A season ago Rice and Texas met in Austin just before the start of the new year and delivered a 57-41 rock fight. It would be the Longhorns' last win for almost a month.
Last year coming into the Rice game, the Texas Longhorns had a 7-5 record, and some of the losses were ugly. There was a double digit defeat by D-II Chaminade, the 59-53 OT loss against a miserable USC squad, a late game collapse against UCLA, and a 23 point spanking by Georgetown.
Rick Barnes' team clearly appears to be in a better position so far this season, as they prepare to close out the non-conference schedule at home against Rice.
The 5-6 Owls are also better than the version that Texas played a year ago. Rice has a better record, and has played a close road game against Texas A&M. That game featured nine made threes by coach Ben Braun's Owls.
If today's match-up proves similarly tight, I suspect the three-ball will be a big part of the reason why. Rice shoots a bunch of them; only six D-I teams take a higher fraction of their shots from outside the line. 6-3 senior Austin Ramljak is the player to keep your eye on; 93 of his 109 shots have come from beyond the arc and he has connected on 46 percent of these long distance attempts.
While Ramljak is the Owl's best outside shooter, nearly everyone on the team will hoist up three pointers. One player who won't is 6-9 freshman Sean Obi, a Nigeria native who came to live with a Connecticut host family at age 15. Obi handles the dirty work inside, and he handles it exceptionally well. Obi is one of the best rebounders in the country, which is something Rice was missing last year after Arsalan Kazemi transferred to Oregon. Cameron Ridley won't be able to overpower Obi in the way that he often does; Obi lists at 265 pounds, and doesn't often get pushed around.
I am always nervous about games that come after long breaks. Recall that Texas struggled against UT-Arlington after the Thanksgiving holiday. The fact that this game will be played in the middle of a Monday afternoon in what is likely to be a nearly empty arena also has me concerned; if Rice is hitting threes, they are good enough to challenge the Longhorns.
Join us in the game thread, and perhaps get your pre-Alamo Bowl drinking started early. The game starts at 1 PM CST, and airs on the Longhorn Network.