The 2020-2021 Rice basketball team is full of new faces. Offseason transfers forced another reboot. Can the Owls adjust quickly and fly on?
For better or worse, Rice basketball was one of the few Conference USA basketball teams that determined their own fate last March before the COVID-19 pandemic swept in and prematurely ended sports midseason. Rice lost in the C-USA Tournament the day before everything was shut down. Since then, it’s been a tough road.
Rice lost Ako Adams and Robert Martin, two valuable pieces, to graduation. Several others transferred. Players like Trey Murphy and Drew Peterson, though to be the future of the program, left amidst the sudden offseason lull. Who steps up and what this next iteration of Rice basketball will look like form the framework of what is sure to be an intriguing season.
The Coach – Scott Pera
Scott Pera has fought through adversity time and time again as the Owls’ head coach. His arrival was met with an exodus of key players. Further transfers continue to challenge his roster and his moral, but he’s adjusted, leaning further into the Transfer Portal himself.
After winning seven games in his first season, he’s improved on that total in each subsequent year, winning 13 games in Year 2 and 15 last season. Eclipsing a .500 record, especially given the circumstances, would be a commendable achievement.
Last Season Snapshot
Following a wake-up call in their season opener, a one-sided loss to Arkansas on the road, Rice strung together a rather impressive non-conference run. The Owls beat UC Santa Barbara, Liberty and East Carolina but couldn’t avoid a few head-scratching losses along the way to Lamar and Sam Houston.
Conference play was less kind. Rice won just one of their first 10 games in C-USA play (home against FIU). They rallied to win six of their final nine to clinch a spot in the conference tournament, where they fell to FIU to end their season.
How quickly can this rebuilt roster gel? Graduation and transfers wiped out the majority of the Owls’ core contributors for a year ago. Pera’s new-look team will ask younger players to carry bigger loads and newly added pieces to be integrated quickly. It’s not an impossible task, but so much change in such a short window of time, compounded by the challenges of COVID-19 are going to make it challenging.
Rice Basketball Marquee Games and Key Dates
Nov. 27, 2020 – Season opener at Thanksgiving Invitational vs Incarnate Word
Dec. 3, 2020 – Home opener vs LeTourneau
Dec. 12, 2020 – Owls visit Houston at the Fertitta Center
Jan. 1, 2020 – Conference USA home opener vs UTSA
Jan. 8, 2020 – Conference USA first road game vs UTEP
Mar. 10, 2020 – Conference USA Tournament
You can find the complete 2020-2021 Rice basketball schedule here.
Chris Mullins, Guard (Jr.)
Mullins is the only returning player who started at least a dozen games for Rice last season. After a strong freshman campaign, the scoring dipped a bit last season as his shooting consistency wained and others came to his aid. Last year he averaged 7.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He’ll be asked to step up further in 2020 and beyond.
Payton Moore, Guard (Jr.)
Moore was a key bench piece last season and was one of only four players to play in all 32 games. He was consistently the Owls’ sixth man, coming in quickly and playing meaningful minutes when the team needed him most. He averages 4.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. His experience as the first man off the bench is valuable and could play into how he’s used this coming season.
Quincy Olivari, Guard (So.)
Olivari saw flashes of action early in the season but really started to develop as the year progressed. He played more than 16 minutes in a game for the first time on Jan. 16 against Louisiana Tech, the Owls 16th game. From that point on, he averaged 17.1 minutes played and 6.1 points per game. His star is just beginning to shine.
Max Fiedler, Forward (So.)
It looked like Fiedler would be a staple in the Owls’ rotation early on last season, but his utilization dipped significantly when the team reached conference play. He appeared in just seven games against C-USA opponents, never playing more than 11 minutes. Even with the limited time on the court, he racked up 13 blocks, second-most on the team.
Malik Ondigo, Forward (Jr.)
Update: Head coach Scott Pera said Ondigo is currently not with the team due to personal reasons.
Ondigo signed with the Owls last summer after spending the prior two seasons at Texas Tech. He appeared in 32 games for the Red Raiders before transferring to Rice. After sitting out last season due to transfer rules, his impact should be significant. Having someone with his size (6-foot-10, 215) and power seems to suggest a more consistent interior presence for Rice on both ends of the court.
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Tre Clark, Guard (Gr.) – Furman transfer. Had career-highs in rebounds (101), assists (38) and steals (32) last season. Appeared in 86 games over the past four seasons. Veteran presence for young team.
Cavit Ege Havsa, Guard (Gr.) – Played at Fordham and Utah Valley State and previously for the U20 Turkish National Team. Should provide an experienced shooting presence from the outside.
Travis Evee, Guard (So.) – Potential difference-maker at point guard who transferred from VMI. He was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year this past season, averaging 12.6 points per game.
Riley Abercrombie, Forward (So.) – Houston native and transfer from Boise State who redshirted before playing last year. Good shooter from distance who should contribute this year.
Jake Lieppert, Guard (So.) – Lights out scorer at Pima Community College where he shot 41.7 percent from three. He was named league Freshman of the Year last season.
More Names to Know
The Owls are excited about their incoming Freshmen Noah Hutchins, Mylyjael Poteat and Cameron Sheffield. We saw a few freshmen earn early playing time a year ago, and with so many new faces, it’s not out of the question that at least one, if not multiple players from his class break through and find roles.
Hutchins and Sheffield are great shooters. Poteat brings plenty of size and range. All three should complement each other well as Rice works to rebuild a young core.
Sophomores Ben Moffatt and Reed Myers each played in less than five games a season ago, averaging less than two minutes. They’ll more than likely be locker room guys and depth pieces again this year as well.