Game 12: Rice Owls (9-4) at Texas Longhorns (9-3)
Saturday, December 31, 2011 · 1:00 p.m. CT
Frank Erwin Center · Austin, TX
TV: Longhorn Network (Mark Followill, Bruce Bowen) · Radio: 1300 AM / 98.1 FM
Ken Pom Projection: 79-61 Texas (67 Tempo)
Game Preview: TexasSports.com
Just set aside the North Carolina game, which was a sure loss under almost any circumstance, and a certainty with Kabongo's mysterious disappearance. Prior to the season I circled our first three conference games as the key barometer for this team (at Iowa St, vs Oklahoma St, vs Texas A&M) and that still seems right, and Saturday's match up with Rice is the final non-con game before that critical early Big 12 stretch. (More on that stretch in the next Texas Basketball Report.)
Just as important as picking up a win over Rice will be getting back on track after flopping in Chapel Hill. Tune up time is just about over, and this young Texas team isn't a great bet to rally back from a slow start into Tournament contention from. Losing badly to North Carolina last week isn't a big deal, but starting conference play strong is absolutely essential.
Rice arrives in Austin with a 9-4 record, which includes a 7-point win at Texas A&M and a 27-point loss at Iowa State, as well as respectable losses versus Temple and Northern Iowa. The Owls' frontcourt doesn't present a size challenge, but 6-7 Arsalan Kazemi is a legit baller who does just about everything well. Rice's backcourt is good off the dribble, but they can't shoot and I think our defense will hold up well in the half court against these Owls.
Bottom line: We've handled similar, but substantially better, teams than Rice fairly comfortably, and I think the Owls' win at Reed says more about the Aggies problems (Middleton, Turner, and a bunch of athletes, not basketball players) than anything special about Rice. I expect us to be focused and play with urgent determination to improve upon our last game, and I'll be worried about our prospects the rest of the way if we struggle on Saturday. KenPom's projection sounds about right to me: call it Texas 83 Rice 66.