Insider Breakdown: Miscues Plague Developing Rams

Fatts Russell
Fatts Russell – Photo: Alan Hubbard

Rhode Island (5-6, 2-2) fell to a veteran Richmond Spiders team (8-3, 2-1) on Wednesday evening 80-73 as Chris Mooney secured his 300th career victory in front of a COVID-condensed “MCI” crowd; the friends and family plan.

Richmond led for over 36 minutes in a tightly contested affair, gently pulling away late. Here’s a quick download from the Rams valiant, fall-short effort against the team predicted to finish first in the Atlantic 10 this season. Plus a tease of what’s ahead:

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19 MORE: Turnovers, that is. You cannot beat good teams with any consistency when you cannot secure the ball.

Over its four Atlantic 10 contests, Rhode Island is averaging 17.5 turnovers per game – registering 70 total. Only in one of the four games has it recorded less than a dozen. That is indefensible. Actually, it’s quite defensible – in a literal sense – because it allows an opponent to have its way with you, particularly given the abundance of unforced miscues biting URI per game.

The turnover issue is intensified because it stings a team twice.

First, there’s the offensive opportunity cost to turnovers. It takes the ball out of your team’s hands. Consider how efficient Rhode Island was when it got looks last night. The Rams shot 52.7% from the floor including a second half spurt where they made eight straight field goals. The Rams could only muster 55 shot opportunities, however, while the Spiders had 64.

Hang onto it, give your team a chance to continue shooting at or near that 50%+ clip and you likely (no pun intended) steal one on the road.

Jermaine Harris
Jermaine Harris – Photo: Alan Hubbard

Second, turnovers transfer to your opponent those additional scoring opportunities to capitalize on.

On Wednesday night Richmond coughed it up just seven times while taking it from the Rams 19 en route to 20 points off those Ram turnovers. At least a half dozen Ram turnovers were completely unforced. Correct those and bring the 20 points-off-turnover number down to even 12 or 14 and it’s a one possession game late – at the very least. Again, the way Rhode Island was shooting it, they may have even had a lead late if they tamped this number down.

As the rotation sorts itself out, the turnover number will be front and center for David Cox and staff as they make decisions on minutes. And when URI solves or even softens its turnover dilemma the Rams will benefit across the board – including the next area.

DICTATING THE ACTION: Defend and take care of the ball and you position your unit to dictate the action.

Without those two cornerstones the road to controlling play is uneven and arduous as hell. There has been water cooler (okay, virtual water cooler) discussion around the Rams lacking an identity. That game-to-game, Rhode Island appears to loosely conform to its opponents playing style; an unfamiliar site during David Cox’s tenure both as an Assoc. Head Coach and now Head Coach. But it is symptomatic of a revamped roster that is 11 games in.

The effort is consistently there defensively, with stalwarts like Antwan Walker, Makhel Mitchell and Fatts Russell always bringing it. The Rams rank second in the league in field goal percentage defense (.405). Complete the equation by hanging onto the ball and Rhode Island will again start to dictate pace of play, build confidence, and put their opponents in reactive positions as in years past.

It will be at that point that a familiar look of “Rhode Island” ball will begin to resurface.

Makhel Mitchell
Makhel Mitchell – Photo: Alan Hubbard

ANOTHER STERN TEST: Not much was expected of VCU this season, projected to finish 9th in the league in the preseason.

But here are the black and gold Rams, 28th in the nation in the NET rankings and atop the league early at 9-2, 2-0. They welcome Rhode Island to the Siegel Center on Saturday at 2pm. VCU can score it, lead the league in field goal percentage defense (.391) and rank third in 3pt field goal percentage defense (.285).

They also do the little things, some that show up incrementally – but critically – in the box score like their top A-10 ranked free throw percentage (.741)… and others that don’t but are just as impactful, like 6-foot-6 junior forward Vince Williams’ uncanny ability to draw charges.

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Little things are precisely why VCU has won seven straight including last night’s victory over George Mason.

Their young and dynamic backcourt of sophomore Nah’Shon Bones Hyland and freshman Adrian Ace Baldwin has arrived and has years of being special ahead. While they can be exploited on the glass as this isn’t a huge VCU squad… and they are susceptible to turnovers themselves, in VCU fashion, they rank 12th in the country at turnovers forced per game at 18.7.

Buckle up.

Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44