For the first time since 2013, Rice men’s basketball will begin its season with consecutive home games. Another great aspect to the Owls' schedule is both contests, plus the team's regular-season finale in March, will be live on FloHoops.
As Rice gets set to host Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 10 and Georgia State on Nov. 14, with both games a part of the MGM Grand Main Event, the Owls face some tough challenges as they seek to return to postseason play for a second year in a row.
Almost everything about the team will be brand new heading into its 7 PM CT opener at Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston, and here is what to keep an eye on with the fresh-look Owls this season:
After serving as the Owls' associate head coach the past three seasons, including last year’s 23-12 campaign, Scott Pera is at the helm for the first time in his career. The 50-year-old coach knows what it takes to have a successful culture at Rice in learning under Mike Rhoades, who left to take the vacancy at VCU this offseason, and it’s safe to say the program is in good hands with its new leader. Pera already has one game under his belt — a 79-72 exhibition win over Wayland Baptist — and it’s time to see what he can do when the season officially starts.
The good news is Rice returns eight letter winners from the 2016-17 season. The bad news is only one of them — junior guard Connor Cashaw (8.0 ppg., 5.3 rpg.) — has significant experience, especially as a starter. The Owls return just 19.2 percent of their scoring and 25.9 percent of their rebounding from last year’s CBI team.
Additionally, Rice will be one of the youngest teams in the entire country with 10 of the 15 players on the roster being either freshmen (three) or sophomores (seven). There are seven newcomers in total, too.
That doesn’t mean these players aren’t up for the task. Graduate transfer A.J. Lapray looked good off the bench in scoring 16 points in the exhibition game, while returners Tim Harrison (16 points) and Robert Martin (15 points, six rebounds, five assists) appeared ready for larger roles.
Fresh off its first postseason appearance in five seasons, advancing to the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational, Rice is looking to make postseason play a regular tradition moving forward. The opportunity is there for Pera to make that happen and for the players, especially Cashaw, to step up on the big stage. The outside expectations might not be high for this year, but the foundation can be set for the Owls to be competitive in Conference USA moving forward.