For those of you who may or may not know me, I’ve gone on rants about how this is “our year” regarding the Rhode Island basketball program multiple times over the last few years. The team finally broke-through last year and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1999 squad which was led by Lamar Odom. Last year’s team upset the 6th seeded Creighton Blue Jays in the big dance. Rhody would go on to lose a heart-breaker to the Oregon Ducks in the next round. The Ducks ended up getting all the way to the Final Four.
Coming into this season, the expectations for the Rams were sky high. They were projected to win the A-10 and numerous analysts had them ranked inside the Top 25. So far they’ve lived up to all the expectations and more.
The Rhode Island Rams are up to #16 in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings and #14 in the USA Today Top 25. Most college basketball analysts have them slotted in around a 5 seed in their projected NCAA field. Their win streak is up to 16 games in a row, tied for longest in the country. They’re one of 6 teams left that are undefeated in conference play at 13-0 in the A-10.
This team is led by a group of close knit seniors and a top 5 backcourt in the nation. There are a few cliches that come to mind when talking about winning formulas in March. Two of the biggest are “great guard play” and “senior leadership/experience.” We’ve seen this come to fruition many times over the last few years. Take for example the 2011 and 2014 UConn national championship teams which were led by guards Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier respectively. They almost single handily carried their teams to national title. Also, the last 4 “Most Outstanding Players of the Final 4” have been guards as well (Joel Berry – UNC, Ryan Arcidiacono, Senior – Villanova, Tyus Jones – Duke, and Shabazz Napier, Senior – UConn).
URI has arguably the deepest backcourt in the country. They’re led by senior Jared Terrell. Terrell is the odds on favorite to win the A-10 player of the year. He’s top 10 in the conference in points per game, 3P%, Steals, and FT%. After Terrell they’re filled with experience in seniors EC Matthews, Jarvis Garrett and Stan Robinson. Matthews and Robinson are both former top 100 recruits.
They also have sophomore Jeff Dowtin and Freshman Daron “Fatts” Russell in the backcourt. Dowtin is #3 in the country in assist/turnover ratio, averaging 4.58 assist for every turnover he commits. Meanwhile the 5″10 Fatts (5″10 is very generous… I think he’s closer to 5″8) has some people calling him a “young A.I.” and Coach Danny Hurley has said he will be one of the best players in the A-10 in the next few years. As respected college basketball insider Jon Rothstein always says of Fatts…
Beyond that, Coach Danny Hurley is highly regarded as the best coach in the Atlantic-10 and has received more national hype than any of us could have imagined. He is undoubtedly in the running for “Naismith Coach of the Year.”
The truth is that the secret is just about out on URI. If they win out they’ll be a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Dan Hurley within the last few weeks has done interviews on SportsCenter, The Jim Rome Show, Farrell on the Bench radio show, and had a big article written on him on cbssports.com this week. Finally, this past Saturday, even College GameDay on ESPN opened up their show with Jay Williams talking about how Rhody is the best kept secret in college basketball (see below clip).
(Thanks to John Daley for letting me use this)
So here’s a friendly piece of advice to everyone who’s going to be filling out their brackets in a few weeks… make sure to pencil Rhode Island in at the very least advancing to the Sweet 16, because odds are they’ll be favored to get there… and don’t be surprised if they make a run to the Final Four. They have all the key ingredients to get there with great guard play, senior leadership, and top of the line coaching. This finally is the year for the program. RHODY! RHODY! RHODY!