UPDATE 3/12/20: The Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Tournament has been canceled due to concerns about the Coronavirus. We will update when more information becomes available.
Rhode Island (21-9, 13-5) capped off its regular season with a road win at UMass over the weekend, securing the third seed in this week’s Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship in Brooklyn, New York. The Rams will play at 8:30pm on Friday, the final game of the day at Barclays Arena, and will face the winner of No. 6 Duquesne and either No. 11 George Washington/No. 14 Fordham. Here’s the bracket.
With a NET ranking of 57, Rhode Island has much work to do. In fact, it’s automatic bid or bust according to most bracketologist pundits. I agree. Before we delve into some A-10 Championship story lines, however, let’s review the Rams selected to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference teams released yesterday —
Fatts leads the way. Junior guard Fatts Russell earned 1st team All A-10 honors along with All-Defensive team honors. It marks the sixth straight year that Rhode Island has seen one of its players occupy a slot on the All-Defensive Team. Overall, Russell was a dynamo this season, scoring 18.8ppg and averaging 4.6 assists to go along with those points in 36 minutes of nightly action. He improved his shooting percentages across the board and was equally disruptive on the defensive end, pestering opposing guards and registering 86 steals. Beyond the numbers, Russell’s will and tenacity on both ends spurred the Rams to victory in several contests. Of course, meaningful games remain.
Russell also secured United States Basketball Writers Association honors as District 1 (which comprises the northeast) voters tabbed him District 1 Player of the Year.
Senior back court mate Jeff Dowtin joined Russell in the end-of-year accolades category, earning a spot on the Atlantic 10 All-Conference Third Team. It’s a nice acknowledgement for a kid who has done nothing but produce, make his teammates better, and represent the university with class all four years. One of the smartest, big shot makers and flaw-free defenders to wear Keaney Blue, Dowtin (13.5ppg, 3.5rpg, 3.2apg) earned his place among the A-10’s best — and was named to the All-Academic Team as well.
Senior interior anchor Cyril Langevine (10.1ppg, 10.3rpg) did not make an All Conference team this season, but did become the first Ram since Kenny Green in 1989-90 to average a double-double over a full year. Langevine fell an eyelash short last season on that front… and this year got it done.
I’m not going to launch a full blown trial making the case for Langevine, other than to say that I’m generally in agreement with the Third Team save for Javonte Perkins inclusion over Langevine. Perkins’ numbers and defensive impact (for a team that finished behind the Rams), don’t rise to Langevine’s level. Langevine’s greatest gripe is not being named to the All-Defensive team given his stellar play on that side of the ball, from isolation defense to rebounding to shot-blocking.
For what it’s worth, the other All-Conference teams are solid in my opinion, with the exception of Kyle Lofton on the first team. Fine player, clutch player, and an all-conference player… sure. But I don’t see a first teamer here this year and I’m not sure who did. Tre Mitchell anyone?
Bridge to success in Brooklyn? It certainly wasn’t Rhode Island’s intention to lose four of its final seven regular season contests. But it’s reset time now. And the way the A-10 Championship bracket materialized provides the Rams as favorable a path as anyone in that locker room could’ve hoped.
Winning at UMass Saturday assured Rhody of the third seed and, as it transpired, that means a match-up with Duquesne if the chalk holds. Keith Dambrot is an excellent coach and the Dukes have pieces, but it’s a team Rhode Island maps well to, man for man, with its personnel. Provided Langevine is at full strength and can stay on the floor (he missed time due to foul trouble in the teams first meeting and the Rams trailed at the half), David Cox and staff with take their chances. The 8:30pm start is also helpful, as the Friday crowd, hopefully present given public health concerns, will be in the arena — offering more energy than the dreaded 12pm and 2:30pm starts.
Win and, again if the chalk holds, it’s likely the Richmond Spiders in a semifinal tilt if they get by No. 7 Davidson/No. 10 La Salle. Richmond handled URI during a January dip in performance, and they are the second seed and own the inside-track as the A-10s second NCAA Tournament bid hopeful. As a competitor, you want nothing more than to go head-to-head. While the league-wide crowd won’t be rooting for a Rams win because it places the conference’s second potential bid in a precarious position, that’s not the Rams problem.
The most helpful thing about facing the Spiders in the semifinals? They’re not the nation’s No. 3 team, Dayton or the league’s hottest, Saint Louis. And for those who question how SLU (winners of 5 straight) can be considered hot relative to Dayton (winners of 20 straight), it’s easy. The Flyers are not hot. Hot is temporary. The Flyers are holistically on a different planet.
Those two would face each other if seeds hold in the other semifinal— and the Billikens are the only team to play UD tough in two contests, losing by a combined 8 points. SLU is – outside of the Flyers – the one team nobody wants to face in this tournament. A potential semifinal collision between the two is sweet opposite-bracket music to the Rams and Spiders.
Depending on the outcome, if the Rams happen to advance to a Sunday final against the Flyers, I’m here with a news bulletin that it will be no picnic (and there will be many more articles between now and then breaking it all down). But pressure will be on the favorite attempting to chase down a perfect A-10 regular and postseason combo, a Championship trophy and a top seed in the field of 68. Ask anyone in Kingston and they’ll gladly sign up for a tournament final appearance – even if it means facing a team capable of cutting down the nets in Atlanta as well as Brooklyn.