The annual intrastate rivalry returns to the Ryan Center as Providence College and The University of Rhode Island ready for battle on Saturday, December 3rd at 5:00pm. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on the Varsity Network, 630WPRO and 99.7FM.
Providence enters the contest at 5-3, fresh off a 75-62 loss to TCU in its first true road game of the season on Wednesday. Rhode Island is at 2-5 overall, defeated Sunday by Boston College in its first true road game.
This game never lacks for storylines. PC head coach Ed Cooley finally acknowledged the gravity of the rivalry publicly in an hour Zoom event earlier this week, and it’s no secret the college basketball coaching fraternity has brought Cooley and Archie Miller together as good friends over the years. Tomorrow they’ll square off for the first time since Miller’s Indiana team beat PC in the 2020 Maui Invitational.
Here are a few areas to watch on Saturday:
3RD FIDDLE, ANYONE?
Ishmael Leggett (18.7ppg) and Brayon Freeman (12.5ppg; 17.5 over his last four games) are healthy producers for Miller and staff. Beyond these two accounting for roughly 35 points per game with Freeman now hitting his stride – it’s a complete wildcard. As we discussed on Sunday’s BC broadcast, it’s not just the scoring/production ceiling Archie Miller is trying to determine from the other players, it’s their floor. In other words, beyond Freeman and Leggett, if “X” player has a challenging game Miller can’t bank on him at least getting 6, 7, 8 points. It can be a complete scoring column donut.
This makes every game a real-time offensive experiment for the URI staff trying to find the right combination. The Rams need more scoring production from Malik Martin. A healthy Jalen Carey would help too. For Rhode Island to compete on Saturday, two Rams beyond Freeman and Leggett need to answer the call.
PROVIDENCE ON THE PERIMETER:
The Friars are clearly a work in progress also, as Cooley integrates eight new faces and searches for chemistry and spacing. This is a much different Friar team. Drive and kick snipers like Al Durham, A.J. Reeves, and Noah Horchler are gone, as is the attention-drawing Nate Watson in the paint. The gaps and seams aren’t there as they were a year ago. Make no mistake, PC will be favored. But for the Friars to win on Saturday they need at least complementary perimeter shot making which has been spotty this season. And they’ll need to do it in the most unfriendly environment they’ll face this year.
The Ryan Center seats 7,657 and thus far in 2022-23, the Rams are averaging 4,865 through their first three home games – per Atlantic10.com. Expect this one, as usual, to be packed to the gills with mostly Rhody fans. PC may have played on the road against TCU, but their experience Wednesday night is drastically different than what they’ll encounter Saturday. Archie Miller has recalled his past visiting experiences and remarked fondly about the Ryan Center when it’s popping – and he’ll get his first taste of a truly electric building as the home coach on Saturday. So will Cooley’s Friars, many of them new faces to this rivalry. How they respond will be telling.
Both teams, more so the Rams, have issues scoring in the half court. Generating stops, forcing turnovers, and flowing into transition helps any basketball team. The Rams would prefer not help the Friars. Hanging onto the ball is paramount for Rhode Island – averaging 16.4 turnovers per game – in this one. If the Rams can limit live ball turnovers and resulting Friar fast break opportunities, muddy the game, and force Providence to execute in the half court, this one could go to the wire.
BRYCE IS NICE:
6-foot-7, 220-pound Kentucky transfer Bryce Hopkins is a headache waiting to happen for opponents. Look for PC to generate mismatches through dribble hand offs and action to isolate Hopkins near the left short corner or low block, where he likes it. He can also make the open three off the catch-and-shoot and has the unique ability to play both bigger and smaller than his frame when required. He’s a handful.
Averaging 14.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assist per game on 47% shooting from the floor, Hopkins will get his. Rhode Island’s Malik Martin will draw the assignment first and need every bit of grit he can muster. Nobody on the Rams roster currently possesses all attributes to match Hopkins but look for multiple bodies to be thrown at him, whether it’s Louis Hutchinson or even Josaphat Bilau. The goal is to keep him thinking and adjusting, rather than comfortably playing. Any contested shot outside the paint area from Hopkins is a shot URI will gladly take.
He’s been scoreless his last two (though he did chip in six boards against BC), but don’t be surprised to see Brandon Weston sprinkle production across the box score for this one. He’s got some spice to his game, competes with toughness, and at 6-5, 200 pounds has the body to scrap in this one as he did in the Kansas State affair where he recorded a double-double (10pts, 10 rebs). Keep an eye on the redshirt freshman.
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 NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow on Twitter for five straight years, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44