Home All Ball

Rams Look to Reset as Atlantic 10 Play Begins

Fatts Russell as URI vs Brown – Photo Courtesy URI Athletics


It happens to many teams. An annual event — the fall flat on your face game. Playing Mad Libs, it’s the game where you [underestimate | look lethargic and don’t respect | overlook] your opponent about 20 game-minutes too long. By then, you’re in a dogfight against a foe burgeoning with confidence. And then – 20 minutes later – there’s an “L” next to your name in the box score.

Fortunately for Rhode Island, the Rams got theirs out of the way just 48 hours after we saw too much of Ryan Seacrest. Unfortunately, it happened against Brown in the final non-conference game.

The sequence of the schedule often offers ominous foreshadowing. It did here.

Brown was not about to be intimidated. They’d just played Duke at Cameron Indoor and hung around for half against the Blue Devils. Conversely the Rams had blown out Middle Tennessee on the road in a non-competitive game. Mike Martin is an excellent coach. The Bears have talent. They were on their cozy home floor, well prepared, and they surgically disassembled the Rams defense. A defense that lost its connectivity and presented like five guys in 1-on-1 match-ups, rather than a unit. Brown earned the win.

The result — an 8-4 non-conference season rather than a 9-3 effort, with losses @Maryland, LSU (neutral), @ West Virginia, and @Brown. The curtain now closes, the scene set changes and the next act, Atlantic 10 conference play, begins.

Resume´? After a stumble like last night’s against Brown, the interrogation lamp shines on the program resume´. Bad losses, good wins, NET rankings, KenPom. We love the updated modeling. The forecasts. The where-does-my-team-stand-in-this-minute projection. But that’s all it is. A projection that applies to this moment; not a moment 60 days from now. As I tweeted post-game, resumes aren’t submitted in early January. The Rams body of work will be examined in March.

If we’re looking for data points to rely upon, the Atlantic 10 was 80-20 in non-conference play entering Thursday’s games. It has 17 wins over tournament teams of a year ago. These are worth banking because a large window of conference-wide data is essentially finalized. The league has acquitted itself well relative to leagues across the country. This matters more than an individual program blip come March.

So, as the Rams progress, if they outlast the majority of their Atlantic 10 competition and show they can win games both in and away from the Ryan Center, they’ll be positioned for postseason play — regardless of what happened last night.

Shot clock defense. Rhode Island is not the deepest team, particularly with the recent roster attrition. But outside of Dayton, the Rams lineup from one through eight is as talented or more than any Atlantic 10 opponent.

Jeff Dowtin – Photo Credit Alan Hubbard

The Rams offer personnel balance too. Efficient angle taking guards like Jeff Dowtin, the hawkish and disruptive Fatts Russell, a long Tyrese Martin, three built big men led by high-motor standout Cyril Langevine, and two young and talented wings.

Draw a line 23-24 feet from the basketball parallel with the backboard and that’s the equivalent to URIs line of scrimmage. When they own that line and disrupt, they’re at their best. They generate live ball turnovers or force offenses out of rhythm at the point of attack.

But how much growth URI shows in defending through the possession when they don’t overwhelm out front will determine whether they challenge for conference supremacy. David Cox said in the preseason that the team must get back to playing championship caliber defense — in other words raising the consistency of its defensive floor. It can’t be feast or famine.

Brown exposed Rhode Island’s defense once a breakdown occurred at the initial point of engagement, touching paint too easily and finding open shooters on kick-outs. Western Kentucky also had some success. And Saturday’s opponent Richmond moves defenses as well as any.

For the Rams it means each individual maintaining a focused commitment to defending on and off ball and understanding how his actions impact the unit. Excluding last night, it’s often not lethargy; guys believe they’re “efforting,” particularly younger players. It’s helping them gain a wider appreciation of what it that really means. Beyond that, communication through the entire possession and crisper rotations are in demand. Championship caliber defenses look webbed and connected. That’s the goal.

Antwan Walker – Photo Credit Alan Hubbard

Antwan’s arrival: Through three games, the red-shirt sophomore is averaging 9.3 points and 3.7 rebounds as he re-adjusts to live game speed and learns teammates tendencies. He’s shown the ability to crash the glass, stretch the floor (2 for 3 from deep), and generally plays within himself. His floor-patience for a player only 49 minutes back into resuming his career is noteworthy.

Defensively, he can guard multiple positions and allows Cox to experiment and test bigger lineups, mix in some zone, etc. as he sees fit. His presence also allows both Langevine and Jermaine Harris to play looser and – I’ll submit – more efficiently over the long haul.

Expect to see his minutes and impact increase as conference play unfolds.


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