Here at MGN, we have watched every minute of NT basketball this season. We have also watched a fair bit of Rice basketball. Rice is a good team, led by Travis Evee, a 6’1″ guard who can score from anywhere and put up points in bunches. Quincy Olivari is also good, but has been a bit more streaky this season.
Both are the team’s primary three-point shooters in head coach Scott Pera’s offense. They mix it up — as all modern basketball teams do — by finding easy buckets inside. Max Fieldler, the 6’10” big man has been fantastic and catching-and-scoring inside. He does not have an array of moves — nothing approaching the repertoire of our own Zach Simmons — but he has been vital to their offense. Rice has tons of movement. There is nothing especially fancy about the offense — it is hard to get super creative at the college level — but they execute it with enthusiasm. There is little wasted space, no hesitation. They know what they want to do.
In the clip above we see some straightforward dribble-handoff action to Fielder. Rice has Evee cut through the lane — something to watch for for NT — and then Fielder does a nice roll to the hoop. ODU is a good squad defensively and got burned by the Rice Owls in both games for stretches. They split their matchup, but the Owls had a furious comeback in the second half. UAB handled the Owls better but are simply a better team than the Monarchs.
The Rice defense is not particularly stout — they rank twelfth in the conference in defensive efficiency according to KenPom. NT ranks first in offensive efficiency. There should be plenty to exploit. Fielder is not a particularly good defender and Rice’s traps do not usually cause too much issue for anyone. The teams they have beat in league play — UTEP, ODU, UTSA — usually have a glaring flaw offensively 1 NT should be able to run their normal offense through Simmons and pick and roll with Javion Hamlet for lots of buckets.
Hamlet has been a little off, even if his offensive rating is creeping back up to the 100 mark. He is worse than he was last year — 129.6 in conference play last year and 100.5 this — but he is not bad. A lot of projections for NT this season are based on Hamlet being the killer he was before. Right now, he is getting to the line late, and getting buckets and taking over when NT needs carrying but he is missing his 2-pointers. The floater is not there. The spacing — probably the most important aspect — is not quite there.
We wrote that Umoja Gibson would be missed and that has been true. He would fire threes from pretty much anywhere with success and that meant that teams had to take him seriously. There was more room to operate. James Reese, Thomas Bell, and Rubin Jones have been great but while Jones is shooting .500 from three in conference play, he is shooting only four per game. Gibson was letting it fly with seven per contest.
In my humble opinion, we need more guys letting it fly when they are open. That will mean a couple more bad shots, but that also will open things up for NT’s best guard. It is a trade off but I am fine with that adjustment in risk appetite. This matchup could get dicey for NT if they get in a pace battle — think of the way UTSA sort of made things up and down for a couple of stretches. NT has to pull away — and that means fewer turnovers inside and more good shots. NT usually turns the ball over when getting stuck inside — Zach Simmons gets trapped and tries something weird, or a hesitation on an open catch-and-shoot opportunity is passed up and then a guy dribbles into traffic when everyone is ready to crash for a rebound — and that means there will be fewer mistakes if Bell and company simply shoot the shots they can make when they have those opportunities.
The bottom line is that this is a test, but not a particularly stressful one. Rice can beat North Texas and a win in Houston would be something to be proud of.
UTEP goes cold, and relies too much on their stars. ODU has an awful offense, that relies on midrange, and Xavier Green goes cold too often to get so many looks. UTSA was even worse at the start of conference play on defense, and both stars were cold in game two of the Rice series ↩