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5 Story lines as Friars and Rams ready for another in-state classic

The tilt has been sold out for a week. Seats in the 200 level of the Ryan Center are being sold on Vivid Seats for $225 each. (Don’t believe me, click here). The Rams and Friars each continued to receive votes this week in the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls. Rhode Island is off to a 4-2 start with a win over then 20th ranked Seton Hall, while Providence sits at 6-1 and won the 2K Classic in New York City last week.

Shaping up to be one helluva game on Saturday, December 2nd. So let’s explore a few story lines..

Break the streak? Rhode Island is attempting to beat the Friars for the first time in eight tries — and for the first time under Dan Hurley. Last year, it appeared URI might emerge from the Dunk with a win, but a hard (albeit it legal) pick midway through the second half allowed Jalen Lindsey to slip free for a momentum-changing three-pointer that would help the Friars overcome a 7-point second half deficit and clip the then nationally-ranked Rams 63-60. Rhode Island would ultimately enjoy the more successful season, winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament and advancing two rounds further in the NCAA tournament than their rivals to the north… but the Friars recent rivalry-game dominance remains in tact. Rhode Island now sports a senior laden crew in the back court and gets the Friars in the comfortable confines of the Ryan Center, perhaps the best mix of conditions it will enjoy for some time in trying to flip the script.

We’ll miss you. While the atmosphere will be charged, each program will be without a major contributor. For Rhode Island, it’s 6-5 senior and Atlantic 10 preseason player of the year candidate E.C. Matthews. Matthews broke a bone in his left (shooting) wrist on a hard crash to the floor against Nevada in the second game of the season.

He’s convalescing and resumed shooting this week, but it will be another 2-3 weeks before he rejoins his mates. For Ed Cooley’s Friars, 6-7, 240 pound forward Emmitt Holt is shelved for the season, dealing with abdominal issues. The school announced on Wednesday evening that the senior will take a leave of absence, rejoin the team in January and red shirt this season. Holt was second on the team in scoring a rebounding a year ago (12.5ppg, 5.4rpg) and his absence on the interior and versatility leaves a definite void. We wish both Matthews and Holt the best in their rehab/recoveries.

Top 50. Top 50 wins aren’t easy to come by… and this contest represents an opportunity for each team to pocket one. The NCAA Selection Committee heavily factors in record versus top 50 teams at year’s end when deciding inclusion and seed line in the Tournament. Both of these teams are extremely talented, with Rhode Island nearly unanimously tabbed to win the Atlantic 10 and Providence selected fourth in a stacked Big East. It’s a little early, but RealTimeRPI has the Rams ranked 11th in the nation as of today and the Friars ranked 31. Rhode Island has played an intense schedule already, traveling to Nevada and tussling with Seton Hall and Virginia on a neutral floor. The Friars have played ranked Minnesota and an always proud and solid Belmont program, among others. Winning is more important for the Rams — and not just for bragging rights but because the Atlantic 10 is down this year. The chances of collecting additional Top 50 wins will be far more plentiful for Providence than for Rhode Island as the season progresses.

Areas to watch.

  • Rhode Island – Rebounding and Possession Termination. The Rams perimeter contingent can play with anyone, but it’s a different look overall this year without Hassan Martin (14 pts, 17 rebounds versus PC last year) and Kuran Iverson. Add to that a groin injury to 6-8 sophomore forward Cyril Langevine, who just returned to limited game action on Tuesday, and it’s no surprise the Rams are -0.8 in rebounding margin on the year. Forwards Andre Berry and JUCO transfer Ryan Preston – along with the healing Langevine -will need to answer the call-to-action on Saturday, particularly in on the defensive boards. URIs first-shot defense will be stout, but can they keep the Friars second-chance points opportunities tamped down?
  • Providence – Poise under pressure. Kyron Cartwright is a terrific lead guard, but talented youngsters like Maliek White and Makai Ashton-Langford, among others, have yet to play at the Ryan Center against this pressure. The Rams are a swarming, physical, disruptive defense out high — with a 40 minute goal of making you uncomfortable to run your stuff, speeding you up, and dictating action. Cartwright’s been there done that – quite well in fact, torching the Rams for 19 points and 8 assists a year ago. But the young Friars haven’t experienced it yet. How they weather it will go a long way towards determining the winner on Saturday. When the Rams can create live ball turnovers and run, they’re tough… But if PC can settle and find a rhythm, there are soft spots in the URI half court defense to exploit.

Players to Watch.

  • Rodney Bullock – The 6-8 senior plays an unassuming game in many respects and blends, sometimes leading us to forget how impactful he can be. Smooth, an efficient mover without the ball, and experienced, Bullock has scored 20+ his last two contests and importantly, been more aggressive offensively, with 13 and 18 shot attempts, respectively. Providence needs that on Saturday, particularly since this Rhode Island team doesn’t have a prototypical small forward to body Bullock. Physical and long guard Stanford Robinson (6-4, 200 pounds) may draw the task, but he’s still giving up clear measurables to Bullock, so it’ll be a tall ask of him — provided the aggressive Bullock shows.

  • Jared Terrell – The reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Week, Terrell (19ppg) has been the Rams best player by a landslide — and brings and enthusiastic and focused swagger to the table. He shredded Seton Hall off the bounce, beyond the arc, and from the line to the tune of 32 points and the game-winner in New York City on Thanksgiving. At 6-3, 215 pounds, his ability as a three-way scorer makes him a difficult cover. Defensively, he sets the tone with intensity and solid positional play. Even before – but certainly now with the absence of Matthews – Terrell has exhibited purposeful aggression and the type of urgency seen from seniors hell bent on leaving a mark. He’s 0-3 against the Friars during his time in Kingston and aiming to lead his team to win.