A late season surge allowed Dan Hurley and the Rhode Island Rams to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999. E.C. Matthews and company got red-hot right when they needed to; subsequently, the Rams rolled through the Atlantic 10 Tournament, earned an auto-bid to the Big Dance, and almost made it to the Sweet 16. Falling to the Oregon Ducks by a slim margin in the Round of 32, it was clear just how good this group of guys was. And despite the graduations of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson down low, it’s clear that Dan Hurley and company are looking to go even further in 2017-18. Expectations are sky-high.
With the emergence of Jeff Dowtin as a pass-first point guard on a very guard-oriented Rhode Island team, Garrett saw more time off the bench in the latter half of the 2016-17 season. Missing a portion of conference play due to illness cost the junior his starting spot, but he still can provide enormous upside with a fresh start in November. While Dowtin’s the likely starter for the Rams at the 1, Garrett nevertheless provides enormous value as a shooter and distributor. Remember: this was a guy who shot 52.4% from three in conference play his sophomore season. Granted, Garrett was relied upon more heavily, as the Rams dealt with countless injuries during the 2015-16 season. However, the potential is still there despite somewhat of a step-back season last year. I think a new start allows Garrett to springboard and become one of Hurley’s most valuable guards.
I know E.C. Matthews is the centerpiece to this Rhode Island team, but I can’t help but be equally as excited about Jared Terrell in the coming season. Like Garrett, his numbers came down from his sophomore season due to the countless injuries that made him the key focal point in Hurley’s 2015-16 squad. That being said, Terrell had some extremely efficient game in the latter half of the 2016-17 season. Look at his 24 point performance against La Salle where he shot 9-10 from 2; he carried the Rams over a team they struggled with mightily last season. Terrell was a catalyst in Rhode Island’s A-10 Championship win over VCU, and his 15 points and 6 assists against Oregon almost lifted the Rams to the Sweet 16. Rhode Island’s senior can be described as such: an X-Factor. While the spotlight is on Matthews, Terrell could sneakily be the Rams’ best player next season.
If you remember last year’s “Stanford Robinson game,” surely you have reason to be excited about the senior’s potential. Notching 21 points on 10/12 shooting from the floor, Robinson had his biggest game of the year in URI’s most important contest: a Round of 32 battle with eventual Final Four contender Oregon. The Indiana guard transferred into a loaded Rhode Island backcourt yet excelled off the bench; with the graduation of Iverson and Martin and the higher likelihood of Dan Hurley implementing a 4 guard set, it’s becoming more and more likely that Stan gets a starting role in 2017-18. Offensive ability aside, Robinson’s most lethal on the defensive end of the floor, and he’s the main reason the Rams should be one of the A-10’s best on the other side of the ball — even with the loss of rim-protector Hassan Martin. His 3.6% steal percentage ranked 3rd in the conference last year, and even his 2.4% block percentage was the 24th best in the A-10. Watch out for Stan on both sides of the ball in the coming season; he’ll be a crucial component to Rhode Island’s backcourt, especially on defense.
Rhode Island’s poster child is poised to have his best season yet; subsequently, the Rams are pretty much a unanimous pick to win the league in 2017-18. Arguably one of the main reasons Hurley decided to stay at Rhode Island this year, Matthews will be the star of the show. Coming off a season-ending ACL injury, Matthews showed no signs of regression in 16-17, coming out with 20+ point performances in early November. Though the junior would struggle against some of the Rams’ more difficult opponents as the season progressed, he’d end the year with a bang. He’d shoot 10/15 from 3 in the A-10 Tournament, and despite some shooting struggles in the NCAA Tournament, it was clear E.C. Matthews was the reason the Rams got to that spot in the first place.
Matthews’ eruption from deep in last season’s conference tournament was great news for a team that shot just 33.3% from 3 last year. The Rams, despite having a loaded backcourt, don’t have a ton of three point weapons at their disposal. Should Matthews carry that hot shooting into the 2017-18 season, he could become an incredibly lethal player — he’s already more than capable at driving the lane and finishing through contact (53.8% from 2 in A-10 play last year). When you consider all aspects of the game, Matthews has been and will more than likely be the Rams’ MVP. Last year’s NCAA Tournament was breaking the seal; now, the ceiling’s open.
