There might still be a month left in the season for several college basketball teams. But the alumni, students and fans of Rice and the University of Houston are either going to have to ignore March Madness, or they're going to have to find some other teams for whom to cheer.
That the Houston Cougars lost 67-62 to UTEP in overtime wasn't exactly a shock. That the Cougars led most of the game and lost also wasn't exactly a shock to the system. That the Cougars had nearly zero contribution from the bench, or from the point guards (or the guards, for that matter), also wasn't surprising.
Except for forward Alandise Harris scoring 25 points (and grabbing 12 rebounds) to break out of a funk he's been in for the latter half of the season, there was absolutely nothing about the loss to UTEP that should have surprised any regular observer of the Cougars this season.
The game, in fact, was the epitome of the entire Cougars season. They led for most of the game but couldn't close out the game (the Cougars lost games two ways this season: They were blown out or they lost the game in the last seconds). There appeared to be flashes of brilliance in the game -- see the games of Harris and frontcourt mate TaShawn Thomas, who had his ninth double/double of the season. But the Cougars had trouble the entire season playing a complete game, and they had trouble the entire season getting contributions from key players.
Joe Young, who just several games ago appeared to have finally settled into the point guard position, dished out zero assists against UTEP and finished with just ten points while making zero of his eight shots from behind the three-point line (the entire team was just for 23 from behind the arc). And in the end, when they needed that one go-to guy, they just didn't have that player.
The Owls' 68-66 loss to ECU was a bit more shocking, however, especially since the Owls should have easily defeated the Pirates, one of the worse teams in a very bad basketball conference. And that appeared to be the case early on as Rice sprinted out to the 13-4 lead before falling apart, leading just 33-32 at the half.
But ECU dominated the boards in the second half, scoring 13 second-half points (ECU had the 23-10 second-half rebound advantage). And that's something the Owls should be disappointed in, seeing as how they can put out a frontcourt of Arsalan Kazemi and Omar Oraby, two big men who can usually scoop the boards.
"To me, the big difference in the game was the rebound margin in the second half," Owls head coach Ben Braun told the media after the game. "We obviously took care of the ball better, we only turned it over two or three times, which is a pretty good number, but the rebounding margin, specifically in the second half, spelled the difference for us."
The Owls have just announced that they have accepted an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, where they will play against Louisiana-Lafayette at Louisiana-Lafayette on Wednesday evening. This is this first postseason appearance for Rice men's basketball since a 2005 NIT appearance. The rest of the tournament field will be announced on Sunday night.
As for the Cougars, who finished 15-15, they've got the off-season to try and figure out what they're going to do about finding a point guard and figuring out how to close out games for the win. And the Cougars need to get that figured out before they head off to the Big East after next season.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: A brief follow-up regarding the end of Saturday's UH/Rice game, which descended into utter chaos brought on by utterly inept officiating. As noted, the game ended with Rice forward Arsalan Kazemi running off the court in the same direction as the officiating crew.
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Kazemi was not made available to the media after Saturday's game, but Rice officials did reach out to the Press on Tuesday. They first noted that there had been no complaints received from Five Star Security over the treatment of the female security guard. They then stated that Kazemi was not chasing after the officiating crew. They stated that he was upset about how the game ended, and that he was rushing off of the court so that the Rice fans could not see him.
As for teammate Ahmad Ibrahim putting him in a bear hug in the corridor, the explanation was that Kazemi was trying to get into the locker room, that it was locked, he was upset and neither the security guard at the door or Ibrahim could understand what Kazemi was saying. Fearing action by Kazemi, Ibrahim did grab him, then was able to calm him down. And there was never any contact between Kazemi and the officiating crew after the game. All Kazemi wanted was to get inside the locker room.