Rice Preview

Sandwiched between ultra-hyped games against #11 Xavier and #7 Florida on national TV, the Stanford Cardinal find themselves hosting the Rice Owls in a Sunday evening affair at Maples Pavilion. Monty's men are looking to continue their improvement, and foothold in the nation's hoops conscience, but all that will crumble if they falter against this scrappy team from the WAC.

Rice University @ Stanford
5:30 pm (PST) tip-off

I told you last week that the season opener against Boston University would be a much tougher game than you imagined.  They were a very well coached and extraordinarily experienced team that would play tough defense and do some things against this young Stanford team.  I didn't blow smoke for the sake of making the game excited - I meant it.  Well, looking at Rice, I can't quite say the same things.  The Owls return a lot of their talent from last year's squad, though I don't know how much fear could be inspired by any returning portion of a 10-19 WAC team.

The positives running in Rice's favor include a good coach in Willis Wilson, who served as an assistant under Mike Montgomery for one year back in the famed 1991-92 NCAA tournament season.  He has been the head man at Rice ever since, now starting his 11th season in Houston.  He will run a largely motion offense with some sets that will look familiar to astute Cardinalmaniacs™.  They are likely to throw a three-guard line-up at the Cardinal today (see table below), which will give Wilson some quickness and athleticism in the backcourt - something that has been missing the last several years at Rice.  Sophomore forward Michael Harris is the best thing to happen to Rice basketball in some time, and this leading scorer and rebounder for the Owls is seen as the cornerstone for their hopeful return to winning ways.  The Owls haven't had a winning season since 1999, but improved recruiting and some improved health should give these feathered foes a shot at competing in the WAC this year.

Probable Starters (2001-02 stats)

PG #32 Rashid Smith Jr. 6-3 175 3.6 1.9 (a) 38.5 39.3 68.0
SG #0 Omar-Seli Mance Sr. 6-2 190 12.1 2.0 (a) 43.8 41.7 76.8
WG #34 Jason McKrieth So. 6-4 210 11.5 2.2 (a) 42.3 25.0 74.0
F #33 Michael Harris So. 6-6 225 12.8 8.6 (r) 57.4 35.3 62.2
C #4 Brandon Evans Sr. 6-9 250 3.6 4.9 (r) 37.2 -- 57.4

The three-guard line-up should start today, given that it puts the most talent on the floor for Wilson.  Last year Mance was running the show, though Smith pushed into the starting lineup as the year progressed.  Mance, a former LSU transfer, is a scorer at heart who has proven most dangerous for the Owls when he plays the shooting guard, and Smith has proven a steadying force for the team's offense and chemistry when running the show.  McKrieth missed a lot of time last year with injuries and the death of his mother, but he is another explosive scorer on the floor who can score in bunches driving to the basket or picking up loose balls

Mance is also the team's top defender, and it will be interesting to see who Wilson deems the most dangerous in Stanford's backcourt to stop. This kid was a top prep out of high school, one of the best players from the Atlanta metro area and a top 100 recruit on some lists.  He made a splash his freshman year at LSU, but made the jump thereafter to Rice, where he has been a focal point of the Owl backcourt.  Likely to try to do it all on such a big stage, out of conference at Maples Pavilion.  Already threw up 20 points Friday night against Tulsa.

Harris was the WAC Freshman of the Year, leading the Owls in scoring, rebounding, blocks and field goal percentage.  He is an athletic do-everything guy, who will be tough defensive assignment for Justin Davis and/or Josh Childress.  Harris opened the season with 17 points and 13 boards on 7-for-11 shooting in Rice's win over Tulane.

The Owls look small on paper and don't present a true center in the sense that many Stanford fans think (6-10 to 7-foot anchor), but remember that the Cardinal's top three post players this year aren't so big either.  Brandon Evans is a more dependable player for Rice and might get the start inside, though he has not in the past been an assertive offensive force.  Modest rebounding talent who will takes up more space, rather than getting up in the air after balls.

Key Reserves (2001-02 stats)

G #1 Brock Gillespie So. 6-0 165 5.4 0.8 (a) 36.0 38.6 81.1
F/C #42 Yamar Diene Jr. 6-9 230 3.6 3.0 (r) 42.3 -- 70.2

Gillespie is the primary reserve in the flexible backcourt line-up for the Owls, who gives a big spark as well as a quick release to put up shots against taller defenders.  Also the teams' best free throw shooter, though he has not driven to the basket to any appreciable extent to draw many trips to the charity stripe.

Diene might be the starter tonight, rather than Evans.  The Senegalese native started the

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