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Friday, April 19, 2024 — Houston, TX

Rice MBB have significant improvements to make before March

By Pavithr Goli     2/20/24 10:11pm

For the Rice men’s basketball team, the transition from Conference-USA to the American Athletic Conference was never going to be easy. Just last year, the AAC featured two of the top 15 college basketball squads in the nation with the No. 2 University of Houston and No. 14 University of Memphis

Although Houston departed to the Big 12 at the end of the 2022-23 season, the competition never got easier for Rice basketball: Florida Atlantic University, which made a historic Cinderella run into the Final Four last year, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, among other teams, moved with Rice from the C-USA to the AAC. 

However, despite this tough transition, the Owls’ play this season has been nothing short of a disappointment. 

Rice sits at a 9-16 overall record, going 3-9 record against conference play, good for fourth-worst in the conference. According to KenPom, a widely respected statistical database in college basketball known for conducting advanced analyses, the Owls rank 228th among the 362 Division 1 college basketball teams nationwide. KenPom’s database puts the Owls 12th out of the 14 teams in the conference.

The Owls’ primary weakness lies on the defensive side of the ball, which KenPom currently ranks as the 228th in the country. More specifically, they allow opponents to score 76.7 points per game, the 310th in the nation

Their main defensive struggles come from defending the three-point line, with opposing teams converting 36.3% of their shots beyond the arc, good for the 31st highest three-point percentage allowed in the nation. 

Another major weakness on the squad is the team’s fouling numbers. The Owls commit a jaw-dropping 15.0 personal fouls a game, which puts them as one of the most undisciplined teams in the nation. Due to the high amount of fouls committed by Rice, opponents visit the charity stripe frequently every game, giving them a further advantage over the Owls. The Owls’ opponents take advantage with their numerous visits to the free-throw line as they make 74% of their free throws, which is the 52nd best free-throw conversion rate amongst D1 opponents.

Although some might argue that the statistics could be inflated due to the Owls’ increase in competition since they moved to a new conference, when comparing the overall strength of schedule, the difficulty in opponents that the Owls face has not increased significantly. According to Sports Reference, the Owls’ currently have the 106th hardest schedule in the nation, compared to the 123rd most difficult schedule last season. 

Luckily for the Owls, though, all teams in the AAC qualify for the post-season tournament where the Owls have a chance to rewrite the tale of their regular season. With March rolling around the corner, the Owls have just three weeks to improve upon their weaknesses before the AAC Conference Championship starts on March 13 in Fort Worth.  Their final six games of the regular season take place against conference opponents, giving the Owls a perfect opportunity to improve their record against conference foes and improve their seeding for the conference tournament.

Currently, the Owls would be the 10th seed in the tournament and would face off in the second round of the tournament against the 7th seed, the University of North Texas, who currently have a 14-11 record overall and 7-6 against conference opponents. The Mean Green, historically, has been a tough opponent for the Owls. In their 29 overall head-to-heads, the Owls have won only eight times. 

If head coach Scott Pera and his team can focus on fixing their significant defensive flaws and discipline issues, the Owls have a chance to draw a less formidable opponent in their inaugural AAC conference championship tournament. 

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