Home Sports NCAA Basketball

Talented Rams to Have Depth Tested with Matthews Injury

The Rhode Island Rams suffered more than their first loss of the 2017-18 season Monday night in falling to an NCAA Tournament caliber Nevada team on the road, 88-81. Beyond the blemish in the loss column, Dan Hurley’s club learned on Tuesday that star guard – and preseason all-conference selection – E.C. Matthews will miss 4-6 weeks after sustaining a broken bone in his wrist. Courtesy of a mid-air collision between Matthews and two Wolfpack defenders which saw the former helicopter awkwardly to the ground (no foul was called), the 6-5 senior will be shelved until late December.

In the meantime, the ball bounces on… with the Rams slated to take on several top-flight programs in the next few weeks. Here are some musings about the Matthews injury, its impact, what to expect moving forward, and more…

The injury update.

Matthews sustained a fracture in his left wrist — his shooting hand, from the impact of crashing to the floor with the wrist lodged against his hip. While a blow to the talented senior, it could’ve been worse. The wrist has been immobilized in a softer cast and Matthews figures to remain in that cast for the next couple of weeks. He’ll then resume lighter basketball activities. According to program sources, cautious optimism is for him to return by the beginning of conference play (against George Mason on 12/30) or perhaps if recovery is accelerated, a game or so before. Given the injury is to the shooting hand, his progress and the fluidity with which he uses that hand will be closely monitored once he resumes activity.

This isn’t 2015-16.

Unlike 2015-16 when Matthews was injured for the season, this is different program. At that time, Hurley’s team was chugging up the rebuild mountain but not flush with depth. The injury forced three-point shooting specialist Four McGlynn into an increased role that wasn’t ideal for him to assume, and then sophomores Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett had to carry the offense.

Not to understate the significance of missing Matthews this time around, but this team still has five good to great guards, three of them battle-tested seniors: Terrell, Garrett, and Stanford Robinson. Jeff Dowtin and fearless freshman Fatts Russell offer play-making and change of pace skills to further fortify the squad. This depth is the reason Hurley was able to redshirt junior Christion Thompson. And it’s the reason the Rams can weather Matthews absence for a few weeks, despite a very tough schedule.

What to look for? We’ll see which way the coaching staff elects to deploy the remaining guards… while who finishes is more important than who starts, there are two schools of thought on which guard could be tabbed to be in the jump circle:

1) Hurley may go with Robinson. He’s long at 6-4, athletic, a plus-defender, and will help on the glass. That length helps the Rams’ unit show more hands in gaps and deter initial dribble penetration. He’s also a solid offensive player. The potential downside is that starting Robinson means he’s removed from his ignite-the-team impact role of 6th man where he’s comfortable and provides a jolt.

2) Hurley could go with Garrett. Garrett is seasoned, looks much healthier this year and has played well early-on. There’s nice lift on his jumper, he’s shooting efficiently and is a capable ball-handler. Defensively, he doesn’t offer the length of a Robinson but can extend and pester at the point of attack. One potential downside – with this team of untested forwards – is his ability to help on the defensive glass which is not at the level of Robinson’s.

Responsibly aggressive.

It’s a phrase-favorite of mine… and applies to the “nth” degree here. With Matthews sidelined, its up to others to elevate production but in a responsible way. Terrell is the primary candidate and (though stats mean little at this point) leads the team in scoring at 15ppg. A three-way scorer, Terrell needs 12-14 shots minimally per game and cannot afford to be passive. Robinson is the other player I have my eye on. He’s 8-11 for the floor this year. Looks good at first glance, but he was 7-9 versus UNC Asheville and just 1-2 against Nevada. He encountered foul-trouble in that one, but it will be imperative for him to take advantage of quality shot opportunities and avoid forcing the issue.

How about the bigs?

Andre Berry has been sound offensively; Cyril Langevine is adjusting to a major vault in minutes, role, and expectations; and JUCO transfer Ryan Preston is learning the system but has shown excellent promise on the glass, hauling in 4.5 boards per game — in just nine minutes of action. Ultimately, this team’s ceiling will be determined by the continued development of this trio who are all being asked to do more than they ever have in their careers to date. I expect that by conference play they’ll settle into roles and improve on both sides of the ball. The challenge is Rhode Island is playing a March schedule in November. It needs to be all hands on deck — including the guards — to firm up the glass-work, limit opponents second chance opportunities, and support these bigs as they adjust.

Rhode Island will take on Holy Cross Sunday, November 19th at 1:00 pm ET. Watch the live stream here