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Inside The Numbers On URI’s Recent Slide

Another game, another disheartening loss

URI Mens Basketball
Photo: Courtesy URI Athletics

Another game, another disheartening loss for Rhode Island (12-8, 3-5). The latest at the hands of the Fordham Rams (10-10, 3-5), courtesy of a 61-55 defeat at Rose Hill Gymnasium in the Bronx on Wednesday. The loss is URI’s fourth straight and offered stretches of sloppy and uninspired play that have been common in recent games. David Cox’s team is now 122 in the NET rankings, with any reasonable avenues to postseason play all but dried up, save for winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Nine regular season games remain.

For those familiar with my analysis, you know I tilt modestly toward qualitative over quantitative. I wouldn’t call myself an advanced metrics guru – though I appreciate the usefulness of data when married with context to draw insights. After a postgame review of URIs page on kenpom.com last night, I’ll offer a few for discussion:

uri basketball

Non-steal turnover percentage:     Just like it reads, this metric tracks the percentage of turnovers committed by a team that aren’t a direct result of steals. Rhode Island’s figure is 11% of its possessions. That ranks 318th out of 358 teams in the country. Throw-aways, miscommunications, charges, forced passes from impossible angles into the help. All were on display last night against Fordham, particularly in the first half when (using the most diplomatic term possible) suspect decisions littered the Rams play.

It’s 20 games into the season and Rhode Island has the talent to play with any team in the Atlantic 10. If they want to regain traction and grind through the rest of the A-10 schedule this must be stemmed immediately. Players make plays, sure. This Rams team has shown to date that independent read and react decisions, however, are a challenge. If that means tightening up control, so be it.

Ishmael Leggett

19.7 percent:     That’s the percentage of time that URI’s most frequent lineup of Jeremy Sheppard, Ishmael El-Amin, Ishmael Leggett, Makhi Mitchell and Makhel Mitchell are on the floor together over the last five games. They’re the starters and this is no surprise.

Kenpom.com then ranks the next nine most frequent lineup combinations. In the 10th slot way down at 3.2 percent – the last one ranked – is the lineup of Sheppard, El-Amin, Jalen Carey, Antwan Walker, and Makhel Mitchell.

In between those book ends are several other lineup permutations. In every top 10 lineup, Jeremy Sheppard and Sebastian Thomas are used mutually exclusive from one another, meaning they are rarely on the floor together — less than 3.2% of the time. Conventional wisdom at season’s beginning. Chalk this up as my vote for that to change now given Thomas’s maturation, Sheppard’s play of late and skill set, and URIs offensive woes (see below).

I’d like to see a Thomas, Sheppard, El-Amin back court trio get meaningful run. This doesn’t mean this lineup can or should be on the floor 19.7, 15 or even 10 percent of the time. But I’d love to see it more. Despite Thomas’s trifecta of three-point makes last night, he is not a consistent perimeter threat. He’s a vision-led distributor with much promise. He’ll make a freshman play occasionally because that’s what freshmen do. At this point, an eye towards his development and the program’s future should begin carrying more weight. Put him out there in spurts with a couple of veteran shooters on the flank and see what transpires.

Jeremy Sheppard
Jeremy Sheppard – Photo: Alan Hubbard

207:     This is Rhode Island’s rank in offensive efficiency nationally. It’s sliding. The Rams are at 100.7 for the season, an average metric, but just 94.5 in conference play, 12th in the Atlantic 10. In the past four games, all losses, the Rams have scored 61, 63, 51, and 55 for an average of 57.5 points per game. They’ve dropped into the bottom third of the league in scoring at 68 points per game overall. That number is remarkably still 10 points above this four-game average. I hear chatter about the lack of a go-to guy. Maybe, in part. Thought I remain more persuaded that it’s a lack of half-court connectedness and sound decision-making with the ball rather than not having “that guy.”

UMass travels to Kingston on Saturday. It’s gut check time.