RHODY TAKES ON QUINNIPIAC MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7 AT 7PM LIVE ON YURVIEW – COX CHANNEL 4.
TIP OFF – THE ARCHIE MILLER ERA BEGINS
When whispers became reality in late March, URI Rams fans couldn’t help but gaze ahead to November when the Archie Miller era in Kingston would formally begin.
Tonight, the Rams tip off their 2022-23 season against a veteran Quinnipiac Bobcats squad coached by Baker Dunleavy, a former Villanova player, Jay Wright coaching disciple, and son of former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. It will be the first of two straight games against Bobcat opponents, with a similarly named squad in Texas State visiting Kingston on Saturday.
It’s a rebuild for Miller. Perhaps not from the ground up — but close. With seven new faces on the roster and the implementation of a new approach and system, the Rams have much learning ahead. Miller wants to play hard, smart, fast, and together per his opening presser remarks. We’ll get our first glimpse of team progress toward this goal.
Here are a few areas I’ll have my eye on:
WHERE’S THE SCORING COMING FROM?
Brayon Freeman (10.3ppg, 2.3rpg, 3.7apg) is a slick offensive player who can get to his spots and make tough shots. Of course, you don’t want to be taking tough pulls if you can help it. The Rams lost their top three scorers from a year ago, and holdovers Malik Martin (7.6ppg, 5.4rpg, Ishmael Leggett (8.3ppg, 3.1rpg) and Jalen Carey (5.6ppg) need to find the bottom of the net more often as above-the-fold scouting targets for the first time now.
Miller will aim to push pace and create additional scoring opportunities in the open floor versus trying to execute in a half court setting (with so many new pieces and the lack of a veteran post player). Of course, to push pace requires defending, protecting the defensive glass, and forcing turnovers to name a few catalysts. Generating extra possessions is easier said than done. Whenever Rhode Island does possess it, Miller and staff will be looking to see who steps up scoring production. It begins by stacking one game after another. This game is the first step.
WHICH YOUNG BIG MAN JUMPS ON THE OPPORTUNITY?
Josaphat Bilau, a 6-10, 235-pound, R-So. remains a bit away from suiting up after an offseason procedure on his shoulder. Bilau, when healthy (I’ve seen him in non-contact situations recently) will bolster the frontcourt. For now, it’s 6-8, 210-pound R-Fr. Abdou Samb, 6-11, 230-pound R-So. Alex Tchikou, and 6-8 Fr. Rory Stewart who will vie for whatever share of the minutes pie Miller has in mind for them. They all offer complementary skills and will be used strategically on a game-by-game basis. Yet certain categories are universal to everyone’s experience and will be watched closely.
- How comfortable does he look on the floor?
- What grasp does he have of what we’re trying to do?
- How much is he thinking the game versus playing it?
- Is he defensively ready?
- Does he truly appreciate what competing means at this level?
- … and more
Excited to get our first look and read on their development.
CARING AND SHARING.
The Rams were tough to watch last year. There was no cohesiveness offensively. Scoring was individual and not complementary. And to nobody’s surprise that meant occupying the bottom rungs of the league in assists per game, assist to turnover ratio, and turnover margin.
Miller won’t tolerate it. Prioritizing spacing and a willingness to share is high on the agenda. This team will turn the ball over because it’s integrating new faces, because it’s young, and because it takes time to get on the same page. Not because it lacks the intent to share. We’ll see improvement between November and March.
Point guard Sebastian Thomas, the primary bright spot on the assist-to-turnover ledger last year (62 to 28), looks the part of a sophomore. He’s physically stronger, comfortable, and growing. This roster has plenty of perimeter players, yet only Leggett, Martin, and Freeman have ever averaged more than 20 mins per game in college. This trio knows what’s non-negotiable in this system and required to stay in games. Thomas and Carey have some, albeit more modest, experience too.
They’ll collectively show talented 6-5, 200-pound R-Fr. Brandon Weston and 6-7, 185-pound Fr. wing Louis Hutchinson the way — because there is no other way. For this Rhode Island team to be successful they must do it together.
The game will be broadcast live on Yurview and for those who can’t watch, we hope you’ll join Steve MacDonald and me on the Varsity Network (from Learfield) for the call.
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