Rice (17-15) at Louisiana (16-15)
The Sports Network
Wednesday, March 14, 8:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Cajundome (13,000) -- Louisiana, Louisiana. Television: None. CIT Record: Rice 0-0, Louisiana 0-0. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 6-5.
GAME NOTES: The Rice Owls will begin their trip back to the postseason by visiting the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns as the Cajundome for a first round matchup of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
This will be the first experience for both programs in the tournament. According to Louisiana's records, the Ragin' Cajuns hold a 6-5 advantage over the Owls in the rivalry's history.
Rice is guaranteed its first winning record since 2005. The Owls struggled down the stretch as they lost three of their last four games, including a 68-66 setback suffered to the East Carolina Pirates in the opening round of the Conference USA Tournament. Coach Ben Braun's squad still exceeded expectations as it managed an 8-8 league record after winning just 10 games over the past four seasons. Rice's most impressive non-conference win came over the Big 12's Texas A&M Aggies and its best C-USA victory came over the UCF Knights. The Owls score 69.6 ppg, which is slightly better than the 66.1 ppg their opponents have averaged.
The Owls' resurgence was powered by their star forward Arsalan Kazemi. The junior forward became the C-USA's career leader for double-doubles with 44 as he averaged 12.4 points and 10.3 rebounds this season. Kazemi also led the league in steals with 65 to increase his value even further. Dylan Ennis had a promising freshman campaign as he set a program record with 131 assists. He made the C-USA's All-Freshman Team after averaging 8.0 points and 4.1 assists per game. Tamir Jackson and Connor Frizzelle are both capable scorers who could impact an Owls' run in the CIT.
Louisiana finished the regular season in third place in the Sun Belt Conference's West Division. The Ragin' Cajuns also beat UCF earlier this season, and also picked up wins over Arkansas-Little Rock and Denver, the two teams who finished ahead of them in the SBC's West Division. Coach Bob Marlin's team lost two of its last three games of the regular season before being upset, 65-62, by North Texas in their Sun Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinal bout. Louisiana was the best rebounding team in the SBC in league action, as it grabbed 40.9 boards per game against conference rivals. The Ragin' Cajuns were held under 40 percent shooting during conference play, but managed to finish near the top of the standings by maintaining the third-best field goal defense in the SBC.
The Ragin' Cajuns are one of the most balanced teams in the country. Not one player averaged more than 27 minutes per game over the course of the season. Josh Brown leads the team with averages of 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest. Darshawn McClellan and Kadeem Colby anchor the frontcourt. Freshman guard Elfrid Payton's first year gives the program hope for the future. The rookie came up clutch at the end of games and led the team in assists.
Although Louisiana does not have an outstanding stat stuffer like Kazemi, it has a deeper list of contributors on its roster. Ennis and Payton should both play very well and cancel each other out. The Ragin' Cajuns will need to keep Frizzelle, who knocked down 40.9 percent of his three-point attempts, from catching fire, as he is due for a breakout performance as the sand in his career's hour glass is very close to running out.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 75, Louisiana 69
03/14 10:33:16 ET