Rice mimics Marquette

The similarities between Marquette and Rice, the Golden Eagles' opponent in the first round of the Blue & Gold Classic, are undeniable.

This season Marquette has to overcome the graduation of Travis Diener, who if not for a season-ending injury could have become the school's all-time leading scorer. The Owls are dealing with the graduation of Michael Harris, Rice's all-time leading scorer and rebounder.

Both programs switched conferences. Marquette moved to the Big East this season while Rice jumped from the Western Athletic Conference to Conference USA, Marquette's old home.

"I think Rice will be a team to watch out for in Conference USA for the next few years," said Marquette junior center Mike Kinsella. Kinsella spent one season at Rice, where he was a medical redshirt during the 2002-'03 season, before transferring. "They have a great coaching staff and a very knowledgable head coach (Willis Wilson)."

The third link is each of the schools has played in the NIT the past two seasons. Marquette lost to Western Michigan in the first round 54-40 to conclude its 2004-'05 season. In March, the Owls lost to Southwest Missouri State 105-82 in the first round.

In the preseason coaches poll, the Owls were picked to finish in a tie for fifth in their new league.

At C-USA Media Day, J.R. Harrison and Morris Almond were chosen for the Players to Watch list. Harrison, a senior forward, averaged 9.1 points per game last season and blocked 31 shots, second only to Harris' 37.

"J.R. is really athletic," Kinsella said. "He runs the floor well and can go inside or out. He has long arms and loves physical play."

Almond averaged 7.2 points per game last season. The junior guard is the second-leading returning scorer.

A third key contributor for the Owls is Lorenzo Williams. The junior guard scored a game-high 25 points in Rice's 68-55 exhibition win against St. Edwards.