dulcet tones of Kevin Eschenfelder and Calvin Murphy on the pre and post game shows.... I mean.... This is the excitement only a free man can feel!

And damn if it isn't a great game on tap tonight as well, a battle between the teams with the two best records in the league, the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies!

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New QB, No Arian Foster? No Problem as Texans Beat Browns in Cleveland

Categories: Basketball, Sports

Nice win for some new faces.
There was a moment in the fourth quarter Sunday when Brian Cushing laid his second bone-crushing hit of the day on Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer that it appeared the "Battle of Tom Brady's Backups" would become the debut of Johnny Football. To Hoyer's credit, he hung in there, but it did no good as the Texans, led by another brilliant performance from JJ Watt, beat the Browns 23-7 in chilly Cleveland.

It would turn out to be a rather improbable win considering Arian Foster was ruled out with a groin injury and recently promoted backup QB Ryan Mallett, along with Hoyer a former Brady understudy in New England, got the first start of his four-year career. Mallett acquitted himself nicely with a 20-30 for 211 yards performance to go along with two touchdowns and one interception. But, it was rookie running back Alfred Blue who stole the show carrying the ball an unbelievable 36 times for 156 yards. The Texans ran roughshod over the Browns defense, racking up over 200 yards on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, the story lines included a ridiculous game from Watt (one sack, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery to go with back-to-back boneheaded roughing the kicker calls) and the return of Brian Cushing, who made his presence felt for the first time in weeks. The secondary was also very good despite missing Kareem Jackson, who is out with a knee injury.

No doubt, fans will be talking mostly about Mallett. For now, it is impossible to say what he will become, but his poise, command of the offense -- which was played in hurry-up mode all day long -- and cannon of an arm was a pleasant surprise. It is too soon to tell if he will ultimately be the answer for the Texans at the quarterback spot, but his first start was a good one and, most importantly, it resulted in a win.

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CSN Houston Is Gone and the Rockets Are Back on TV

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So long, farewell, we hardly knew you.
The time has finally come. On Monday night, after two years, Houston Rockets games will once again be legally available to a majority of the Houston-area viewing public. Roots Sports Houston, an undoubtedly inferior product to CSN Houston, takes over as the rights holder for Rockets and Astros games, and the games will be available on DirecTV, U-verse and Comcast, as well as any other satellite/cable system that was distributing CSN Houston.

This is a short-term win for the Astros and Rockets, and for the fans who desperately wanted to watch the games. But in the long term it's going to be a huge loss for the teams, and in many ways, it might be an even bigger loss for fans of Houston and Texas sports who want to do more than just watch the Astros and Rockets.

What made the network so valuable, what helped to drive up the price of the Astros, wasn't the price it was paying for media rights. What made the network valuable was the money it would make off of the cable and satellite distribution of the network, coupled with the money the network would make off of advertising. And as owners of the network, this money would go to the Astros and Rockets, and since it was money being made off of the network, it was money that would not be part of revenue sharing with MLB and the NBA.

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Rockets Recap: How They Have Managed Their Surprising Start

Categories: Basketball, Sports

Photo by Groovehouse
Rockets Red Rowdies definitely have something to cheer about this year.
If someone had told you that after the first two weeks of the season the Rockets would be missing Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones to injury and Dwight Howard to the flu, you would probably think this would be a miserable start to a season that began with one of them more disappointing offseasons in franchise history. This is, as they say, why you play the games.

Despite losing to the Golden State Warriors Saturday in a surprisingly close game, considering all the Rockets players in street clothes, the team is 5-1 and looking remarkably good in those wins, notching double-digit victories in all of them and holding every team under 100, while eclipsing the century mark in the first four games. It is difficult to imagine a better start for a team that many left for dead -- or at least fading -- after they were unable to land Chris Bosh and lost Chandler Parsons to free agency plus Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to trades.

Thus far this year, they have started a second year player who spent most of his time in the D-League last year, a backup power forward and a guy who spent the last few years playing in Greece. They've relied on a veteran journeyman shooter and an un-drafted rookie in the rotation. Yet, there they are and there are good reasons why.

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