Rice hasn’t been a big factor in basketball for a long time. The school is known for its academics and baseball program, but the hardwood has been more of a challenge. But there is finally some hope in Mike Rhoads’ third season at the helm, and that hope starts with Marcus Evans.
The sophomore guard was one of the best freshmen in the country last season. He led the Owls in scoring and was second in Conference USA in that category, and he produced the third-most points in a single season in Rice history. He also led the conference in steals, and got better as the season went along, posting higher scoring numbers in conference play then before it.
Evans leads a Rice team that has its top five scorers and six of their top seven returning from last season. They also get a boost with the return of Marcus Jackson after an injury shelved him a year ago and some good additions among their recruiting class. The Owls might be a year away, as they have just one senior and three juniors and might start three sophomores.
Here are nine other players who don’t get the publicity they arguably deserve, and will be worth watching this season.
Jaylen Adams, Jr. G, St. Bonaventure His name simply doesn’t come up enough in discussions about the top point guard in the country after a big breakout year last season.
Casey Benson, Jr. G, Oregon If Dillon Brooks is healthy, the Ducks are a good candidate to get to the final weekend of the season. Benson is no small part of that, though overshadowed by Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher.
Evan Bradds, Sr. F, Belmont The reigning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year has led the nation in field goal percentage each of the past two seasons. And his team wins a lot of games, too.
Tookie Brown, So. G, Georgia Southern The Sun Belt’s fourth-leading scorer last season, he was also eighth in assists, fourth in steals and had a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. Now he hopes to lead Georgia Southern to a surge in the conference standings with a more experienced team.
Rokas Gustys, Sr. F, Hofstra With the Pride’s stellar perimeter players the past two seasons, it would have been easy to overlook him. That won’t be the case this time around, and he should average a double-double while leading the CAA in rebounding.
Josh Hawkinson, Sr. F, Washington State The Pac-12’s leading rebounder last season averaged a double-double on the last-place team. Since the Cougars don’t appear likely to make a major move in the standings, he’s likely to still be overshadowed.
Erick Neal, Jr. G, UT Arlington You could easily put his teammate, Kevin Hervey, on this list, and many probably would. But Hervey is getting a lot of mention since he’s the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year, while Neal is a vital piece to the preseason Sun Belt favorites as well.
Jeremy Senglin, Sr. G, Weber State He was a solid Robin to Joel Bolomboy’s Batman last year, and now it will be his turn to lead the way, just like he did in the Big Sky championship game.
Ethan Telfair, Sr. G, Idaho State Sebastian’s cousin will be part of arguably the best backcourt in the Big Sky this year, and because of that they have a chance to contend.
Zeek Woodley, Sr. G, Northwestern State He declared for the NBA Draft, but opted to return as the nation’s leading returning scorer. He should have another big year after averaging 22.2 points per game each of the past two seasons, though it will be more of a challenge with backcourt mate Jalan West likely to miss the season.