Who’s in the conversation for winning the Atlantic 10 right now? I’ve heard a lot of people say Dayton and VCU are the favorites. I’ve even heard Richmond’s name tossed around here and there. Surprisingly, I think Rhode Island has been left out of the conversation. It seems that a lot of people are sleeping on the Rams. Sure, this team hasn’t exactly lived up to its expectations this season, but that doesn’t mean the Rams can’t take the regular season title. At 7-3, this team is far from out of it, and if it manages to win some tough games down the stretch, we could see the Rams coming storming in and take down Dayton, VCU, and Richmond. Here are 5 reasons why Rhode Island could still win the Atlantic 10 this year.
1. The Rams have manageable road games remaining
One of the toughest things about winning the A-10 regular season title is undoubtedly having to consistently win on the road. In a league that’s very middle-heavy, there are a lot of average teams that can be tough to beat, especially away from home. Luckily for Rhode Island, it’s done a pretty good job in said games. The Rams have beaten Saint Louis, Duquesne, and Davidson on the road, and there only loss away from home is to Dayton by a slim 3 point margin. The Rams haven’t been the absolute best road team this year (look at Providence, Valparaiso, and Houston), but they’ve been competitive in all of their games. They’re 4 road losses this season, with the exception to a loss af Richmond, have come by a combined 14 points. We know this team can be competitive in a hostile environment.
Rhode Island’s remaining road games will tell us a lot about this team. Sure, the Rams have looked good, but can they take care of business against Massachusetts, George Mason, La Salle, and Saint Joseph’s. All of those teams are beatable, and if Rhode Island wants to be the team at the top, it’s probably going to have to win all of these games. The toughest matchup will be at La Salle, where the Explorers are 5-0 in conference play, but considering the way Rhode Island got embarrassed by La Salle earlier this season, the Rams may be playing with a chip on their shoulders. Bottom line: Rhode Island can win all 4 of those remaining road games, and if it does, it’s going to have a reasonable path to the Atlantic 10 regular season title.
2. Rhode Island gets to host Dayton and VCU
Two hidden gems remain in the Rams’ schedule. Take down both of these top dogs, and the Rams might be looking at the top of the league. These will be huge opportunities, not only for Rhode Island’s title chances, but also for its NCAA Tournament chances. Rhody will need to get some good resume-building wins to go dancing this year. Beat tournament teams, and you give yourself a good chance. The only really good win that Rhode Island boasts right now is the one over Cincinnati. It’s going to need a little bit more than that.
3. Hassan Martin has still been really good
Don’t forget about the big man Hassan Martin. He took a step back against Davidson on the road, but before that, he had been on quite a hot streak. He had 20 points against St. Bonaventure and 23 points against George Washington, and he continues to be a force on the defensive end. As expected, Martin has the best block percentage in the A-10 right now, and if he continues to swat shots at a high level, he may win the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s been Rhode Island’s rock when the Rams have needed him, and as a senior, he’s going to need to step up and help this team deliver. On offense and defense, opponents fear Martin’s abilities, and that could be the driving factor if Rhode Island goes on to win the regular season title.
4. The Rams are protecting the ball well in conference play
What do coaches stress more than almost anything? Limiting turnovers, of course. The Rams have been really good at that in conference play, and when push comes to shove in a close game, you want to be the team that’s going to do a better job taking care of the ball. Rhode Island has a 16.1% turnover percentage, which leads the league. The Rams have committed less than 10 turnovers in 4 conference games this season, including only 4 in a game against Duquesne. The Rams have struggled and suffered losses when they start to commit 15+ turnovers. If the Rams can limit giveaways, they’ve got a good shot at winning every game.
5. Rhode Island is getting hot at the right time
The Rams are heating up right when they need to. Having won three straight and now coming off a big road win over Davidson, Rhode Island is undoubtedly in a good place. I love this tweet from after the game.
“Shhh…” URI is getting right at the RIGHT time. pic.twitter.com/dOj7tHnTxH
— NCAA Eye Test (@CBBEyeTest) February 4, 2017
But actually, momentum is something that can make or break a season, and it looks like Rhody is finally gaining some. Kenpom has the Rams as favorites in their final 8 games, but this could be a bit misleading. The Rams are given less than a 65% chance to win in 4 of these games. Bottom line is, Rhode Island is going to have to win quite a few toss up games between now and the end of the season. It certainly won’t be easy.