Men's Basketball Sports

Q&A: Rice Thresher and Cougar editors talk about each team’s basketball outlook

Freshman forward TaShawn Thomas scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds and swatted two shots in the Cougars 76-75 win over Rice. Thomas ranks as the second-best shot blocker in C-USA at 2.2 per game. | Emily Chambers/The Daily Cougar

Houston and Rice have not played each other on the court since 2013. Houston won in the second game, but Rice took the first one in January. | Emily Chambers/The Cougar

The Cougar’s sports editor Andres Chio and the Rice Thresher’s assistant sports editor Madison Buzzard wrote about the expectations of each school’s team and predictions for the upcoming game.

Question: Who do you think is the biggest impact player for your team early in the season?

Buzzard: Last season was abysmal for Rice men’s basketball. Although 11 players scored at least two points per game, only two starters averaged double-digit scoring and the Owls finished 4-14 in Conference USA and 7-24 overall.

Last year’s leading scorer Connor Cashaw transferred to Creighton University, and three-point marksman A.J. Lapray medically retired from basketball.

Head coach Scott Pera retooled, in part by adding 2016 Rivals150 recruit Josh Parrish via transfer, but two key players remain from last season’s squad: junior guard Ako Adams and junior forward Robert Martin.

Martin is shooting 77.8 percent from the field and 80 percent from three-point range so far this season, albeit over a small sample size, and Adams is the Owls’ undisputed floor general.

Chio: After Rob Gray graduated, there was some worry about if Houston’s offense could replace his production. Whether it was in a single player or committee of players, players needed to step up. Senior guard Corey Davis Jr. has been that player.

He was Houston’s second-best scorer overall and its best three-point shooter in 2017-18, and he has picked up where he left off.

Davis Jr. had nine three-pointers in the exhibition against Dallas Baptist, which would have tied the school record if it was an official game, and had another five against Alabama A&M.

If he keeps playing like this, he will get all the attention that Gray used to get.

Question: What area(s) does your team need to improve on?

Buzzard: Three-point shooting. Rice converted only 8-of-30 three-point attempts in its season opening win against Saint Leo University and disappointed with a 6-for-18 mark from three-point range in its recent away loss to Pennsylvania.

No Rice player other than Martin is shooting more than 30 percent from the three-point line. Drive-and-kick options are apparently obsolete in the Owls’ offense: transfer Jack Williams is 1-for-6 from deep this year, and Adams has only six total assists.

Parrish, a rugged guard, excels at slashing to the basket. The ball should transfer hands between Adams and Parrish to alternate between a perimeter motion offense and a slashing offense.

Chio: The Cougars need to get depth pieces like redshirt sophomore Brison Gresham and redshirt junior Chris Harris Jr. more involved in the game. Senior Breaon Brady did a good job of not picking up a lot of fouls against Alabama A&M, but that is unlikely to last.

Brady got into a lot of foul trouble last season, and he will foul out more than a few times this year with the Cougars’ physical style of defense.

Those times are likely to happen in big games, so it is important to give depth players significant playing time while the games have less stakes.

The first times these players are on the court for extended lengths should not be in the Fertitta Center opener against Oregon or a big conference matchup against Cincinnati.

Question: What is your prediction for Wednesday’s game?

Buzzard: The Cougars have an excellent guard combination in Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. One question is whether the defensive tenacity of Adams and Parrish can pose a challenge to UH’s talented all-around scorers.

Since the game is early in the season, maybe both teams will play sloppily. In that case, Williams and Martin have a chance to control the game on the boards: the two players have 16 and 12 rebounds this season, respectively.

Then, Adams can use his speed to generate fast break opportunities. More likely, the Owls will be unable to keep pace with the Cougars’ prolific perimeter shooting, and UH will win by double digits.

Chio: The Owls have the size to match up against the Cougars and not be out-muscled in the paint. Another benefit for Rice is the roster does not seem to have one dominant scorer that Houston can shut down and instantly win the game, but that balanced scoring does have a down side.

Last season, Houston would go cold across the court and Gray would just go into hero mode, score 30 points and lead the team back.

If Rice falls behind by double digits, it does not have the tools to mount a big comeback.

I think that is exactly what will happen Wednesday night. Since it is a rivalry game, Rice will come out and keep it close, but eventually Houston will go on one big run and take over the game.

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