This, Rhode Island fans, is the year you’ve been waiting for. After four seasons of building in Kingston, Dan Hurley’s Rams finally appear ready to make the jump from mid-major stagnant to NCAA tournament contender. After a rather disappointing 2015-16 campaign that featured major injuries to key stars E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, the team is finally looking healthy as they prepare for a run at the A-10 title. A consensus preseason top-25 pick, Rhode Island will look to prove the experts right as they seek their first March Madness appearance since 1999. Here’s all you need to know about the Rams heading into this season.
While URI graduated two seniors with the class of 2016, the only productivity the team lost came due to the departure of graduate student Four McGlynn. The Rams’ fourth-leading scorer, McGlynn was a solid three-point shooter and shot over 87% from the free-throw line during his senior campaign. He also brought valuable experience as an NCAA veteran (McGylnn played for three schools), an asset that they will miss this year. While it is clear that McGlynn was a key part of the URI offense this past season, the team should have no issue plugging the hole at the point guard position (see Notable Returnees). Luckily, there are no other significant departures for Dan Hurley and company.
With a slew of incoming recruits, Rhode Island has stacked up on long-term talent they will look to develop over the coming years. Consisting of four three-stars, this year’s freshman class is the biggest in Kingston since the class of 2012, and is ranked by 247sports.com as the 5th best class in the Atlantic 10. They are headlined by Mike Layssard Jr., a 6-9, 280 lb center from Shrevport, Louisiana. Layssard turned down offers from seven schools, including those from power programs like Florida, Texas A&M and Memphis. He’s joined by PG Jeff Dowtin out of Washington D.C. (offered by Wichita State, Rutgers, George Mason), C Michael Terrsea out of Maryland via Nigeria (offered by George Washington, La Salle) and PF Cyril Langevine out of New Jersey.
However, perhaps the most exciting addition for the Rams is Indiana transfer shooting guard Stanford Robinson. Ranked out of high school by Rivals.com as the 56th best player in the nation, Robinson sat out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations. At IU, he struggled to get consistent playing time but averaged 6.4 PPG during his freshman year. Robinson is a crafty and strong finisher with Power 5 conference level athleticism. It should be fun to watch him develop into a more complete player over this coming season with his added responsibilities at URI.
There’s one name that all college basketball fans should know this season, and that’s E.C. Matthews. Many are quick to forget that Matthews was one of the preseason candidates last year for A-10 Player of the Year before going down n the first game with a season-ending knee injury. Now, after nearly a full calendar year of recovery, Matthews is back and better than ever as he prepares to follow up a stellar sophomore campaign during which he averaged 16.9 PPG and 4.6 RPG. There’s a reasonable expectation that Matthews could enter the NBA draft after this season; he has next level talent and a First Team All-Conference selection for 2016-17 could boost his stock significantly.
Joining Matthews at the helm of this team are Jared Terrell, Kuran Iverson, Hassan Martin and Jarvis Garrett. Terrell, the team’s leading scorer last season, was also the leader in minutes in 16-17 and will continue to be vital in Rhody’s continued success. Iverson has a shot at leading the A-10 in rebounds this season and Martin is ferocious in the paint. Also, with Matthews and Martin having been out or hurt for the majority of last season, Garrett has had the opportunity to grow into a very solid point guard. A year of starting experience will give him the tools to succeed at a high level this coming season.
Essentially, this Rhode Island team returns all the key components they need to make their first NCAA tournament in nearly two decades.
Over the past couple years, we’ve seen the impact that scheduling has on mid-major programs making or missing the NCAA tournament. This is one of the reasons why Rhody has put together a non-conference slate full of high-caliber opponents.
There are three games that stick out in the non-conference: Nov. 19 vs. Cincinnati, Dec. 3 at Providence and Dec. 10 at Houston. Its clear that Mick Cronin has put together a very respectable program in Cincy, having established the Bearcats as a perennial NCAA tournament team. The fact that URI gets to host them bodes well for the Rams’ tourney hopes as it provides the opportunity for a victory against a possible top 25 team. Similarly, a matchup against Providence gives URI a chance at a victory over a reigning NCAA tournament team and Houston is starting to appear like a real threat in the American Athletic Conference. If the Rams can snag two of these three wins, they should be in very good shape come the conference season.
In terms of the Atlantic 10 schedule, there are a couple games worth noting. The Rams have a nationally televised game on ESPN2 on Jan. 6 at Dayton. This will be their biggest test of the conference season to that point and should be interesting to see if they can come out on top and emerge at the team to beat in the A-10. Feb. 3 at Davidson should be a great game as they try to stop the 1-2 combo of Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge, and the Feb. 25 game against VCU should be an awesome showdown.
Ultimately, the Rams should be one of the teams to beat in the conference this season. However, nothing is certain until the rubber hits the road.
Entering the 2016-17 season, many have Rhode Island as the team to beat. They’re talented, deep and have the coaching to make a run at the NCAA tournament. Expect E.C. Matthews to be one of the A-10’s top talents and be on the lookout for the always ferocious Rams defense. If all stays constant, especially health, there should be some dancing up in Kingston come Selection Sunday this March.
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