In his first season as a member of the Rice program, 6-foot-6 freshman forward Maurice Rivers played in 11 games with averages of 3.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 17.8 minutes per contest. Prior to the team’s game against North Texas on Saturday, it was announced by the program that Rivers is no longer a member of the program and has been released from his scholarship.
[News] Maurice Rivers is no longer a member of the team. He has been released from his scholarship, effective immediately.
“We wish Maurice and his family all the best as he moves forward,” first-year head coach Mike Rhoades said according to the program’s Twitter account.
The announcement of Rivers’ departure came six days after he played a season-high 30 minutes in the Owls’ 66-57 home loss to UTEP, a game in which he tallied two points, two rebounds and two blocked shots. With Rivers no longer a member of the team, Rice stayed with an eight-man rotation in their 66-63 home loss to North Texas.
Freshman Jeremy Jones, who’s played an average of 5.7 minutes in six games, played a season-high ten minutes and that may be the case for him moving forward as the Owls look to account for the departure of Rivers.
Conference realignment has been rampant the last few seasons, and Conference USA is still feeling the effects of it heading into the 2014-2015 season. Gone are East Carolina, Tulane and the league’s lone NCAA tournament team from last year, Tulsa. The conference welcomes in Western Kentucky as its newest member. If you’re scoring at home, that’s nine new programs and seven former members since 2013.
At least one thing looks to remain certain in 2014-2015, Louisiana Tech should finish atop the conference standings. The Bulldogs were one of four teams — Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss — to share the regular season title with a 13-3 record. Like previously mentioned, Tulsa left C-USA, Middle Tennessee lost four starters and Souther Miss is starting the Doc Sadler era after Donnie Tyndall accepted the Tennessee position.
Louisiana Tech returns plenty of key contributors, but none more important than head coach Michael White, who was in the conversation for several coaching vacancies this offseason.
The Bulldogs boast the league’s top back court with Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith running the show, Alex Hamilton back as the team’s top scorer and Raheem Appleby, who was sidelined for several weeks last season with an ankle injury. Michale Kyser mans the frontline with his 3.0 blocks per game, and he’ll be an important piece this season, as the Bulldogs’ biggest threat, UTEP, has two talented forwards.
The Miners may have finished fifth last season, but was only a game out of first in the top-heavy C-USA. Tim Floyd’s team is headlined by sophomore Vince Hunter and (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Julian Washburn (13.1 ppg). Another team looking to make a run at the Bulldogs is newcomer, Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers join the league from the Sun Belt, and have been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments. Ray Harper’s team is aided by senior guards T.J. Price and George Fant — the team’s top two scorers at 15.5 points and 13.3 points, respectively –who will help with the transition against better competition.
Along with Harper, C-USA has three new coaches. Mike Rhoades came over from VCU to take over at Rice while Michael Curry (Florida Atlantic) and Dan D’Antoni (Marshall) join the conference from the NBA sidelines, despite neither of them having college basketball coaching experience.
In: Western Kentucky Out: East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa
PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kenneth ‘Speedy’ Smith, Louisiana Tech
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged single-digits (7.8 ppg) last year, but he effected the game in so many other ways. He was second in the nation in assists (7.7 apg), was 10th in the nation with a 3.23 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he was also top 10 in the nation in steals at 2.5 per game. The senior guard was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and is the only returning member of the league’s first-team from a season ago.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON CONFERENCE-USA TEAM:
Alex Hamilton, Louisiana Tech: Another member of Louisiana Tech’s heralded back court. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged a team-high 14.5 points per game last season.
Pierria Henry, Charlotte: The 49ers top scorer from a season ago averaged 12.3 points, grabbed 5.1 boards and dished 5.8 assists per game.
Vince Hunter, UTEP: Hunter is coming off a great freshman campaign, averaging 12.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. Part of a talented front court duo with Julian Washburn.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: One of the top newcomers to the league averaged better than 15 points per game over the past two years in the Sun Belt.
Each Monday and Friday, College Basketball Talk’s Scott Phillips goes over some important news and notes in the world of college basketball recruiting. This week, Texas boosts its backcourt, Mike Rhoades is getting talent at Rice and Wichita State keeps adding talent.
Rick Barnes continues recruiting upswing by staying local
As Rick Barnes sat squarely on the hot seat last fall, one of the marquee reasons was his recent lack of success recruiting in-state talent to Texas.
Roach’s commitment might not make as many waves as Texas A&M’s recent four-man in-state 2015 haul, but it’s a big commitment for Barnes and Texas nonetheless because it keeps the recruiting momentum going locally. Putting Roach and fellow 2015 guard Eric Davis together means that the Longhorns have two talented scoring guards coming in next season to go along with all of the talented big men they currently have on their roster.
With Texas having only Jonathan Holmes as a major contributor that is a senior this season, the Longhorns are poised to stay in the conversation in the top 25 next season and if Myles Turner sticks around Austin for more than one season, Barnes could have a team deep enough to compete for a Big 12 title.
Rhoades doing a great job rebuilding at Rice
It’s no secret that Rice is one of the most difficult jobs in all of college basketball. With so many high-major programs located in Texas already and rigorous academic standards, it’s tough to recruit talented players and sustain success at the Conference USA school.
Want proof? The Owls haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1970 and over the past two seasons the program only has three conference wins. The fanbase is relatively dormant as well. Rice averaged 1,624 fans a game in a Tudor Fieldhouse that seats 5,750.
But with new head coach Mike Rhoades, there’s some excitement around the program again and Rice has some notable recruits coming in.
The recruiting momentum carried over to the weekend as Rhoades received a commitment from a top-70 player in the 2016 class as shooting guard Josh Hall committed to Rice, as well.
Rice had to beat out multiple high-major programs and teams with strong basketball traditions in order to land both Letcher-Ellis and Hall and it shows that Rhoades has done a nice job of maintaining relationships from his time as an assistant at VCU.
The Owls are going to implement the “Havoc” style of play that VCU has famously used and that uptempo, trapping style of play is attractive to recruits.
When Rhoades took the Rice job last spring, many believed it was a strong hire for a program in dire need of a shot in the arm, but not many could have envisioned the kind of start the new head coach has had on the recruiting trail.
Wichita State recruiting continues to stay strong
One of the notable byproducts of Wichita State’s recent success is how recruits would react to the Missouri Valley Conference program being one of the best programs in college basketball.
Adding small forward Markis McDuffie to a class that includes four-star combo guard Landry Shamet, three-star guard Tyrone Taylor and three-star power forward Eric Hamilton is a nice four-man group for the Shockers and it gives head coach Gregg Marshall even more tough-minded athletes with length and skill to move forward with.
While Wichita State is adding recruits that fit the Shockers’ system, the increased national exposure has cast a wider net for them in recruiting. More doors being initially opened has clearly helped with this class as Wichita State landed McDuffie from New Jersey and won a heated recruiting battle for Shamet.
As long as Marshall remains the head coach there, the Shockers should get involved with more and more national-level prospects and that means the MVC program could sustain national success.