For the first time since November 2016, Rhode Island men’s basketball is making a return to the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The last time that the Rhode Island Rams took a trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena in the 2016-2017 season, they walked away with a resume-building win in a thriller over Cincinnati and a tough loss to Duke. For the most part, the team’s fan base will always remember E.C. Matthews’ game-winning three-point shot with 21.7 seconds remaining in the game against Cincinnati.
Just over two years later, the team from Kingston, RI will be returning to the same prestigious college basketball venue for the Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase. The foe may be different but the magnitude of the game is just as significant. Rhode Island has a massive opportunity to secure a neutral court victory over a West Virginia team that is currently underperforming, in some respects. There are three main keys that the Rams will have to hit on in order to pull off the upset over the Mountaineers.
1. Maintain a high level of intensity and effort throughout the entire game
In the first game of the 2018-2019 season, West Virginia was upset at home by an upstart Buffalo team because they allowed the Bulls to hang around all game. After trailing throughout the majority of the game, Buffalo chipped away at the deficit before sending the game into overtime thanks to a 43-point performance by their star guard, CJ Massinburg. Once the game went into the overtime period, the Mountaineers completely folded. If the Rams fall behind and can just keep plugging along, they will be one big individual performance away from doing the same.
On the flip side of the coin, West Virginia was defeated by Florida in Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 4, 2018. In this particular game, they fell behind by many points at the very beginning of the game, as well as the start of the second half. In other words, if Rhode Island comes out hot and figuratively hits their opponents in the mouth, they could run the Mountaineers out of the building. In front of what is expected to be a dominant Rhode Island crowd, the Big 12 powerhouse will be put to the test.
Clearly, this iteration of West Virginia men’s basketball does not respond well to any considerable amount of adversity.
2. Beat West Virginia at its own strengths
Everyone is well aware of the tremendous physicality, length, and strength that Bob Huggins’ team brings to the table. Therefore, David Cox needs his group of young men to fight fire with fire. Rhode Island will have to be aggressive on the boards and aggressively defend, while still avoiding foul trouble in the process. In other words, one of the leading rebounders in the country, Cyril Langevine, will need his supporting cast in the frontcourt to step up on Sunday afternoon. Specifically, Rams’ fans will truly see what Jermaine Harris is made of when he matches up with interior forces like Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad. Ironically, Jermaine Harris was thought to be heavily considering attending West Virginia (one of the schools in his top eight).
No one envies the task of handling a player like Sagaba Konate for an entire game but it will truly test Rhode Island players such as Langevine, Harris, Dana Tate, and Ryan Preston. Meanwhile, the length of Wesley Harris and Lamont West can pose problems if David Cox’s team is not careful with their shot selection.
3. Create Rhody Ruckus on the court
Besides starting shooting guard Chase Harler, many of West Virginia’s players are prone to turning the ball over. Esa Ahmad leads the team with 30 turnovers, while guard Brandon Knapper has 21 turnovers this season. Not falling too far behind, starting point guard, James Bolden has 17 turnovers, which is tied with Konate’s 17 turnovers. Given the defensive prowess that the young Rhode Island Rams have shown throughout this season, they need to take advantage of this weakness.
4. Calling Mr. Russell and Mr. Dowtin to the center of the stage
Coach Huggins has openly talked about the growing process that he has been going through with his team after the graduations of star guards, Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. It sounds very familiar to the same concepts that Coach Cox has been talking about all season after the graduation of a stellar five-man senior class. After the transition into this season, West Virginia has commonly fallen back on their reliable frontcourt players, Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate. Meanwhile, against a relatively weak West Virginia backcourt, battle-tested players like Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell will need to shine. It is no secret that the Mountaineers have already experimented with starting three different players at point guard this season. Dowtin and Russell must outperform the group of Bolden, Harler, and Knapper by a significant margin to pull out a victory in Uncasville, CT.