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Memphis Looks to Get Back on Track Against Rice



Rice center Max Fiedler is one of the most unique player's in college basketball. (Image Credit: Rice Basketball)

Days after Memphis’ third straight loss to a significantly inferior conference foe, the Tigers find themselves back in action against probably the worst team in the league… the Rice Owls. Rice appears near the bottom of the AAC, with a 1-6 conference record. After a few rough games, Memphis comes in tied for sixth in the AAC, with a 4-3 conference record.

Memphis has to click on all cylinders tonight. They must do so not only to win the game but to help reestablish confidence in increasingly apathetic Memphis fans. Of course, a dominant win will help with the confidence in the locker room, too. But, fans need a stressless win to help cure increasing concerns about the ceiling of the current staff and roster. The last thing Memphis needs is another close win, or at worst, a loss to a horrendous Rice team.

Expect the Tigers to get back on track tonight, but in case you have any doubts, here’s a scouting report on one of the worst teams in the AAC.

Scouting Report on Rice

With a 7-13 overall record, the Rice Owls rank in the bottom third of college basketball in most metrics. The Owls are considered the 228th-best team in the country per KenPom, possessing the 201st-best Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and the 259th-best Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. According to the NET Rankings, the Owls are the nation’s 248th-best team, with only Temple and UTSA ranking below them in the AAC.

Backcourt Has Talent

Memphis’ poor perimeter and three-point shooting defense has been exposed in recent weeks, especially since Caleb Mills went out with injury. The good news for the Tigers in this matchup is that Rice isn’t a great perimeter shooting team, connecting on just 32.3% of their attempts from beyond the arc on the year. But, that’s not to say the backcourt is without talent.

Travis Evee, a fifth-year senior, has been a talented scorer his entire career, totaling over 2,000 career points thus far. He hasn’t exactly been efficient while doing so, shooting just 39.9% from the floor and 30.7% from three during his final collegiate campaign, but he can fill it up (15.7 PPG this season). Regardless of the efficiency numbers, the 6’1 veteran is a three-level scorer with a smooth shooting stroke.

Mekhi Mason is paired with Evee in the backcourt and is second on the team in scoring at 13.9 PPG. The efficiency also hasn’t been there for the sophomore guard (39.8 FG%, 32.3 3FG%, 66.3 FT%), but the scoring talent pops on film. Mason knows how to play at his own pace. He uses craftiness and shiftiness to create separation off the dribble, get downhill, and finish around the rim. He connects on 1.5 three-pointers per contest as well, so Mason is someone you cannot ignore from outside.

Senior Alem Huseinovic is the third backcourt starter for the Owls, and he primarily operates as a shooter. He’s connected on 32 of his 77 attempts from beyond the arc this season, good for a 41.6% mark. In a team that doesn’t have many shooters, he’s one the Tigers will need to pay attention to.

The Depth

The backcourt depth for Rice isn’t anything to write home about. Only two players garner significant minutes off the bench for the Owls.

Noah Shelby, a Vanderbilt transfer, hasn’t had the season many expected him to after he transferred down from the SEC to the AAC. The sophomore guard averages 5.1 points per contest and is mostly known for his three-point shooting. Shelby has connected on 19 of his 58 attempts from deep this season.

Senior Anthony Shelden chips in six points per game off the bench while shooting 46.8% from the field. The Gardner Webb transfer spent his first three seasons with the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Selden is a versatile wing at 6’6 who can get downhill and finish at the rim.

The Uniqueness of Max Fiedler

The Owls have one of college basketball’s most versatile frontcourt players in senior Max Fiedler. The senior big man is a lethal DHO hub in the Rice offense, functioning as one of the better passers in the sport regardless of position. Fiedler stuffs the stat sheet on a game-by-game basis. He is averaging 9.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game on 64.7% shooting from the floor.

Fiedler makes remarkably quick decisions with the ball in the middle of the floor or the top of the key, firing darts to his teammates on the perimeter. He’s someone to run your offense through, as he possesses the vision and passing accuracy to find cutters all over the court. He’s dangerous as a PNR roll man, with Rice head coach Scott Pera being able to run a variety of actions with him on the offensive side of the floor. Fiedler is a strong finisher on the interior as well. Expect him to be a load for Malcolm Dandridge and the other Memphis bigs to deal with.

Freshman Keanu Dawes (6.2 PPG, 4,1 RPG), junior Sam Alajiki (4.6 PPG, 34.1 3FG%), and sophomore Andrew Akuchie (3.0 PPG, 2.7 PPG) add frontcourt depth for the Owls.

Game Prediction

Despite facing one of the worst teams in the AAC, a lot is on the line for Memphis. The Tigers will aim to break a three-game losing streak inside the FedEx Forum on Wednesday evening (7 p.m., ESPN+). In the process, they will look to quell concerns about their team chemistry. With Memphis moving ever more closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble with each loss, the Tigers will have to be close to perfect down the stretch as conference play rolls on.

While I think this matchup ends up being closer than the spread (MEM -15.5) indicates, I believe Penny Hardaway’s squad bounces back with a victory over Rice. While the Owls have offensive talent with the duo of Evee and Fiedler, they don’t have the defensive prowess nor depth to keep up with Memphis over the course of the game. Look for the Tigers to pull away in the second half and break their three-game losing streak.

Final Score: Memphis 84, Rice 73.