15. Rhode Island Rams
Last Season: Certainly not the start that Rhode Island fans had envisioned when they hired Archie Miller, but just about everything went wrong for them. Between a meddling amount of injuries, inconsistencies on the floor, and — from a distance — a lack of culture building, Rhode Island struggled to have a quality product.
It was most unusual for an Archie Miller-led team to be outside the top 100 in adjusted defense and the top 300 in adjusted offense (Kenpom). You can point a number of fingers at a number of different factors and say ‘This is why Rhode Island wasn’t good last year!’ — you wouldn’t be entirely wrong nor are you 100% correct. It was a combination of all those things, but not all are on Miller completely.
Brayon Freeman is one such example. An immensely talented guard was kicked off the team, a move which Miller admitted, “I think from a big-picture standpoint it was the right move for us.” Something was clearly wrong with the dynamic between star player and coach, but Freeman’s reputation preceded him before setting foot on campus and Miller did the right thing.
Guard play wasn’t a problem for Rhode Island last season with plenty of scoring, just the fact that each of the important guards all transferred or graduated. Miller struggled to acclimate the team into a structured half-court offense, only averaging 66 points per game as a team which was dead last in the A10. A staple of Archie Miller is the fastbreak offense: the Rams were 43rd last season in fastbreak points per game (NCAA.com) playing at the ninth fastest pace in the conference. Turnovers were out of control as the Rams were posting the third most turnovers per game (14.1) in the A10 behind Massachusetts and Loyola-Chicago.
The overall product was a 9-22 finish on the year, capped by a 17-point blowout to La Salle in the conference tournament. Without question, this was Miller’s worst season as a head coach. Scrubbing an entire program clean from the previous regime is certainly one way to rebuild. It’s most painful to watch if you don’t get it right in year one, but the first season was such a circus for Miller he essentially overhauled the entire roster.
Returnees: Josaphat Bilau, Brandon Weston, Jeremy Foumena, and Rory Stewart
Out: Everyone else
In: Jaden House (High Point), Zek Montgomery (Bradley), Luis Kortright (Quinnipiac), David Green (Louisiana Tech), Tyson Brown (JUCO), Always Right (JUCO), Cam Estevez, Connor Dubsky, David Fuchs
Potential Strengths: Rhode Island should have a strong paint presence with Bilau returning from injury. He projects as a nice defensive center and an exceptional rebounder at 6’11”, and will have some help with JUCO product Tyson Brown who averaged 11.6 points, 5.8 boards, and rejected 1.5 shots per contest last year, and redshirt Jeremy Foumena. Expect freshman David Fuchs to mix into this as well as maybe a small-ball five if Miller elects to speed up the overall pace.
The guard play fits more into Miller’s fast-breaking style that college basketball savants have become accustomed to, particularly with Jaden House. He was the first option on a High Point team that played at the fastest pace in the Big South last year at 72.6 and was 20th in adjusted tempo on Kenpom. Luis Kortright was also part of a Quinnipiac team that led the MAAC in pace last year at 69.3 as the third option.
JUCO transfer Always Right should figure to see a lot of ball-handling duties as well, averaging over 6 assists per game will make him another guard Miller can trust to create for himself and others. Freshman Cam Estevez can play off and on the ball to give the Rams another dynamic perimeter threat. Brandon Weston, David Green, and Zek Montgomery are solid athletes who will benefit from transition scores. Rory Stewart and Connor Dubsky will serve as the three-point threats, essential for kick-outs off drives and for some easy scores when the offense becomes stagnant in half-court creation or spot-ups on the break.
Potential Weaknesses: There is one weakness this team may run into — especially with all these new players — chemistry. House and Kortright can put up points but aren’t known to be pass-first players, Green is an unknown, and the freshmen are very raw and the big men are all new to each other.
Of the returnees, Stewart and Weston are the only ones who played the entire season. Bilau had an early season-ending injury and Foumena redshirted. Ball movement and efficiency in halfcourt sets may improve, but it is still far from complete.
While most of last season wasn’t entirely Miller’s fault, the lack of culture-building does fall solely on him and the staff. The reputation of Miller is that all his players kowtow to him because he is the head coach and the players are to listen to him. While this is true, that rigid technique simply isn’t going to work in today’s game. He can still be a tough coach, but there needs to be more tranquility in the locker room. He can’t afford to have another saga like the Freeman one, nor can he overhaul an entire roster if year two is a disaster.
Outlook: Rhode Island making a quantum leap is both unfair to predict and unrealistic for the state of the program. They are a pillow fight team again, a finish between 11th and last place is likely for this group. Can they slip into that 8-10 range? It’s certainly possible. But it isn’t a bet you would likely want to make.