The 2021-2022 Rice basketball team returns to South Main with high expectations and plenty of confidence. Can the Owls soar even higher?
Perhaps it’s the infectious smile of starting guard Quincy Olivari or the multiple wins in the conference tournament last season under their belts, but the 2021-2022 Rice Basketball team enters the season with a renewed level of confidence, a swagger they didn’t possess at this point last year.
By head coach Scott Pera’s own admission. expectations have been raised. “We’ve put a lot of time and energy and effort into building this program into the words I’ve used: sustainable and winning,” he said in his remarks to the media before the season officially gets underway Tuesday night. “If there are never expectations put on you, that means you’re never any good. And so we’ve talked about embracing expectations, relishing the fact that now people have a respect for us and expect us to be better.”
Better means building off a strong returning core, integrating in a pair of grad transfers and climbing the conference standings. “We want to win and we believe we can win,” Olivari said. “Before it was just (to) not finish last or just make the conference tournament, (now) it’s make the conference tournament and compete for a championship. That’s the whole, overall message.”
Aiming higher than they ever have before, Rice basketball is looking forward to what promises to be an exciting year. And while the offense will get most of the accolades, it’s not the only thing this team has worked to amplify during the offseason.
To a man, Pera and several team leaders identified defense as the top priority. Pera called it “the number one emphasis,” because that phase of the game was “the area we need to improve the most.” If Rice can add an efficient defense to their high-fly scoring attack that was fourth in the conference last year with 73.9 points per game scored, this team could be dangerous.
The Coach – Scott Pera
Pera was given a contract extension this summer, keeping him at Rice through 2024, ane he earned it. Not only did Pera rebuild the roster on the fly, but he also increased the Owls’ winning percentage for the third consecutive season with players like future first-round NBA draft pick Trey Murphy to help him along the way.
As a part of his focus on making the program appealing to recruits and those outside the hedges, he also engineered the #GreenLightU mantra. “We let our guys play,” he said, alluding to the freedom he gives his players to take shots on the court.
Last Season Snapshot
With the roster gutted by transfers, things were up and down for Rice basketball last season. Non-conference play featured a handful of wins over lesser-know programs, but conference action saw Rice win four of their first five including a win over UTEP in El Paso.
The team would teeter-totter between short losing streaks and winning streaks for the remainder of the year before closing out the season with a memorable run in the conference tournament. Rice beat Southern Miss and Marshall in the conference tournament, setting the stage for what many around the program hope will be a deeper run in the season to come.
Entering last season, Rice returned a meager 26.4 percent of their scoring from the season prior. This time around, Rice brings back 86.3 percent of it’s scoring. The continuity is not something lost on Pera, who called consistency something “that has become increasingly difficult” it today’s age of college basketball.
With several of the same faces back, the question moves from who will produce to this, in Pera’s own words: “How mentally tough are we? How are we going to deal with adversity?” Whether or not Rice is able to be resilient and respond under pressure will be a major factor in determining how high the ceiling can be for this team.
Rice Basketball Schedule | Key Games/Dates
Nov. 9, 2021 – Season opener vs Pepperdine at Tudor Fieldhouse
Nov. 12, 2021 – Owls visit Houston at the Fertitta Center
Nov. 22-24, 2021 – Gulf Coast Showcase Tournament
Dec. 22, 2021 – Non-conference finale at Texas
Jan. 1, 2021 – Conference USA first road game vs North Texas
Jan. 6, 2021 – Conference USA home opener vs Middle Tennessee
Mar. 8, 2021 – Conference USA Tournament
You can find the complete 2021-2022 Rice basketball schedule here.
Chris Mullins, Guard (Jr.)
Prior to the arrival of two grad transfers, Mullins was the old soul on this roster. He’s the only player on the roster than started at least 20 games for Rice in three consecutive seasons. Mullins is an aggressive defender with the speed to take the ball and finish at the rim. His experience in this system and productivity on both sides of the court will pay dividends for Rice.
Quincy Olivari, Guard (So.)
Olivari broke out in a big way last season, making the jump from a role player to one of the most lethal distance shooters in Conference USA. A preseason all-conference honoree, Olivari will be looking to build on his 16.3 points per game and 40.6 percentage from three he compiled last season. He’s quickly become one of the most vocal members of this team.
Max Fiedler, Forward (So.)
Fiedler also elevated his play significantly last season, doubling his playing time (12 minutes per game to 28 minutes), rebounds (4.1 per game to 8.8) and almost quintupling his scoring (2.7 points per game to 11.2). He’s more than just a big body in the middle. Fiedler has good feet and a keen eye. He’ll be a key facilitator, setting up the Owls’ outside shooters as defenses sag to stop him at the rim.
Travis Evee, Guard (So.)
Evee was cleared to play for Rice right before last season began, taking advantage of a waiver from the NCAA and becoming Olvari’s partner in crime from three-point land. Evee was named the C-USA Newcomer of the year, leading the team in steals (1.2 per game) while finishing second in scoring (13.7 per game). Another year of experience playing within this system with these teammates will only add to his impact on the court.
Cameron Sheffield, Forward (Fr.)
Sheffield is one of the most versatile players on the Rice roster, and although he might not be one of the five starters on any given day, he’ll certainly be one of the first off the bench. Pera identified him as one of the guys most likely to make a jump this year, saying “he’s a guy that just keeps getting better.” One of four Owls to play in all 28 games last year, Sheffield will be the ideal sixth man for this squad in 2021-2022.
Mylyjael Poteat, Forward (Fr.)
Poteat might not be a household name yet, but he was the other player Pera identified as an up-and-coming producer. Poteat got his feet wet last year as a freshman, playing in 13 games, playing more than 15 minutes just once, a 17-minute outing against Southern Miss. He’s learned a lot this offseason and is someone Pera described as “a guy that has a huge ceiling.”
Riley Abercrombie, Forward (So.)
Riley Abercrombie is the only other returning player that played a meaningful role for this team on a game-to-game basis. He averaged 7.5 points per game, drawing 15 starts over the course of the season. He projects to be a reserve this year, but one that can shoot the three ball well (34 percent last season) and can rebound.
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Carl Pierre, Guard (Gr.) – Pierre trasfered from UMass where he was second all-time in career three-point field goals made. A high school teammate of Olivari, Pierre will join him in the starting five this season. He looked comfortable with the ball in his hands during the Owls’ exhibition against St. Edwards and figures to be a mainstay on the court this year.
Terrance McBride, Guard (Gr.) – McBride joins Rice after transferring from Cornell. Along with Pierre, McBride’s experience will be a boost to this team. Quincy Olivari cited McBride as someone that’s already made a difference with his leadership. Pera indicated he expects McBride to get upwards of 20 or so minutes off the bench on a regular basis.
More Names to Know
Jake Lieppert saw playing time off the bench last season, averaging 10.7 minutes per game in the 15 contests in which he checked into the lineup. Ben Moffat and Reed Myers are the only other returners that saw the court. They’ll each be rotation candidates this coming season, but minutes are going to be hard to come by.
Noah Hutchins was with the team last year, but injuries kept him off the court. Pera hopes to have him available at some point soon, possible as early as next week. Damion McDowell, Jaden Geron and Jackson Peakes are the newest freshmen signees from the most recent class. With so much depth and experience in place above them, they’ll have to fight for time in the rotation, but McDowell and Geron in particular stand out guys who could contribute down the road.
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