Jan. 8, 2014
HOUSTON, Texas - Rice University men's basketball opens its Conference USA schedule with the first-ever meeting against league newcomer FIU. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.
The Owls (5-8) are well-prepared for league action, having played the second-toughest non-conference schedule among the 16 league teams, trailing only Tulsa (21st overall).
Rice's schedule ranks as the 140th hardest nationally out of 347 teams. The Owls' first 13 opponents began the week with a 53.0 winning percentage (71-63 record).
Among Rice's opponents so far this season, Harvard boasts a 27 RPI, while Princeton and Texas also rank in the top 100 in the Ratings Percentage Index. For C-USA teams, Southern Miss leads the league with a 29 RPI, while Louisiana Tech also stands in the top 100 at 96. UAB ranks 101st nationally.
The Owls have held each of their last four opponents under their respective season scoring averages, by an average of 18.7 points per game.
Rice ranks second in Conference USA in three-pointers made per game, with 8.46. The Owls attempt 25.4 treys per contest and rank among the league leaders in success rate with a 33.3 three-point percentage.
Austin Ramljak stands among the league leaders in both individual categories as well with a 42.5 three-point percentage and 3.46 treys per contest. The senior leads the team in scoring with 12.4 points per game.
Rice and Conference USA newcomer FIU have never met on the hardwood.
The teams have not faced any common opponents so far this season.
FIU joins Florida Atlantic and Charlotte as new C-USA teams that Rice has never faced.
Scouting the Panthers (8-7, 0-0 C-USA)
FIU enters the game with a three-game losing streak after an overtime setback at Florida A&M last Thursday.
Tymell Murphy leads the Panthers with 16.1 points per game, while Louisville transfer Rakeem Buckles averages a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.
FIU is 2-3 on the road this season, including wins at Kennesaw State and Bethune-Cookman.
The Panthers shoot 45.1 percent from the field and 32.2 percent from downtown.
Head coach Anthony Evans took over the helm of the program following six seasons as the head coach at Norfolk State. Evans led the Spartans to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, where the 15th-seeded Norfolk State upset No. 2 seed Missouri in a memorable game.
Eight new opponents fill Rice's Conference USA slate this season, including the opening weekend's opponents, FIU and Florida Atlantic.
Of Rice's eight home C-USA games, five are against teams new to the league in 2013-14.
The Owls play 14 teams once and Louisiana Tech twice during the 16-game schedule.
Entering Conference USA play, Rice had never faced FIU, Florida Atlantic or Charlotte.
Last Time Out
A pair of runs - one per half - were enough to doom the Owls in a 69-54 setback to Harvard in the team's final non-conference game of the regular season.
Keith Washington led Rice with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting to accompany four assists and four rebounds.
Sean Obi led the Owls in rebounds for the 11th time in 13 games on the season with eight boards. The freshman notched six points and a pair of assists.
Fellow freshman Drew Bender scored a season-high eight points off the bench.
Rice opens the Conference USA slate at home for the fifth season in a row.
The Owls are 2-6 in league lid-lifters since joining C-USA for the 2005-06 campaign.
Rice is looking to break a six-game skid in conference openers dating back to the 2007-08 season.
Thursday's game marks the eighth time in nine seasons that the Owls open C-USA play with a home game.
Rice closes out the current three-game home stand against Florida Atlantic on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse in the first-ever meeting with the `other' Owls.