Who cares about a late-November game against Houston Baptist? What even is Houston Baptist?
Hopefully, by the end of this, you’ll have both of these questions answered. Even in the supposed “throwaway” segments of the schedule, great games and lessons be found.
Last year, the Houston Baptist men’s basketball team walked into Winston-Salem, N.C. and left with a shocking victory over Wake Forest.
It was one of the early-season upsets that rocks the college basketball world and does wonders for one lucky mid-major program. This year, early indicators suggest it was Evansville’s wild victory over then-No. 1 Kentucky.
All of that is to say that the Huskies have set a precedent for upsetting major programs in early tune-up games that are supposed to serve as automatic wins before power conference opponents hit the bulk of their season. Houston Baptist has already squandered an opportunity at such an upset just last week after falling to No. 12 Texas Tech, 103-74, last week. The Huskies are not looking to make the same mistake twice.
In order to pull off the improbable, Houston Baptist is going to have to rely heavily on the efficiency of its up-tempo offense which runs through junior guard Ian DuBose and senior guard Jalon Gates.
DuBose — an instrumental part of the Huskies’ win over the Demon Deacons last year — is averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, building off a season that saw him finish on the second team all-Southerland Conference.
In one way or another, the surprising early season wins have an additional factor fueling the team to what may feel like a predestined outcome. Last year against Wake Forest, it came from the environment. DuBose and many of his teammates hail from the tobacco state and wanted to put on a show for their friends and families who drove up to attend.
“The environment was great,” DuBose told The Daily. “It raised our level of play. We were making shots, defending well, and everything was just clicking. I think that really helped us win. And I think just being at home.”
In the absence of such factors, it may be difficult to envision Houston Baptist pulling out a win in Crisler Center, but a willing opponent can never be written off in college basketball.
Beyond that program-defining win, DuBose has experience going up against some of the best competition in the country — especially at point guard. Two seasons prior, both DuBose and Gates faced off against Michigan State’s now-All-American point guard Cassius Winston.
While that game was a 40-point blowout, DuBose and Gates were the only ones who seemed capable of generating any offense, scoring 10 and 17 points, respectively. The test now will be to see if the backcourt duo can replicate this action against senior guard Zavier Simpson — an astute player known for his lock-down defensive prowess.
On Michigan’s end, the test will most likely come on the defensive end of the floor where it will be tasked with defending the Huskies’ up-tempo offense.
“They shoot a lot of threes,” said Wolverines coach Juwan Howard. “They’re a quick team, play with a pace. Tomorrow we expect for a lot of quick shots because if you look at their stats in the first 14 seconds of the shot clock, the shot goes up, and we have to expect long rebounds. We have to do a really good job of blocking out, but we expect the team to come out and play hard.
“You can’t be surprised by any opponent.”
One thing is certain: size will shouldn’t be a problem down low. None of the Huskies’ starters stand over 6-foot-4 and their sixth man and tallest player on the team, Ryan Gomes, stands at 6-foot-10.
A lengthy Michigan team should be able to take care of business in the paint. That is, unless fatigue takes its fatal toll.
In the game against Creighton last week, senior center Jon Teske was pulled frequently due to level of conditioning required by the Bluejays who also run a quick offense.
In a sense, the game against the Huskies could stand as an indictment on the Wolverines’ conditioning. Their stamina will be tested in seeing how they have responded to the shortcomings of the team’s performance against Creighton and other fast-paced teams Michigan has seen this season.
It’ll have to be a perfect storm of offensive efficiency, defensive collapse and pure luck for the Huskies to pull out the win on Friday. But Houston Baptist — a small liberal arts college of 3,471 students — cannot be easily written off.
“It’s always an honor to compete at that level and just be in those environments,” DuBose said. “It’s very exciting, brings a great interest to the game, and to see the level they’re playing at.
“We want to prove the fact that you have to go out and compete every game because you never know what’s gonna happen. You have to go out and compete very hard.”