Let’s talk about who can beat Rhode Island

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My good friend Grant Labedz posted an article just this morning on the likelihood of Rhode Island (17-3, 9-0) going undefeated in Atlantic 10 play. Possible? Certainly. But let’s dig deeper.

WHO HAS GIVEN RHODY TROUBLE

URI has cruised through most of Atlantic 10 play, defeating seven of their nine opponents by double-digits. The two opponents they did not defeat by 10-plus, Saint Louis and Duquesne, had one thing in common: both are current top-half A-10 defenses.

Seems hard to believe URI has played just two top-half Ds in conference play this season, but that’s where we’re at.

Rhode Island escaped Saint Louis on the road despite trailing 62-63 with under six minutes to play, turning a two-point lead with one minute remaining into the eventual seven-point margin at the free throw line. That Saint Louis team has been tough defensively all year (top-75 in adjusted defensive efficiency) and currently ranks sixth in defensive efficiency in Atlantic 10 games.

Most recently the Rams had to escape Duquesne and had to do so with a game-winning three in Kingston on their home court. It was a game the visiting Dukes led by double-digits into the second half, but one they ultimately could not pull out.

Keith Dambrot’s Dukes have been “ok” defensively on the season, ranking 152nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, but in league play have been the fourth most efficient D in the A-10.

Both the Dukes and Billikens rank as one of the 50 slowest tempo teams in this year’s college hoops as well and were able to limit URI to a combined 45% shooting, just a hair under Rhody’s season average of 46.4%, with Duquesne limiting Rhode Island’s free throw attempts as well in the near-upset.

Both are top-half A-10 defenses in conference, but both have also been bottom half Atlantic 10 offenses.

WHO IS LIKELY TO GIVE THEM MORE TROUBLE

Rhode Island has four games remaining against teams that are within the top half of the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

VCU – The Rams are just barely in that discussion, but currently rank sixth in A-10 play in offensive efficiency and seventh on the defensive end. They will be Rhody’s second A-10 road game against a top-seven A-10 offense (Bona being the first), the second road game against a top-seven defense and the first against a team that’s in the top half of both. VCU will also be coming off of five days rest while Rhody will have played a Tuesday road game at UMass. VCU has had near misses against top-40 teams Texas and Michigan already this season and were within striking distance of UVA (four points) with under two minutes to play earlier this year at the Siegel Center. They’ve yet to win the huge game this season, but have competed well in them and could be classically “due” for a big win when Rhode Island visits the Siegel Center on Friday.

Davidson (x2) – The Wildcats are not only a current top-half A-10 offense and defense, but top-three as well. Davidson’s offense currently ranks No.1 in the league in offensive efficiency and No.3 on the defensive end. They’ll get two shots at Dan Hurley and Co., starting at Rhode Island on Friday, Feb 9, then a senior night home game to end the season in Belk Arena.

Richmond – The surprise Spiders came into league play battle tested, having played seven top-100 opponents and two more within the top-110. They apparently used that experience to open A-10 play over No.77 Davidson and most recently beat the Cats on the road as well. Chris Mooney’s maturing team will have the tall task of winning in what’s becoming an increasingly challenging Ryan Center atmosphere, but could attempt to do so with both a top half A-10 offense (fifth) and defense (also fifth).

St. Bonaventure (rematch) – The Bonnies played 20 minutes of competitive basketball against URI earlier this season, trailing by three in Kingston before the Rams turned that into a comfortable double-digit lead in just 2.5 minutes of second half action. Mark Schmidt’s team is a top-60 defense on the season (No.56), but in conference play have struggled, checking in at No.9 in A-10 adjusted defensive efficiency. Combine was WAS a tough defense earlier in the year with an offense led by Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley that currently sits at No.4 in A-10 play, with an angry Reilly Center home crowd and you’ve got a decent probability of the Rams dropping this rematch in Olean.

 

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About Author

Mat Shelton-Eide has been involved in college athletics since 2007, starting as a co-founder of VCURamNation.com where he covered the Rams all the way to Houston as the one-time CAA darling shocked the hoops world with a historic run to the Final 4. He has worked within two Atlantic 10 athletic departments, first as a graduate assistant in the VCU Sports Information Department during the '09-'10 basketball season, then after receiving his M.Ed. from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership, as a ticketing and marketing intern in the University of Richmond's athletic department during the inaugural season of Richmond's Robins Stadium, months before the Spiders 2011 Sweet 16 run.

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