GAME NOTES: The 2014 Conference USA Tournament gets underway with the first matchup of the opening round between the 15th-seeded Rice Owls and the 10th- seeded North Texas Mean Green.
Rice is fortunate that C-USA allows 15 of its league teams to participate in the tournament, as the Owls were just 7-22 overall and 2-15 in league play this season. Their 70-48 loss to No. 1 seed Louisiana Tech means they will bring a seven-game losing streak into the postseason, as they, like every other school in the conference except Charlotte, seek their first league title.
While Rice had eight previous seasons to raise the C-USA Tournament trophy, this will be the first attempt by North Texas, which came to the league from the Sun Belt this year. The Mean Green had a mediocre run during their first season in the conference, finishing 15-15 overall and 6-10 against the rest of C-USA.
These teams met for the first time since 2010 on Feb. 6, with Rice earning one of its mere two league wins with a 75-70 triumph at Tudor Fieldhouse. However, the Mean Green lead the all-time series, 9-4.
Rice certainly didn't put forth a strong effort to wrap up the regular season, tallying only 48 points on just 44.2 percent efficiency from the floor against Louisiana Tech. Sean Obi netted a team-high netted 12 points and Keith Washington had 11, while the Owls were outscored 16-3 off of turnovers.
The Owls' struggles this season can be traced to their weakness on offense and on the glass. They are last in C-USA in scoring (61.8 ppg), field goal percentage (.404) and rebounding (32.3 rpg). Austin Ramljak (11.4 ppg) and Sean Obi (11.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg) anchor the squad. Obi led the league in rebounding this season, but no other player on the roster averaged more than 3.4 rpg. Ramljak had a terrible end to the regular season, finishing with three points on just 1-of-3 shooting from the floor in the loss to Louisiana Tech. Max Guercy (9.4 ppg, 3.2 apg) is a solid passer, but only shoots 34.6 percent from the field.
North Texas also lost in the regular-season finale, falling in a 79-68 final to Tulsa at home. Brandan Walton and Alzee Williams each scored a game-high 20 points, but the Mean Green only shot 36.7 percent from the floor and were outscored 29-17 at the free-throw line.
The Mean Green may score at a better rate than Rice, but they are still a team that struggles to score. They are just ninth in C-USA in scoring (70.1 ppg), while shooting at a meager 42.3 percent clip from the field. The team relies to much on one-on-one scoring, assisting on the second fewest field goals per game (10.2) in the conference. Jordan Williams (12.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Alzee Williams (11.5 ppg) both reached the century mark in career scoring this season, but the rest of the roster doesn't feature another double-digit scorer.
Although neither of these teams has much of a shot at winning the tournament title, each has a shot to at least earn a win in this matchup. Give a slight edge to North Texas based on its superior play overall this year.
Game Date and Time