With the departure of Arsalan Kazemi, the dismantling of the team once known as the Rice Owls is complete. The team taking the floor in 2012-13 will bear little resemblance to the one that played in 2011-12, one that finished No. 166 in the MRI.
It has been an off-season of departures for Rice. Now seven players have left the team for reasons other than graduation, leaving just one full-time starter -- Tamir Jackson -- remaining to lead the Owls.
Rice was already one of the least experienced teams in Division 1 last season, falling in at 258th in the country according to Ken Pomeroy's ranking of that statistic ($). The Owls will be even further down the list this year.
Just off of experience, maybe the best comparison for Rice this upcoming season was in 2009-10, when the Owls were even younger, and struggling to make all the pieces fit together. Rice won just eight games that season, but had impact players, like Kazemi filling major roles. Nothing like that exists for the Owls this season.
Reaching for eight wins this coming season will be difficult. Keep in mind that despite winning 19 games last year, the Owls weren't exactly facing the stiffest competition. Rice didn't beat a team in the top 100 of the Pomeroy rankings, despite coming closest against Southern Mississippi, who was No. 75 at the time.
The best win was against Central Florida, ranked No. 107.
There was some hope to repeat that pattern with Kazemi in the fold (improvement with all the defections would have been impossible). According to HOOPWAR, he was worth 9.55 wins last season for the Owls. A lot of that value came on the defensive end where he was a monster rebounding the ball.
But if you look at what is remaining in his absence, the player with the most impact returning is Jackson, who scored a negative HOOPWAR in his junior season. Most of the value he did provide came from his assist rate, but he had more weapons to pass to last year. For Jackson to create offense on his own will be difficult. It is hard to see him improving his shooting beyond his 39.1 FG% last season, weighed down quite a bit by his 29.1 3PT%.
Jackson still scored 10.5 points per game, but every one of those points came at a cost for the Owls.
The offense will run through him again, and he won't have the go-to player on the inside that Kazemi would have continued to be this year. He also won't have the big man cleaning up the mistakes on the offensive boards.
I can see three to four wins that the Owls could pretty much put in the bank, but beyond that, it will be a steep hill to climb for the remnants of the team that took the floor in 2011-12.