The more things change, the more they stay the same. This phrase describes Rice basketball so far this season. The Owls have the same record this season as last season through seven games: three wins and four losses.
From the perspective of personnel, the team this year is markedly different from last year’s squad. Five freshman and two transfers have entered into the fold to offset the six transfers who left Rice after last year. However, there are certain aspects to the Owls this year that feel similar to last year. It’s early, but here’s what I’ve seen so far from head coach Scott Pera’s team.
Prior to the season, Pera and many of the Rice players said graduate forward Jack Williams had already established himself as one of the leaders on the team due to his many years of experience. Through seven games, Williams has been putting together some solid performances. But while most of the e team shoots a ton of threes, that is not Williams’ specialty, as he is a crafty inside scorer with a smooth jump hook. On two-point field goals, Williams is shooting 57.4 percent. Williams is also the Owls best rebounder, averaging 7.1 boards per game.
So far, Rice is averaging 14.4 turnovers per game. Last year, they turned the ball over 14.8 times per game. Both of those figures rank well into the bottom half of the NCAA. Pera likes the Owls to play at a high tempo, which accounts for some of the turnovers, but in the half court, they too frequently make sloppy passes that allow the opposing team to score on the break. Rice also turns the ball over more than its opponents, with a -2.3 turnover margin per game.
Junior guard Ako Adams was already the team’s second leading scorer last season. In this year’s campaign, with the offseason departure of Connor Cashaw, he is now the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14 points per game. He is also shooting remarkably well at clips of 46.4 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent from the free throw line. Adams also leads the team in 3-pointers made per game. At point guard, he has demonstrated good shot-creating skills and made five 3-pointers in two straight games against Alabama A&M University and the University of Houston.
This year’s freshman class has gotten a decent amount of playing time considering their youth. They are all averaging double digits in minutes per game with guard Drew Peterson starting all seven games so far and center Quentin Millora-Brown starting four. Additionally, guard Chris Mullins has seen a ton of minutes in the closing stretches of games as an extra scoring option. Pera is not afraid to play them in large groups either, sometimes playing three, four or even five of them at the same time. While they might not be incredibly seasoned — sometimes it shows — it appears as if they will be important to Rice’s success this year.
Last season, Rice won only one game in the month of December and lost seven. Up to this point, at least in press conferences, morale seems to be high and there is a sense of togetherness about this team. To keep morale up and to keep the progress going, Rice needs to win some games this upcoming month. It doesn’t need to be the best month the Owls have ever had, but it can’t be horrendous.