While the Rhode Island Rams aren’t the best team that Providence has played this season (that title belongs to Virginia), Saturday marks the most important game of the season for the Friars. Both Ed Cooley and URI coach Dan Hurley put a ton of stock in the Ocean State’s biggest rivalry, with the Friars winning the last six games in varying fashion.
Last season’s battle was an instant classic, a back and forth battle that ended in a 74-72 Friar victory after a buzzer-beating tip-in by Ben Bentil. This year, URI enters with their best team in recent memory, powered by the return of almost every key contributor from last season, and the return of E.C. Matthews from a knee injury.
Here’s what you need to know for Saturday afternoon’s tilt:
How to Watch/Stream/Listen
The game is (disappointingly) only broadcast on Fox Sports Net, which limits viewability for the 4:30 tip-off. The FSN channel listing can be found here, thanks to fellow BECB writer Mike Hopkins. Additionally, the game will not be available on Fox Sports Go, limiting streaming options.
The Providence radio broadcast will be the usual duo of John Rooke and Joe Hassett on WEEI 103.7 FM, while the URI broadcast will be on 101.5 FM.
Per WestGate, the Rams open as a 1.5 point favorite. The Over/under is listed at 129.
As mentioned before, the Friars are looking to win their seventh straight in the rivalry. All time, Providence holds a 72-54 advantage, and a 37-23 advantage in Providence.
3 Things to Watch
1. Will Rodney Bullock stay hot?
The Friars needed a breakout player to emerge in order to compete this year, and recently it looks like Rodney Bullock has taken charge of the offense. After a 36-point outburst on Wednesday night against New Hampshire, the question arises if Bullock can continue his early season success.
Hurley will throw the kitchen sink at Bullock, whether it be Kuran Iverson, Jared Terrell, or even Hassan Martin to guard him. If Bullock can handle the immense pressure that he’ll face with the ball in his hands, he’ll both continue to shake his reputation as a streaky scorer and give the Friars a huge boost in their upset bid.
Bullock built a reputation of being a hot-and-cold, hit-or-miss player last season; he can’t go cold if the Friars want to grab a resume-building win.
2. Who’s Providence’s Focus on Defense?
URI comes at their opponents from a variety of angles on offense. Martin leads the team in scoring with 16.4 points per game, but Terrell, Matthews, and Iverson all average double digits as well. Jarvis Garrett, who played a huge role in last season’s game, also poses a threat on offense.
It will be interesting to see how Cooley attacks the Rams on defense; a zone seems logical if the impetus is to stop Martin, but Terrell and Matthews both shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range. The Friars are stuck between a rock and a hard place, but might be able to find solace in the fact the Rams don’t exactly possess a huge length advantage.
3. How does home court affect the game?
It’s going to be a sellout at the Dunk, which marks the first time this season that Providence will play with the home crowd fully behind them. At times last season, the Friars seemed to charged up at home, and played out of their element in losses to Xavier and Villanova.
It sounds cliche, but if Providence can channel the energy that the home crowd will bring them, then it can be a huge advantage. Additionally, URI lost their first true road game at Valparaiso on Tuesday, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to another hostile crowd.