Moran is a senior news-Internet and math double major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After Drake’s 68-61 loss to No. 24 Creighton in the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championship quarterfinals last Friday, there is one thing about Drake basketball that I know for sure.
Sophomore Rayvonte Rice is Drake’s most talented and complete player.
But let’s not crown him as an MVC superstar just yet.
No doubt, Rice has loads of talent and athleticism. In the Bulldogs’ opening round win against Bradley last Thursday, Rice jumped as if he had springs in his shoes to slam an alley-oop.
With Drake trailing Creighton 61-50 with 3:56 left in the game, it was Rice who brought the Bulldogs back. His ability to get to the rim and get to the free throw line helped close the gap to three before the Bluejays hung on for the victory.
The Bulldogs’ offense went stagnant in the first 12:41 of the second half (they scored just eight points during that span), which is why Drake dug into an 11-point hole.
During that stretch, Rice missed two jumpers early in the shot clock. On another possession, he drove the baseline, tossed up a wild shot and then whined for a foul that wasn’t called. He threw up his arms in frustration and was slow getting back on defense. Then, he picked up a bad foul near half court.
By the time Rice and the Bulldogs kicked it into gear, the Bluejays had built a large enough lead to hold on for the win.
Rice should dominate the paint against smaller guards in the Valley. With his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame, he should rarely shoot jump shots. But, for some reason, he settles for too many outside shots.
In the Creighton game, the Bulldogs trailed by five with 1:34 remaining, and head coach Mark Phelps called a time out. He called a play to get the ball to Rice in the post. Rice scored with ease.
It’s fairly simple: when Rice gets in the paint, he is a force. When he settles for jump shots, he is helping out the opposing defense. Rice did not make a 3-pointer during the entire tournament in St. Louis.
Perhaps the best example was late in the game against Creighton. The Bulldogs trailed by five with less than a minute remaining. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Jeffers missed a shot. Redshirt junior Jordan Clarke, who played an inspiring game, missed the put-back. Junior Ben Simons collected the rebound, and his shot was blocked. Creighton finally grabbed the ball, and at that point, the game was all but over.
When Simons had the ball in the lane, Rice was wide open for a trey. At the time, I couldn’t blame Simons for trying to go up with the ball. It was tough to see the floor, and he was trying to make a play and score quickly.
But then I had another thought — what the hell was Rice doing at the 3-point line? Why wasn’t Drake’s 6-foot-4, 240-pound star and best athlete not in the paint fighting for the ball?
Rice should take a lesson from Lebron James. For years, NBA people wondered why Lebron settled for jumpers when he could dominate inside on any given night. This year, James is avoiding the 3-pointer and is dominating the league from the inside-out, not the outside-in.
Rice can dominate the lane on any given night in the MVC. When he proves that he can do this, the perimeter game will open up.
Until then, Rice is just a “very good” player. If he wants to make that leap to becoming an MVC superstar, and in turn make Drake a contender for a conference title, then he should play more to his strengths and stay away from his weaknesses.
Good thing he has two more seasons to figure it out.