Houston has won 10 of its last 11 games heading into Wednesday night's contest at East Carolina.
The Cougars (16-4, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) were just 6-3 on Dec. 15 but have found their stride after losing four starters from last year's team that advanced to the Sweet 16.
The recentupswing has Kelvin Sampson's team ranked No. 21, up four spots from last week, after sweeping Connecticut and South Florida at home.
"The biggest difference from earlier in the year was that we started listening to coach, hearing what he was saying, buying into the culture and trusting the system," sophomore forward Fabian White Jr. said. "Earlier in the year, we were young and didn't trust the system. Coach is right all the time."
White is one of only two players who has started every game for Houston this season. He is averaging 10.7 points per game and 5.6 rebounds. He has tried only two 3-pointers all season and is shooting 48.0 percent from the field.
Fellow sophomore Nate Hinton is the other Houston player to start every game. The guard leads the team with 9.4 rebounds and he is averaging 10.7 points.
Caleb Mills (12.9 points) and Quentin Grimes (12.3) are the two leading scorers, but Sampson believes his best leader is DeJon Jarreau, who in his second year in the program after starting 25 games for UMass as a freshman point guard in 2017-18.
"The thing that helps DeJon and helps me coach him is that he is such a high character kid," Sampson said. "When I say a good kid, I mean he is a great young man and character matters. You can't have a championship team unless you have great character. Somebody asked me about the strength of last year's team, and I said that they were simply great kids.
"With great kids, you don't have to worry about discipline problems. So, you can coach basketball and teach them things that they need to know about."
East Carolina (9-11, 3-4) comes into Wednesday's game following a win last Saturday at home against Tulane, a victory that snapped a three-game losing streak. The Pirates are a different team at home with an 8-3 record than they are away from Greenville, N.C., with an 0-6 record in true road games and a 1-2 mark in neutral-site games.
East Carolina used its 12th different starting lineup of the season in the win over Tulane with freshman guard Tristen Newton making his first start since Nov. 24.
Two of the top players for East Carolina are sophomore forward Jayden Gardner, who has scored 923 points in 51 career games, and junior guard J.J. Miles, who made seven 3-pointers against Tulane.
"It's big-time," Gardner said of Miles' shooting performance. "I love when he's making shots. It makes my assist totals go up. J.J. is a great shooter. He's just going to keep getting better and more confident, and he's going to keep being big-time for this program."
--Field Level Media