Sure, Cyril Langevine is poised to have a breakout year (just look at his rebounding numbers!), but is Andre Berry the sleeping giant, both figuratively and literally? It’s easy to forget that the 6-8, 285 pound senior led the Rams with 16 points in their first Bahamas tour game against the NBPA All-Stars. In the Rams’ 2nd game in the Caribbean, he was their co-leader in points with 17, hitting 8-10 from the floor and pulling in 6 boards. This seems like Berry’s way of screaming: “Play me more, coach!” With the exception of a grudge match against Old Dominion last season, the junior didn’t see more than 10 minutes in a single game. With Iverson and Martin chewing up a large portion of minutes, it was hard to get Berry in the mix; after his performance in the Bahamas for the Rams, it’s clear that Andre Berry will be seeing a lot more court time throughout the 2017-18 season.
Christion Thompson is kind of like an up-and-coming Stanford Robinson; he’s got the game on defense, and there’s a chance we see his offensive abilities progress in the coming seasons. Thompson’s role on offense last year was limited (10.3 MPG); I wouldn’t expect that to change much as URI returns its entire backcourt from last season. It’s worth noting however, that with 0.6 steals and just 0.3 turnovers per game, Thompson was not a liability to give the ball away. His steal percentage in conference play was slightly better than Stanford Robinson’s, but that’s with a much smaller sample size. Bottom line: Thompson won’t be averaging double digit scoring numbers this year, but he adds some important defensive minutes off the bench for this URI squad.
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Rhode Island’s frontcourt; take for example: how will the Rams replace the rebounding abilities of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson? How does a team that ranked 2nd in the A-10 on the offensive glass last year ensure the ability to get 2nd chance points in 2017-18? Enter JUCO transfer Ryan Preston. The rising junior had 11 boards (7 offensive) in URI’s first win in the Bahamas. Averaging 6.7 boards per game and reaching double digit rebounding figures 6 times at the JUCO level last season, it’s easy to see why the Rams are so fortunate to have Preston in the mix. I’d expect he and Langevine to be the big catalysts for the Rams on the glass; they could be even better on the boards than they were last year.
While notching slightly better numbers than Andre Berry last season, Nicola Akele is pretty much in the same boat as his senior teammate. Both Akele and Berry will take on significantly larger roles in a frontcourt that needs to be replenished. Akele had a 12 point, 6 rebound, 3 assist performance against Massachusetts on the road last season; not too shabby for only seeing 18 minutes of court time. And interestingly enough, Akele could emerge as a three point threat for Rhode Island. You read that right. While his sample size has been low, Akele has shot better than 40% from three in his first two seasons as a Ram. As a guy that can play inside and out, he could really enhance a Rhode Island team that struggled from the perimeter in the 2016-17 season.
Honesty, Jeff Dowtin might be the Ram that I’m most excited to watch in the 2017-18 season. He really took off in the 2nd half of last year, and after Jarvis Garrett missed significant time due to illness, he assumed the role of starting point guard. Dowtin’s so important to this year’s Rhode Island backcourt because he will be the set-up guy. As a pass-first point guard, Dowtin has a knack for tallying assists, and even if he’s not scoring at a high level, he’s getting his teammates good looks from the floor. Not to mention, Dowtin went off against Creighton in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 23 points and hitting all 10 of his free throw attempts. Talk about guts. If you’ve got a guy that can be that clutch in the Big Dance as a freshman, you’ve got an up-and-coming star.
Mike Layssard Jr.
Layssard Jr. may as well have redshirted last season, as he saw just 23 minutes all year long. Scoring just 2 points last season, it’s hard to get any sort of reading as to what kind of player he can be in the 2017-18 season. With more available minutes down low, there’s a chance Layssard Jr. gets some playing time at the 4 or 5, but I’d expect him to be pretty limited, as Langevine, Berry, Akele, and Preston look to have the frontcourt on lock.
There’s a reason Cyril Langevine is getting so much hype heading into his sophomore year despite averaging just 13.2 minutes per game: his rebounding efficiency was incredible. According to Kenpom, the national leader in offensive rebounding percentage last year was Clemson’s Sidy Djitte at 17.6%; while Langevine’s playing time was too insignificant to be counted in the national rankings, his 16.6% would have easily cracked the top 10. In fact, Langevine had more total offensive boards last season than Hassan Martin despite playing significantly fewer minutes. Kuran Iverson, who nearly doubled Lanegvine in MPG, had just 8 more offensive boards all season. It honestly wouldn’t be surprising to see the sophomore lead the league in boards per game; he’ll be Rhode Island’s anchor, and I expect him to assume a major role in the Rams’ rebuilding frontcourt.
Daron “Fatts” Russell
Daron “Fatts” Russell is one of two incoming freshmen this season for Dan Hurley. While Russell essentially takes a number behind point guards Jarvis Garrett and Jeff Dowtin, he’s important for the future of this program. Carrying on the legacy of URI’s backcourt following the 2017-18 season will be difficult, but Russell and Dowtin will be key pieces to that puzzle. Though he’ll never be the tallest player on the floor, Russell is quick, explosive, and he can make you pay if you’re not alert on defense. Expect Russell to get valuable playing time his freshman year and really emerge as a threat in the Atlantic 10 in 2018-19.
It’s easy to forget about Tertsea, considering he redshirted last season, but once again, Dan Hurley’s got an up-and-coming big man at his disposal to integrate into the system. Tertsea was a consensus 3 star recruit coming in last season; the Nigerian big man adds size and strength at 6-10 and 225 pounds. With a lot of frontcourt players who haven’t gotten much playing time in the past, I’m curious to see how Hurley delegates minutes.
Home– UNC Asheville, Holy Cross, Brown, Providence, College of Charleston, Iona, Florida Gulf Coast
Away– Nevada, Alabama
Neutral– Seton Hall, Virginia/Vanderbilt
Rhode Island’s non-conference schedule sets up extremely well — two true road games, a load of winnable home games, and two tough challenges in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Nevada will prove a feisty opponent on the road, but I like the Rams to go into Reno and steal a win. Alabama will be a fringe Top 25 team, which sets up a big-time battle in Tuscaloosa. Providence will be a tricky and fun opponent as always, but I expect Ed Cooley’s squad to have troubles in the Ryan Center this season. Seton Hall is always a tough test, and Vanderbilt or Virginia will prove to be a great game as well. There’s plenty to look forward to you if you’re Rhode Island, and the Rams have a chance at walking into conference play with just 1 or 2 (maybe 0) losses.
Home – Duquesne, George Mason, Richmond, Saint Joseph’s, Davidson, Dayton, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away – Fordham, George Washington, Saint Louis, VCU, Davidson, Dayton, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Two games against St. Bonaventure and Dayton make Rhode Island’s schedule difficult. Also, factor in road games against VCU and Saint Louis. The Rams have easy opponents at home (Duquesne, George Mason, Richmond), but they’re going to have to be road warriors if they want to win the Atlantic 10. I think this schedule sets up for some big wins, but the Rams will have to play quite hard to get them.
Non-Conference Record: 9-2
Conference Finish: 1st in the A-10
Starting Lineup: Jeff Dowtin, Jared Terrell, E.C. Matthews, Stanford Robinson, Cyril Langevine
X-Factor: Jared Terrell
Biggest Sleeper: Jeff Dowtin
Most Improved: Cyril Langevine
MVP: E.C. Matthews
Rhode Island is the consensus favorite to win the Atlantic 10 this year — and for good reason. The Rams return one of the most potent and deep backcourts in the nation; combine that with an up-and-coming frontcourt that could really surprise, and you’ve got a team that will go dancing next March. I see St. Bonaventure as Rhode Island’s primary threat, but if I had to bet on a league champion this year, both in the regular season and the conference tournament, I would be taking Rhode Island hands down.
Come check out our Rhode Island Basketball forum for more discussion.