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With plenty of moving parts, what can we expect from Rhode Island in 2020-21?

When looking ahead to 2020-21, Rhode Island is one of the biggest question marks in the A-10. Losing seniors Jeff Dowtin and Cyril Langevine feels like enough to write-off 2020-21 as a rebuilding year, and that was before Tyrese Martin announced he’d be transferring. Yet, the Rams (likely) return potential 2021 POY Fatts Russell, and David Cox has been one of the quickest in the nation to fill roster spots with incoming transfers. In the last few weeks, Rhody was landed commitments from Malik Martin (Charlotte), Makhi Mitchell (Maryland), and Makhel Mitchell (Maryland). Incoming freshman Abou Ousmane had previously committed but retracted his acceptance a few days later; as it stands, Cox has 2 spots to fill.

Jon Rothstein recently tweeted that if the NCAA votes to allow a one-time transfer rule, it likely wouldn’t come into effect until the 2021-22 season. This would likely mean a sit-out season for Malik Martin, but the Mitchell brothers should be eligible for the 2nd semester given they transferred out of Maryland before the end of last season. If this were the case, Rhode Island could be looking thin at the beginning of the season and add a ton of depth halfway through with Makhi and Makhel Mitchell. Of course, we still have no idea how the NCAA is going to treat transfer eligibility (which tends to vary substantially on a case-by-case basis anyway). And still, David Cox could add a grad transfer or a late freshman commit to round out its 2020-21 roster. The good news is that URI’s received commitments from some solid players who should add to this program whether it’s next season or some time in the future.

There will be some major question marks for next season, with or without the help of the Mitchell brothers and Malik Martin. For one, Rhode Island’s defense will need to revamp with the losses of Jeff Dowtin and Cyril Langevine. Dowtin, a very solid on-ball defender who committed the least fouls per 40 minutes of any player in A-10 play last season, was a major reason why Rhody’s defense ranked top 40 nationally according to Kenpom. Of course, Fatts Russell is an absolute pest and a great defender as well, but whoever emerges as the other main contributor in the backcourt will have to replace Dowtin’s defensive mindset. Without Mekhi Long in the mix, it’s possible 3-star combo guard Elijah Wood gets the nod at the 2 with Russell as the starting point guard. If that’s the case, Wood should have some college growing pains but be forced to adjust quickly to a team that prides itself on the defensive end of the floor. Wood’s got great size at 6-5, giving URI some much-needed height in the backcourt.

Replacing Cyril Langevine won’t be easy either. His top Atlantic 10 top 10 block, defensive rebounding, and offensive rebounding rates made him a force to be reckoned with on the interior, and without his senior leadership, there’s going to be an adjustment period inside. Assuming the Mitchell twins get to play at least some of the 2020-21 season, I’m curious as to how good they can be. Makhi was a 4-star recruit out of high school while Makhel was a 3-star, and they’re both 6-9 forwards with great size and length. Makhi Mitchell actually had his best game of the season for the Terrapins against George Mason where he dropped 12 points and corralled 8 boards. I actually think the Mitchell twins fit the bill of a Rhode Island big man very nicely. URI likes to get athletic bigs who can crash the glass on both ends of the floor (see Hassan Martin and Cyril Langevine). I think these two should fill that role nicely, though they haven’t had the playing time to prove themselves at the college level yet. Still, I’ll take their recruiting rankings as proof of talent.

The one concern is URI’s non-conference frontcourt depth if the Mitchell brothers aren’t available until 2nd semester. I haven’t seen anything from Antwan Walker or Jermaine Harris that has proven to me that either can be “the guy” that Cyril Langevine has been for URI the past few seasons. That said, having both as options in the post with the Mitchell brothers hopefully gaining eligibility quickly would give URI one of the deepest frontcourts in the conference (and it looked to be even deeper before Ousmane retracted his commitment). Expect URI to be a formidable team on the glass to help replicate last season’s team that was top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

Finally, the biggest question mark for Rhode Island is three point shooting. Simply, who’s going to be consistent enough to be a respectable threat from long range? Fatts Russell improved this past season (35.7%) from range, but he often looks to take tough, contested threes off the dribble compared to someone like Tyrese Martin (32.1%) who would catch-and-shoot more often than not. Jeff Dowtin (36.0%) was Rhode Island’s most efficient shooter from deep, and he’s moving on. East Carolina transfer Jeremy Sheppard is a guy who has to be itching to get on the floor; he shot 33.8% on 148 attempts for the Pirates back in 2017, so while he’s not necessarily a knockdown shooter from deep, he’s got the potential to be solid. It’s possible freshmen Ishmael Leggett and Elijah Wood can add something from deep, but I’d really like to see rising sophomore Jacob Toppin take his game to the next level by adding a consistent jumper. We’ve already seen his athleticism on display, and he’s had flashes of an outside shot — see a home game against Alabama where he buried 3 of his 4 attempts from deep.

Rhode Island can be a top 5 team in the conference next season, but I have to think a lot of that is going to depend on who becomes eligible and when. Cox still has a roster to shape up before basketball tips off again (hopefully in November).

Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for ...