Insider Breakdown: Enthusiastic URI Rams Ready to Face Oklahoma and Trae Young

The First Four got started on Tuesday night, but wall-to-wall action truly tips when Midwest Region No. 7 seed Rhode Island 10th seeded Oklahoma meet on Thursday at 12:15pm ET in Pittsburgh. Oklahoma may be the convenient target of “how’d they get a bid” ire for their road woes and 4-11 finish, but they still boast the most dynamic freshman in the nation in guard Trae Young (27.4ppg, 8.8apg) and own wins at Wichita State and over No. 1 seed Kansas this season among others.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the areas of emphasis and storylines in this matchup.

Boom go the Sooners

Young is a talent who flat out gets buckets. From anywhere on the floor, in any way, at any time. And while he’s attempted twice as many field goals as the next closest teammate, he’s not just a scorer. The freshman led the nation in assists per game at 8.8 and OU is at its best when he’s shooting efficiently and leveraging the attention he commands to involve others like Brady Manek (10.4, 39% 3pt) and Christian James (12.1, 36.5% 3pt). Lon Kruger’s team loves to push pace and transition defense will be key for Rhode Island because Young and teammates excel in hunting daggers on the fly.

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But remember, transition defense isn’t just about defense. It’s about your offense too. Taking the action to Oklahoma and attempting shots with a balanced floor will allow the Rams to retreat and mark properly within that conversion stage — the stage where a team is retreating from offense to defense. Although Oklahoma isn’t a great rebounding team, URI also must wisely send players to the offensive glass for the same reason.

Poor shot selection and an unbalanced retreat will result in an inability to mark OU in transition and lead to rhythm generating shot-making… and a long afternoon.

Back to Young for a moment. He will turn the ball over and averages 5.2 giveaways per game, which brings us to…

The Clark W. Griswold “head sewn to the carpet” surprise stat

Young has committed 161 turnovers. Rhode Island’s Jeff Dowtin, E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell have 143 turnovers among them. Chew on that for a moment, Cousin Eddie.

What about half court D?

We discussed Rhode Island’s transition defense above and here’s why it’s so critical. If the Rams can slow the Sooners in transition, it allows the disruptive half court defense that’s become the team’s calling card to firmly root. Rhode Island does a terrific job in turning potent scorers into inefficient volume shooters (think Luwane Pipkins) and in frustrating opponents ability to run any semblance of offense. With all due respect to Pipkins, Young is on another level and then some, but this is the type of game URI’s 6-pack of guards is built for. Young lives at the line… and the Rams may need all that depth to deal with the calls he’ll get.

The Sooners, who carry a negative assist-to-turnover ratio on the year, also average 13.4 turnovers per contest. If America runs on Dunkin, Rhode Island runs on turnovers… and will look to transform OU’s intermittent ball insecurity into points the other way.

Parlaying

Oklahoma can score it with anyone and averages 85 points per game. But the Sooners permit 81 a night, which ranks in the bottom 20 in the nation. If the Rams can force anywhere near their average of 16 turnovers, they’ll directly parlay those miscues into points. Couple that with OU not being a turnover-forcing unit itself and the Rams figure to see shot opportunities – especially from beyond the arc which OU struggles to defend. The key will be knocking them down, one facet of the Rams game that’s proven inconsistent throughout the season. Look for bounce-back shooting out of Jared Terrell in Pittsburgh.

Intangibles

There are many, so here are a couple. Oklahoma has the “us against the world” mentality going for it given the undercurrent of griping against its inclusion in the brackets. Rhode Island has Pittsburgh familiarity — with the Rams claiming the A-10 Tournament Championship the last time they spent any appreciable amount of time in the Steel City. There’s less travel time for URI, a knowledge of the routine, and familiarity with arena site lines and shooting backdrop for the 7-seed.

Final note

Let’s give it up for Bonas. The Atlantic 10 is off to a 1-0 start in the NCAA Tournament, courtesy of St. Bonaventure’s 65-58 First Four win over Pac-12 foe UCLA. The Bonnies won despite 6-28 shooting from Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley — though Adams nailed the decisive shot late to put the Brown & White in the driver’s seat. Courtney Stockard was huge in the win for SBU, scoring 26 points and consistently taking the action right at the UCLA bigs in transition.

Mark Schmidt and staff unfurled (had to, Bonas fans…) a mixture of different defensive looks including a 1-3-1 zone that completed stifled UCLA beginning late in the first half. And UCLA didn’t adjust moving forward, so that’s Schmidt 1, Alford 0 if you’re scoring at home. The Bonnies generated 30 points off 20 turnovers and now move on to face Florida.

Joe Lunardi predicted they’d be on the 9 or 10 line after winning 13 straight down the stretch. Although only one of three non-Power 5 schools to earn an at-large bid (URI and Nevada the others), the Bonnies were under-seeded at 11 and sent to the First Four. Now they’ve earned a chance to keep playing.

(12) Davidson vs (5) Kentucky – This tilt tips at 7:10pm tomorrow between the two sets of Wildcats and Davidson has become the trendy upset pick. ESPN’s BPI gives Bob McKillop’s team a 42% chance of winning, the best of any 12 seed.