Rice coach Scott Pera has always downplayed his team’s departures.
Before his first game as the head coach on South Main, six players left the program and the following offseason, another half-dozen transferred away.
Pera’s team wasn’t immune this offseason—it lost starting center Quentin Millora-Brown to Vanderbilt—but the third-year coach can finally look forward to building instead of reconstructing this year.
Seniors Ako Adams and Robert Martin played a central role in the team earning its first pair of back-to-back wins in the Pera era last season. Adams’ late-game heroics also helped Rice collect enough wins (13-19, 8-10 in Conference USA) to make last year’s C-USA Tournament.
But the presence of a foundation is arguably the most exciting aspect of this Rice team.
The Owls struggled to find reliable scorers in Pera’s first year. But a group of freshmen offset those concerns last year.
Sophomore Chris Mullins led the team in assists 11 times and scoring 10 times. Fellow sophomores Trey Murphy III and Drew Peterson proved to be streaky shooters and Millora-Brown—who could be replaced by another true freshman this year—showed dramatic improvement down low.
It’s too early to tell who might fill the void left by Millora-Brown’s departure, but freshmen forwards Max Fiedler and Zach Crisler could vie for the spot. Senior Tim Harrison should add depth too.
Bolstering the depth in the backcourt are a pair of newcomers.
Graduate transfer Tommy McCarthy will look to make an impact after playing progressively less throughout his Harvard career. He averaged 8.8 points in 28 games as a freshman but as a senior, McCarthy appeared in just eight contests with little production to show.
Atlanta product Quincy Olivari was a McDonald’s All-American nominee as a high school senior.
Pera has experienced slow and steady growth and this year, he could see that reflected on the scoreboard a bit more often.
Martin flashed the ability to takeover games. Adams and Mullins highlight the team’s strength at guard. And as a whole, the group was underrated defensively last year.
Mullins 1.2 steals per game was tied for ninth in the conference. Former Texas Christian transfer Josh Parrish has also proven to be a stingy defender. If he can become a consistent scorer, the team could be even more troublesome for stronger opponents.
But part of that defensive prowess rests on its play in the post. If Rice can redevelop an inside presence, the team could take another big step.
Preseason MVP: Chris Mullins
Mullins started to emerge as one of the team’s most reliable contributors in all phases of the game last December. He led the team with 22 double-digit scoring games.
Game of the Year: Houston (Nov. 19)
Rice will look for a better start after a strong second half against the Cougars last November.
Impact-First Year Player: