Rice men’s basketball takes on the University of Houston on Wednesday night at Texas Southern University. So far, Rice has a 2-1 record, and Houston won its first and only game of the season in a 101-54 beatdown of Alabama A&M University. Thresher Assistant Sports Editor Madison Buzzard and Daily Cougar Sports Editor Andres Chio came together to discuss the game, and what the matchup portends for the two teams.
1. Who do you think is the biggest impact player for your team early in the season?
Thresher Assistant Sports Editor Madison Buzzard:
Last season was abysmal for Rice men’s basketball. Although 11 players scored at least two points per game, only two starters averaged double-digit scoring and the Owls finished 4-14 in Conference USA and 7-24 overall. Last year’s leading scorer, Connor Cashaw, transferred to Creighton University, and 3-point marksman A.J. Lapray medically retired from basketball. Head coach Scott Pera retooled, in part by adding 2016 Rivals150 recruit Josh Parrish via transfer, but two key players remain from last season’s squad: junior guard Ako Adams and junior forward Robert Martin. Martin is shooting 77.8 percent from the field and 80 percent from 3-point range so far this season, albeit over a small sample size, and Adams is the Owls’ undisputed floor general.
Cougar Sports Editor Andres Chio:
After Rob Gray graduated, there was some worry about if Houston’s offense could replace his production. Whether it was in a single player or a committee of players, players needed to step up. Senior guard Corey Davis Jr. has been that player. He was Houston’s second-best scorer overall and its best 3-point shooter in 2017-18 and has picked up where he left off.
Davis Jr. had nine 3-pointers in the exhibition against Dallas Baptist, which would have tied the school record if it was an official game, and had another five against Alabama A&M. If he keeps playing like this, he will get all the attention that Gray used to get.
2. What area does your team need to improve upon?
Three-point shooting. Rice converted only eight of 30 3-point attempts in its season-opening win against Saint Leo University, and disappointed with a 6-for-18 mark from 3-point range in a road loss to the University of Pennsylvania. Adams is the only Rice player other than Martin who is shooting more than 30 percent from the 3-point line. Drive-and-kick options are hardly featured in the Owls’ offense: Transfer forward Jack Williams is 2-for-10 from deep this year and Adams has only eight total assists. Parrish, a rugged guard, excels at slashing to the basket. The ball should transfer hands between Adams and Parrish to alternate between a perimeter motion offense and a slashing offense.
The Cougars need to get depth pieces like sophomore Brison Gresham and junior Chris Harris Jr. more involved in the game. Senior Breaon Brady did a good job of not picking up a lot of fouls against Alabama A&M, but that is unlikely to last. Brady got into a lot of foul trouble last season and he will foul out more than a few times this year with the Cougars’ physical style of defense. Those times are likely to happen in big games, so it is important to give depth players significant playing time while the games have lower stakes. The first times that these players are on the court for extended lengths should not be in the Fertitta Center opener against Oregon or a big conference matchup against Cincinnati.
3. What is your prediction for Wednesday's game?
UH has an excellent guard combination in Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. One question is whether the defensive tenacity of Adams and Parrish can pose a challenge to UH’s talented all-around scorers. Since the game is early in the season, maybe both teams will play sloppily. In that case, Williams and Martin have a chance to control the game on the boards: The two players are averaging 7.3 and 5.7 rebounds per game this season, respectively. Then, Adams can use his speed to generate fast break opportunities. More likely, the Owls will be unable to keep pace with the Cougars’ prolific perimeter shooting, and UH will walk away with a double-digit win.
The Owls have the size to match up against the Cougars and not be out-muscled in the paint. Another benefit for Rice is that the roster does not seem to have one dominant scorer that Houston can shut down to easily win the game, but that balanced scoring does have a downside. Last season, Houston would go cold across the court and Gray would just go into hero mode, score 30 points and lead the team back. If Rice falls behind by double digits, it does not have the tools to mount a big comeback. I think that is exactly what will happen Wednesday night. Since it is a rivalry game, Rice will come out and keep it close, but eventually Houston will go on one big run and take over the game.