#139 Rice Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Rice Owls
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #139
Conference Rank: #5 Conference USA
Year two of the Mike Rhoades era at Rice looked a lot like year one. Both seasons the Owls ended up with 12-20 records. But this was a young team last year and there are enough pieces back for Rice to make a big push up the Conference USA standings. This is still a young team though and that bodes well for the future. More importantly, Coach Rhoades finally has the depth he needs to get his team moving up and down the floor as quickly as he prefers. Last year a couple injuries, including one to wing Marcus Jackson, hindered the team’s depth. Back in 2014-2015, Jackson started 31 games and averaged 14.5 points. He is a superb outside shooter and having him back is huge
2015-16 Record: 12-20, 7-11
2015-16 Postseason: none
Coach: Mike Rhoades
Coach Record: 24-40 at Rice, 24-40 overall
Who’s Out:
Only one player is gone who averaged more than five minutes per game last season, but Max Guercy is a big loss. He ran the point for Rice and dished out 5.7 assists per game during his senior season. He never developed into much of a shooter, but Guercy was a solid defender and a great distributor. Rice has struggled with turnovers over the last two seasons and that was with Guercy. It could be an even bigger issue without him. Amir Smith and Oliver Xu are the other two departures. Neither saw major minutes during the 2015-2016 campaign.
Who’s In:
Coach Rhoades is building the program the right way and a total of seven freshmen will look to see the floor this year. Chad Lott suffered an injury prior to last season and redshirted, while the other six are all incoming freshmen. Lott can help in the point guard spot and was a big time scorer during his prep career in Shreveport, Louisiana. The backcourt also adds Ako Adams, Addison Owen and Grant Youngkin. Adams is another point guard who can knock down shots. It is tough to rely too heavily on freshmen point guards, but both Lott and Adams are talented enough to earn quality minutes as freshmen, whether it be at the point or off of the ball. The frontcourt needed some size and they got it with Corey Douglas, Robert Martin, Austin Meyer and Tim Harrison. At 6-9, Meyer is the tallest of the bunch, but he is also a good athlete who can get up and down the floor. Harrison is a highly regarded 6-8 forward. He will need to add some strength, but he should be one of the better athletes on a team that is becoming extremely athletic.
Who to Watch:
The backcourt will be one of the most potent in Conference USA. Marcus Evans and Egor Koulechov will step back into their starting roles after doing a bulk of the scoring for Rice last year. Evans averaged 21.4 points per game and was second on the team in assists. Evans, a 6-2 sophomore, is a candidate to spend more time handling the ball after dishing out 2.8 assists per game as a freshman. His turnover numbers were very high and his outside shooting was inconsistent at best, but he knows how to score and is not afraid to get to the basket. With other, more efficient shooters on the team, Evans could emerge as the starting point guard as long as he can make better decisions with the ball in his hands. Koulechov is one of those shooters. He hit a team high 80 three-pointers during his first season with the Owls after transferring in from Arizona State. His 6-5, 210 pound frame and versatility proved to be a huge asset for Rice. He led the team with 7.0 rebounds per game and can play the four spot against most opponents. He is too quick for most power forwards in the Conference USA and too big and strong for most guards to defend. Connor Cashaw was one of a few freshmen thrown into the fire, especially after the injury to Jackson. And Cashaw responded very well, averaging 8.5 points per game and connecting on 38.8 percent of his three-point attempts. He started over half of the team’s games in 2015-2016, but for now will be a very dangerous shooter off of the bench. Bishop Mency was starting when Cashaw wasn’t, but he again struggled to find his shooting touch. Mency is a big 6-5 wing who has a lot of potential, but he must find his shooting touch.
Final Projection:
Rice has more than enough talent and options on the perimeter; and just about all of them can score in bunches. That is enough to win some games, but the frontcourt needs to develop. With the newcomers, there is finally some depth, but Marquez Letcher-Ellis and Andrew Drone are still the two big men who need to hold down the fort. Letcher-Ellis, a 6-7 sophomore, proved to be a capable interior scorer, averaging 10.2 points on the year. He added 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks too. He is really a big wing though and it would be helpful if he was tougher on the glass. At 6-10 and 260 pounds, Drone is the more traditional big man. He can do some scoring, but Rice needs him to be tougher on the glass too. He averaged just 4.1 rebounds per game and that is a big reason why the Owls had a -2.9 rebounding margin. The opposition will score against this team, but Rice needs to make it a bit tougher. The team allowed 80.5 points per game and let the opposition shoot 48.1 percent from the floor, which is really, really, really bad. If they can drop that number below 45 percent, which is not particularly good either, Rice has the offense to outscore most opponents and be a contender for a postseason berth.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI / CIT / V16
Projected Starting Five:
Marcus Evans, Sophomore, Guard, 21.4 points per game
Marcus Jackson, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Egor Koulechov, Junior, Guard, 16.7 points per game
Marquez Letcher-Ellis, Sophomore, Forward, 10.2 points per game
Andrew Drone, Senior, Center, 7.4 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 75.8 (110th in nation, 7th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 80.5 (330, 12)
Field-Goal Percentage: 45.2 (111, 7)
Field-Goal Defense: 48.1 (337, 12)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.1 (159, 6)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 31.8 (291, 12)
Free-Throw Percentage: 74.1 (35, 1)
Rebound Margin: -2.9 (274, 9)
Assists Per Game: 13.1 (190, 8)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.1 (218, 10)