10 Hot Questions About Rhode Island With Greg Mitchell
With Creighton and Rhode Island looming in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Sacramento, I reached out to Mid Major Madness’s Greg Mitchell - a Rhode Island information source - and asked him a few questions about the Rams.
1. URI started the season in the top 25 but dropped out after losing to Valpo and Providence. What was the general consensus on this team to start the season?
The Rams were the lone A-10 team in the AP top-25 to begin the year, which was strange to think about mid-season as VCU and Dayton had clearly separated themselves in the league race. There was a lot of optimism around the team, given how many key pieces were returning and how well they defended last year. Of course, the biggest reason for the buoyancy was that E.C. Matthews, who tore his ACL early last season, would be returning as one of the A-10's best scorers.
2. What the hell happened in that game against Fordham?
On a resume full of understandable losses, that's the gaping hole. That it happened at home was the real stunner. Danny Hurley called it the worst effort he's seen out of his team during his tenure. But to be fair, Fordham did jump up and bite Dayton as well, and took VCU to overtime. The (Fordham) Rams play a trapping/pressing style that is pretty unique in the A-10, and while URI didn't turn it over that much in that particular game, that might've played a role.
3. What the hell happened after that game against Fordham?
The Rams took care of business. Maybe Hurley lit a fire under them with his comments, but truthfully the entire year they've been a team that plays hard. The margin for error became razor thin after that loss, as was eventually confirmed by URI getting a No. 11 seed despite winning the A-10 Tournament. The VCU win on Feb. 25 (which was a must) will get the spotlight, but the Rams impressively responded with two sneakily-difficult road wins at George Mason and at (albeit reeling) La Salle right after the Fordham game. One factor could be Jarvis Garrett. The junior guard missed almost a month with an illness, and "miss" means no basketball activity whatsoever. He returned against Fordham, and while he hasn't played as well as he did prior to his absence, has been another experienced piece for Hurley's rotation.
4. What sort of offensive sets do the Rams run? What are we likely to see on defense?
The Rams love to attack the basket. Hassan Martin is an athletic, physical 6'7 forward that URI will usually look to early, either through post feeds or movement that gets him driving lines from around the elbow. Matthews is the other offensive focal point. He's a fringe NBA prospect, and while he hasn't been a terribly efficient three-point shooter in his career, he's shot 8-for-9 from deep over the past two games. On defense, you'll see a physical team that plays man, and plays it hard.
5. Creighton loves to score in transition - what does Rhode Island's fastbreak defense look like?
The Rams, as is in their DNA, have a good transition defense. They've held opponents to just a 48.5 percent effective field goal percentage in transition, the 25th-best mark in the country. Much of this is likely due to their athleticism, and that they don't really play plodding bigs.
6. Who are the primary scoring threats the Rams have to offer?
Matthews (outside) and Martin (inside). Both are dynamic athletes for their positions, and while Martin may be a bit undersized to play the four at the next level, he's a match up nightmare on the college level with his strength.
7. Who are the lockdown defenders the Rams have to offer? Who will guard 7'0 phenom Justin Patton?
The entire rotation is made up of solid to great individual defenders, hence the great overall defense. Matthews and Jared Terrell are very solid on the perimeter, and I would imagine Terrell draws Marcus Foster at first. Martin was the A-10 defensive player of the player. Patton will be a handful, as URI has not seen a talent like that since playing Duke back in November. But URI may be one of the few mid-majors somewhat capable of bothering him. Kuran Iverson is a Memphis transfer that is 6'10 and long. He's got the most defensive win shares on the team (2.0), and should get the first crack at the Creighton star (with Martin on deck).
8. What are your predictions for this one?
I have family in Omaha, go at least twice a year and went to Creighton's inaugural Big East game against Marquette. So I've got bandwagon Bluejay potential written all over me. But I think URI has a good chance to pull the upset. The Rams are playing as well as they have all year and have a defense that should be slump-proof. Iverson/Martin are as good a frontcourt defensive tandem as you'll find to try and deal with Patton, at least on the mid-major level. I think the Rams win a very close game.
9. With a Rhode Island win, how far can the Rams go in the tournament?
This a team that can get to the second weekend. They're far from an upstart, as the preseason ranking speaks to the talent many knew was on this team.
10. If this game were played with every player blindfolded, how do you think the Rams would fare?
I don't know, but that's a game I want to watch.
A special thanks to Greg Mitchell, a guy who has actually visited Omaha and not just driven through it, for answering my questions. Be sure to follow him on twitter (he’s a Cubs fan so he’ll be extra nice to internet people) and check out the website he writes for at Mid-Major Madness - a site that is enjoyable.