Both Rice basketball teams qualified for the Conference USA Basketball Tournament in Frisco, Tx. Here’s a preview of the action.
Men’s Tournament – The Bracket
The Favorite: Old Dominion
After taking down Western Kentucky and UTSA, the Monarchs faded in the final two games of pod play. Their losses to Southern Miss and UAB are certainly a concern, but there was a reason this team was the only CUSA squad to win more than 20 games.
Even after dropping their final two regular season games, Old Dominion still owns a 13-5 conference record. They also beat Southern Miss and UAB earlier in the season. Led by guards B.J. Smith and Ahmad Carver, they’re going to shoot well and score a lot of points.
The Sleeper: Marshall
Marshall was one of the few teams to beat Old Dominion in the regular and could be the hottest squad in the conference in March. The Herd have won five straight, sweeping comfortably through pod play.
Champions over Western Kentucky last season, the core of the Herd lineup remains intact. Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks are once again one and two in scoring. Freshman Taevion Kinsey has come on strong lately with strong shooting performances and double-digit points in all of the Herd’s pod play victories.
The case for Rice
Unlike in other years, there is no dominant force in Conference USA. The 12-seed, Middle Tennessee, and the 1-seed, Old Dominion, are separated by five games in the standings. Four different teams, including Rice, enter Frisco 8-10 in conference play. By and large, the standings are fairly tight outside of Charlotte and UTEP, who failed to make the tournament.
Rice has proven on multiple occasions this year their best is good enough to beat even the upper end teams in CUSA. The Owls own wins over both Marshall and Southern Miss, the highest seeds on their side of the bracket and they fell to 2-seed Western Kentucky in double overtime.
The Owls haven’t been able to string together 40-minutes of top-level basketball with much consistency this year, but they have had their moments. If this team gets it in gear, they’re capable of beating anyone in this tournament.
Women’s Tournament – The Bracket
The Favorite: Rice
They say there’s a reason the games are played on the court and not a computer, but it’s hard to envision any amount of variation knocking the Owls off their perch atop Conference USA. They didn’t slow down in the final weeks of the regular season, and perhaps got even better, posting dominant wins over everyone they’ve met in March to this point.
If the season ended today, there’s a strong argument Rice is deserving of an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Two wins in Frisco should seal the deal, but these ladies have their eyes set on cutting down the nets for a reason.
The Sleeper: Old Dominion
Old Dominion was neck and neck with Rice early on in conference play before Rice beat them in their lone head to head pairing of the season. Still, it was the Monarchs who gave the Owls their closest scare.
The challenger turned the game into a defensive slugfest, matching the physicality of Rice and holding the home team to 28.3 percent shooting from the field. Rice would go on to win by six points, but failed to score 50 points for the only time this season. To win this tournament you’ll have to go through Rice. Old Dominion has the best shot, albeit a distant one.
The case for Rice
Ranked for the first time in school history, this Rice team is special. In good games and in bad games, they find a way to win. Their defense is extraordinary and tenacious and the offense continually gets the ball in the hands of their most reliable players.
Rice might not have been tested to the same degree as some of their opponents they’ll face in Frisco. Rarely did Rice find themselves in a single-digit game in the fourth quarter, but when they did they came out on top. The chalk pick by most every expert, Rice is the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets.
Rice Men: Wednesday, March 13 at 9 p.m. vs Marshall – ESPN+
Rice Women: Bye
Rice Men: TBD
Rice Women: Thursday, March 14 at 11 a.m. – opponent TBD – Watch Stadium