So with a roster full of freshmen and little time to build chemistry, the upbeat Braun had to expect he would encounter some rough spots.
Sure enough, the Rice Owls have had their share of "first year" problems. The good news is that even though the Owls have been a little out-manned this year, they've already doubled last year's win total and lately are making great strides as a team. They've looked very competitive in winning 2 of their last 3 games.
Here's a quick summary of the good, and the not so good for Rice Basketball...
- True freshman Guard Connor Frizzelle has been solid in his debut season in the Blue and Gray. Though Connor has struggled at times with distribution, he's made up for that with consistent scoring and overall steady play. Frizzelle is 3rd on the team in scoring, averaging just under 9 points a game. He scored a career high 24 last night in the Owls' home win over Southern Miss. Frizzelle was a late addition to the Owl roster last summer; and some questioned if he could handle the jump to Division I. One guy didn't - and Ben Braun has been very high on Frizzelle even when others weren't sure - right now Braun looks like the smart one.
- Lucas Kuipers started 9 of 16 games this year at the Power Forward spot until injury cut short his season. Kuipers has a big upside - he passes very well from the post and looks like he'll only get better with practice and some weight room time. Kuiper can score too, and is also a solid defender having posted 19 steals and 4 blocked shots in his abbreviated season.
- Rodney Foster has put everything together this season to lead the Owls on Offense. Foster has always had the talent to score - a category he currently leads the team in. He also leads the team in assists (4.3 pg) and steals (26). He's played very well of late.
- Recruiting has been perhaps the brightest spot of all since Coach Braun arrived. Last November he landed a pair of nationally ranked players in New Jersey's Tamir Jackson and Arsalan Kazemi of Patterson, NC. Braun also added athletic Forwards Chris Eversley from Chicago, and Egheosa Edomwonyi, also from New Jersey. Braun has shown early that he can obviously recruit nationally. And perhaps not done yet, the Owls are still in the mix for the #2 ranked big man in the country, DeMarcus Cousins. The class is already one of the best basketball recruiting classes in school history.
And The Not So Good...
The Owls have limited size on the roster at this juncture in the contruction of the program. Trey Stanton is 6-10 and has had help from Aleks Perka when he's been healthy but Perka's absence has limited Stanton's effectiveness. Help is on the way next year, but this season Rice has been out rebounded by nearly 4 rebounds a game. The corresponding and expected result is that opponents have been able to convert easy baskets into a higher shooting percentage 44% to 42.8%
Injuries have undermined the Owls progress this season. Already needing size, losing 6-8 Lucas Kuipers was a big blow to an already vertically challenged line-up; and oft-injured Aleks Perka has also spent time ailing on the bench.
Depth, youth, and inconsistent play from starters have made winning tough this year. Its been hard to overcome one - and often times the Owls have struggled with all 3 at the same time.
In spite of their struggles, the Owls have won 8 games, with double digit victories within sight. Rice seems to be finding chemistry, and building momentum as the season goes on and has a chance to finish strong. More importantly, they seem to be building a foundation for the future.
With more experience, and a super talented incoming recruiting class things are shaping up for the start of something good in Rice Basketball. Unlike football, a basketball program can turn around quickly with a couple of talented players and the Owls will have more talent next year throughout the roster, including a couple of very highly ranked freshmen.
With a strong finish to the 2008-2009 season the Owls can carry momentum over to next season - where .500 basketball looks not only reasonable to expect, maybe even probable...