Less than 48 hours after Mike Rhoades, Rice’s new head coach, first met his players in the school’s weight room, Rhoades will have to plan for the upcoming offseason and Conference USA slate without two of his top returning Owls. According to ESPN’s Adam Finkelstein and Evan Daniels of Scout, both Sean Obi and Keith Washington will transfer. The news seems surprising since Obi, a 6-foot-9 freshman center, told the Houston Chronicle that Rhoades’ hunger for success had transfused the team.
Obi was one of the conference’s top newcomers — he had been named to the C-USA all-freshmen squad — and his ability to consistently score within the arc would have likely been a cornerstone for Rhoades’ offensive plans: Obi made nearly 60 percent of his twos. He was also ferocious on the defensive glass, grabbing roughly 31 percent of opponents’ misses, a rate which ranked second in Ken Pomeroy’s database. Washington, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard, wasn’t terribly offensively efficient, but he still recorded double-digits in several games this past season.
The speed with which high-major programs begin to contact Obi could shatter some windows in his hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut. There are quite a few teams in dire need of a big with good rebounding instincts and soft hands in the post, and it would not be surprising if Obi’s list of potential programs quickly grows. There hasn’t been an announcement regarding any possible restrictions for Obi or Washington.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.