14-Seed Rice basketball takes on 3-Seed Ohio in the first round of the CBI Tournament on Saturday. Here’s everything you need to know.
How to follow
Sizing up the Rice Owls
Rice basketball is playing in the postseason for the first time under head coach Scott Pera. The program has won at least one conference tournament game in each of the past two seasons and now gets its chance at a postseason berth.
The Owls have the edge on the offensive efficiency side, shooting 45.9 percent from the floor this season and 37.3 percent from three compared to the Bobcat’s 43.1 percent clip from the floor 34.0 percent from three. Rice has 500 assists on the season compared to Ohio’s 422,
Sizing up the Ohio Bobcats
Ohio reached the semifinals of the MAC Tournament where they fell to Kent State. A season ago, Ohio was a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament where they upset 4-seed Virginia in the first round. They are led by guard Mark Sears, who is second in the MAC with 19.5 points per game.
The Bobcats protect the basketball well, averaging just 10.5 turnovers per game to the Owls’ 12.5 turnovers. They enter the game with a 24-9 record but picked up five of those losses in their last seven outings.
How Rice got here
By the time Rice basketball reached conference play and returned to full strength following a string of COVID cases that plagued the roster, it was early January. The team was 7-5 following a crushing defeat against North Texas. Then they started winning. More than that — they started looking the part.
Rice beat the eventual Conference USA Tournament champion and NCAA Tournament-bound UAB in a stretch of games in which they went 5-3. Then, in Pera’s own words “Quincy [Olivari] goes down and the whole season changes.” Rice would drop a close game to UTEP following Olivari’s wrist injury that ended his season. Then the Owls would lose six of their final seven regular-season conference games.
Why it matters
It’s been more than a month since Olivar’s injury. When Rice tips off against Ohio, Pera and his staff will have had 10 games to tinker and craft a gameplan that utilized the strengths that still remain. A win would be the first for the program since they won an opening-round game in the CBI in 2017.
A week ago Pera said this team would be “excited as heck” to get a chance to play postseason basketball. After all this team has been through, moving on in the postseason would speak volumes.
Rice has already reached 16 wins, the best of any season of Pera’s tenure, but the success feels somewhat muted because of just how successful many — Pera included — thought this team could have become. There have been a lot of bad breaks along the way. Players are hurt and the roster is thin. But the ball is officially in their court.