The #4/#5 Texas Longhorns (8-0) will travel to Houston for tonight’s match-up with the Rice Owls (2-5) at the Toyota Center. The contest will be televised by CSTV with a tip time of 7 PM.. This marks the third straight year that the Horns have played a regular season game in Houston. Last year, the Longhorns avenged a loss in the Regional Finals from the year before by knocking off LSU in overtime, and two years ago the Horns blew out Rice.
Importance of Houston
Playing a regular season game in Houston has the same effect that playing a regular season football game in Dallas does for the football team. Many current players get to play close to their hometowns in front of family and friends, and, second, it helps with recruiting. Current players from the Houston area include Dexter Pittman (Rosenburg), Harrison Smith (Houston Jones), Connor Atchley (Clear Lake), Gary Johnson (Houston Aldine) and even DJ Augustin, (Sugar Land via Louisiana). At least two other major stars in the Rick Barnes’ era landed in Austin via the Houston area, TJ Ford and Daniel Gibson. I heard a few years ago that more NBA players had Houston area connections than any other area in the country. I don’t know if that is still true but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
The Horns already have a verbal commitment from J’Covan Brown (Port Arthur Memorial) in their ’08 class. It is unlikely that another Houston area talent will sign in this year’s class but the pipeline of talent in Houston is filled. Playing well tonight could be the first step toward landing a talent in the ’09 or ’10 class or beyond.
Rice returned three starters from a team that went 16-16 a year ago. However, one of those two lost starters was Morris Almond, a first round selection of the Utah Jazz. Rice is also without returning starter, Cory Plieger, who injured his ankle and is out at least a month. The Owls are nowhere near as good as they were a year ago. Head coach Willis Wilson has started every game this season with a different starting lineup. It is hard to see how the Owls will be able to stay within twenty points of the Horns.
Career Night over Texas State
While the Owls enter this one at just 2-5, they have won two of their last three games, including an 88-81 victory at Texas State on Wednesday. The win over TSU was a career night for three separate Owls. Forward Patrick Britton (6-8, 200) scored a career high 24 points in the win and is now averaging 11.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg for the season. The second Owl who had a big outing against Texas State was Paulis Packevicius (6-9, 230). Packevicius grabbed a career high 15 boards and is now averaging a double-double, 11 points and 10 rebounds for the year. Rodney Foster (6-1, 185) was the final player to enjoy a career night. Foster scored a career high 17 points. What is most impressive about their road victory is that the Owls won without their best player. Freshman guard Jasen Williams (6-3, 170) is leading the team in scoring and in assists. Williams missed the game because he needed to stay in Houston to focus on his academics and prepare for finals. Ahh, the difference between Rice and major college sports programs defined.
The advanced metrics stats for Rice reveal a very bad team. Of 341 total teams, Rice ranks 324th in offensive efficiency. The Owls are scoring just 83.4 points / 100 possessions. Conversely, the Horns are ranked 1st in the country in offensive efficiency and put up 136 points / 100 possessions. The rest of the Owls' offensive stats are just awful. They don’t shoot the ball well from inside or beyond the arc, they don’t grab many offensive rebounds, and they have trouble with turnovers. While Texas is not an outstanding defensive team, the Horns shouldn’t have much trouble locking down the Owls.
Rice’s defensive stats are not much better. Rice has trouble defending the three-pointer, controlling defensive rebounds, and keeping opponents off the free throw line. The one thing Rice has done well is create turnovers. Unfortunately, no team in the country has protected the ball better than Texas has this season.
Play like we have for the first eight games. Seriously, there is no reason this one should be close. Texas just needs to execute and impress the Houston fans.