COACH: Tom Penders, six years at Houston, first appearance in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Conference USA)
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: At an ACC-best 79.3 points per game, Maryland can score with the best of them. That's something that Houston and head coach Tom Penders may actually like to see in their first-round NCAA Tournament matchup. The Cougars are at their best when the game is played at a frantic, up-and-down pace. And while Maryland doesn't shoot anywhere close to as many 3-pointers as Houston -- Maryland averaged 15.3 3-point attempts per game to 23.4 for Houston -- the Terps do hit from beyond the arc at a better clip than any ACC team (38.4 percent).
Maryland's turnover margin of plus-3.45 was good for second in the ACC, which pales in comparison to the plus-7.82 margin for a Houston team that loves in-your-face defense, even though it often opens them up to easy transition buckets. The Cougars are athletic and with national scoring leader Aubrey Coleman (26.0 points per game), who gives the team a puncher's chance. Houston has, however, too often been forced into being too one-dimensional and Gary Williams' tournament experience would suggest that would be the Terps game plan this week.
GO-TO GUYS: The obvious go-to guy for Houston is national scoring leader Aubrey Coleman, a 6-4, 200-pound senior from Houston whose 26.0 points per game was almost eight points better than anyone else in a Conference USA that has been known to produce plenty of high-scoring players. But teams who take the bait and focus solely on defending Coleman can pay the price when swingman Kelvin Lewis gets hot. Lewis (6-4, 195) averaged 14.9 points per game this season (10th in C-USA) and hit more 3-pointers (94) than any other player in the league.
THEY'LL KEEP WINNING IF: They get hot from the outside. Not surprisingly for a Penders-coaches team, Houston likes to run and gun as much as the school's high-scoring football team. When they get hot from long range, they're tough to keep up with, as was the case in the C-USA championship win over UTEP when the Cougars hit 12 treys. That was the 13th time in 33 games Houston hit 10 or more 3-pointers in a game. They can also force teams into a lot of turnovers and had average 9.8 turnovers per game heading into the NCAA Tournament.
STRENGTHS: Scoring, scoring, scoring. While Conference USA teams familiar with the Cougars seem to have figured out how to weather the Cougars' offensive storm and pulled the team's scoring average on the season down to 78.6 points per game, foes unfamiliar with Houston could get caught off guard with the flurry of 3-pointers and high-pressure defense that has become a staple of Penders' teams through the years. Houston gets 9.8 steals and 24.1 3-point attempts per game, connecting on 35.6 percent of those. Individually, the stats indicate you won't find a better scorer in the nation than guard Aubrey Coleman who averages 26.0 points per game but also brings some defense to the court.
WEAKNESSES: Penders has said the most overrated statistic in college basketball is the rebound. His team's performance on the boards this season has mirrored the coaches disregard for that stat. Houston, despite having one of the best rebounders during the C-USA season in junior college transfer Maurice McNeil (6-9, 215), whose 8.4 rebounds per league game ranked 6th in the conference, was the league's worst rebounding team with a minus-8.1 rebounding margin on the year. The team is also a live by the three, die by the three sort of team and, while boasting 13 games of 10 or more treys this year, also had 30 of 33 games that features 10 or more missed 3-pointers. Houston embodies the idea of a streaky team -- it went 7-9 in conference play -- and needs a lot to break in its favor to make it to the weekend.