With Thanksgiving less than a week away, Rhode Island is off to a perfect start at 3-0 after grounding the Boston College Eagles Wednesday evening at the Ryan Center. The Rams now migrate south for a few games, two in the Sunshine Slam (Tulsa tomorrow and then either Utah/BC) along with a true road tilt at Florida Gulf Coast. Here’s a look at three promising early season developments for David Cox’s program.
Through its trio of contests the Rhode Island defense has registered gaudy metrics. Among them, the Rams rank second in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.2889) and in team blocked shots per game (11.7), led by Makhel Mitchell’s 15 which also tallies second across the land.
With Makhel as an anchor – supported by his brother Makhi and Antwan Walker (both at 1.7bpg) – shots in the paint rarely leave opponents hands without angst. On Wednesday, Makhel could’ve been a Sotheby’s agent. He had real estate in the heads of every BC player. Beyond his sheer reach, blocks and shot alterations, the psychological impact can’t be understated. It’s more than just a physical game.
Tactically, rim protection ripples outward allowing the cadre of guards to extend high ball pressure knowing that waves of defense behind them shield the fortress. Rhode Island’s guard corps offer a blend of length, quickness, and toughness. Add wing Malik Martin, who possesses the frame and skill to defend up to four positions, and it’s a roster offering the coaching staff mix and match versatility. They’re cohesive and communicating effectively.
Much basketball remains to be played beyond BU, Bryant, and Boston College – another letter of the alphabet, please? There will be higher quality opponents who offer greater challenges. But let’s credit the start and reinvigorated approach on defense.
ISHMAEL EL-AMIN IS AS ADVERTISED
Back in May after his commitment, I asked “EA” to complete the sentence, “In Ishmael El-Amin, David Cox and the Rams are getting a player who…”
He responded, “…is a winner and who’s coming to come in from day one and be ready to put the work in. Who is not going to complain. I’m coming to work, I’m coming to win, and I’m coming to be a positive influence for the younger guys on the team.”
Talk about a quote aging well. El-Amin is averaging 10ppg, 1.3apg, 1.3rpg, and a steal per night – doing it on ultra-efficient 57% field goal shooting, including 50% from three-point range, and a perfect 11-11 from the charity stripe. Yet this tells a fraction of the value story. Add to his impact stout defense, leadership, tutelage of younger teammates, trustworthiness in tight games, clutch shot making and poise.
And as I said on the radio broadcast Wednesday, EA’s value is as much about what he doesn’t do as what he does. He avoids the temptation of hunting for his offense, pounding the extra into-trouble dribble, or lunging for the irresponsible defensive gamble. He’s a veteran. He’s focused. He makes simple plays… smart plays. What a helpful addition on the locker room and floor.
The Rams are 3-0 for the first time in five years!
Makhi and Makhel Mitchell combine for 10 blocks, with six of Makhel’s blocks in the second half. pic.twitter.com/zBJKCakPVo
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 18, 2021
IT AIN’T STICKY
Rhode Island dished out 16 assists on 19 made baskets – a robust ratio – in its win over Boston College, indicative of unselfishness permeating the Rams’ play. For perspective, last season the Rams recorded 16 or more assists in just five of 25 games, three of which were overtime contests. They didn’t tally at least 16 until the 10th game of the season, an 85-77 OT win against an eventual 13th place Saint Joseph’s team. It’s an encouraging early development for David Cox’s crew and a main reason seven Rams are neatly clustered in the scoring average column – checking in between 7 and 11.3 points per game. That’s balance.
Enjoy the games this weekend and your time with family and friends next week. Grateful college basketball is back.
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