Rhode Island has a case for A-10 preseason No.1
Last October the Atlantic 10 released their official preseason poll, seeing the Rams just behind the Dayton Flyers as the second-ranked team amongst the A-10’s 14 schools. Rhode Island secured eight first place votes and had the combination of returning talent and incoming promise to take Dan Hurley’s Rams to the 2016 NCAA tournament.
After that, things pretty much just went downhill.
Just 10 minutes into the season, star guard E.C. Matthews saw his sophomore year cut short by a knee injury.
With a roster full of young talent, Rhody remained competitive but unable to get over the hump for much of the season. The Rams finished 17-15 after a disappointing A-10 tourney loss to UMass, by this point without both Matthews and A-10 top big, Hassan Martin, who went down three games prior due to injury himself, and finished 9-9 in A-10 play — 9-10 if you count the conference tourney loss.
Eight Atlantic 10 teams handed URI an L this past season. Look for that to change next year as Rhode Island is set up to go on a roaring rampage of revenge and on paper have the look of a 2017 NCAA tournament team, what would be the Rams’ first appearance in 18 years.
Matthews and Martin will return alongside more mature versions of last season’s breakout stars, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell. Memphis transfer Kuran Iverson was inconsistent but showed enough promise to give A-10 coaches heartburn when playing with that group, as well as Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson (a Rivals.com top-60 player out of high school), who will be available next season after sitting out the 2015-16 campaign.
Even without Matthews and later Martin, Rhode Island was a competitive group and that is something that should hint at a promising 2016-17 run.
One-possession (3 points or less): 5
Six points or less: 11
Rhode Island took just two trips behind the woodshed last season, losing to Maryland in Mexico, 86-63, then much later in the season falling at VCU, 83-67. The URI Rams were just 3-11 against the Kenpom top-100 but lost nine of those contests by single-digits, five of those close calls coming away from the friendly confines of the Ryan Center.
One of Rhody’s closest losses came in a two-point home defeat over next year’s likely preseason No.1, Dayton, a defeat Rhode Island would soon avenge by taking down the Flyers, 75-66 in UD Arena just four games later.
Due to their returning talent (two 2015 preseason First Team selections) combined with losses around both the A-10 and college hoops as a whole, Dan Hurley and Co. should be able to flip that script this upcoming season and have a talented enough group to once again warrant a preseason top vote or two.
Four Rams on next year’s team will have averaged over double-digit points in their last full seasons of Atlantic 10 hoops. Matthews dumped 16.9 per game his last full season while all of Garrett, Terrell and Martin averaged double digits last season, combining for 38.1 ppg last season between the three of them, which doesn’t include Iverson’s 9.8.
No other A-10 team can boast four returning players who averaged double-digits in their last full season’s of college hoops. Combine that with last season’s fourth most efficient Atlantic 10 defense — and that was without Matthews who, a key piece in Rhody’s No.1 A-10 D the previous season — and you’ve got a team that will not only be hungry for a bounce-back year but a unit that actually has the talent to deliver.