It’s hard to believe but just eight regular season conference games remain for Rhode Island (12-10, 5-5) as the Rams ready to face Dayton (15-8, 7-3) on Saturday at the Ryan Center.
It’s a pivotal game for both teams as URI – with losses in three of its last four – endeavors to keep its slim hopes of a top four Atlantic 10 finish alive, while UD looks to bounce back from a 73-60 defeat at the hands of previously reeling Saint Louis squad and maintain its top four status.
I did something no human who can pass the McNaughton test should do. I crowd-sourced questions from fans on Twitter as kindling for themes to explore here as the Rams look to gain ground and momentum down the stretch.
Problem is, when this went to press (i.e. this guy started writing) most of the questions centered upon next year’s prospects, program improvements, and more. We still have a bunch of games to play. So I’ll cover off on a few musings and address a few of the questions I could take…
The Davidson loss. In two words – not surprising. Rhode Island will see the Wildcats again in two weeks at home, but Wednesday night was clinical Davidson. Yes, there were a few questionable calls; but the reality is the Wildcats are a better, balanced team with a more complete and cohesive understanding of their strengths and faults.
Rhode Island’s scoring deficiencies place a tremendous amount of pressure on its defense to operate at max for 40 minutes against upper-echelon opponents. In the first half, despite URI’s inept offense that saw them start 0-10 from the floor, the Rams defense kept them within striking distance by neutralizing Kellan Grady and creating some live ball turnovers that pushed them out in transition for desperately needed “easy buckets.” Great offensive glass work helped too.
In the second half, the magic dust wore off some for URIs defense — and that’s no denigrating remark considering they faced an offense of Davidson’s caliber.
The Cats had worked inside early through the versatile and underrated KiShawn Pritchett and freshman Luka Brajkovic. This set the stage to soften up the defense for perimeter looks to be judiciously mined by Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Luke Frampton and others as the game wore on.
URI’s offense was forced to respond and could not. Credit Davidson for being in the gaps, limiting dribble penetration, and baiting the off-target Rams into taking perimeter shots. Bob McKillop is no slouch. He and his team smartly played the percentages and won on Wednesday.
How important is Tyrese Martin to URI’s success this season?
One of the answerable questions in from @RhodyRampage, a fine FanSided site that covers the Rams.
The 6-foot-6 Martin is averaging 8.6 points and 5.1 rebounds overall in 18-19, but the numbers jump to roughly 13 and 6 in conference play as he continues increasing his confidence and production. I’m on the record as saying he’s a future Atlantic 10 All-Conference player with continued focus and work ethic. But, even as a freshman, he’s vitally important to the Rams.
In particular, Martin – along with Dowtin – are the two “significant-minutes” players for Rams who can score from the perimeter. That places a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of the freshman. When Martin has an “on” night with his shot, that extra boost of proficiency makes the Rams more difficult to guard in its promotion of spacing. When either Martin or Dowtin has an 0-fer night (as they will in the normal ups and downs of competition), the supporting cast simply isn’t supporting the Rams enough outside to keep defenses honest right now — and the half court offense sputters.
Beyond that reality, Martin is a plus-rebounder outside of his own area, excels in transition, and has all the tools to become a lock-down defender. Over the next eight games, the more consistency Martin can find on both ends, the better it foreshadows success for his team.
Thoughts on Harris and Silverio.
The Rhode Talk Podcast (@RhodeTalk) asks about Omar Silverio and whether it’s possible to see an increased role down the stretch.
Omar is working hard on both ends and though only averaging 7.2 minutes per night, I think it’s plausible that the average will climb 3 or 4 minutes by year’s end because of that shooting ability (.400 3PT; 8-20) and his minutes could spike in certain games. He still needs the game to slow down for him on both ends, but has shown maturation.
Defensively, he must continue to work on taking proper angles while his agility, foot-speed, and reaction time improve. You can mask that developing component of your game some by knowing the scout and taking efficient angles.
Offensively, he must resist the temptation to get sped up. As he grows, identifying the ideal self-pace where he’s most comfortable and effective is the goal.
As for Harris, big fellas usually take longer to “click” as Kyle (@uuey12) on Twitter asked about.
What can be realistically expected and demanded of Harris now is that he compete on every possession. He possesses the length, athleticism, and fluidity to make things happen when matched to a high motor. He’s been foul prone, but simply needs to grind and play wisely through it (provided he can stay on the floor).
As he improves his core strength, he’ll be able to hold position defensively and maintain his line (i.e. not get bumped off his intended path) offensively. Once that core improves, expect a significant leap.
Currently, the barometer for me is continued growth and focus, not the numbers per se. The occasional poor shot attempt is something you live with from a freshman. Is he hitting the floor, battling for position on the boards, deflecting passes with active hands, and impacting winning? Those are the benchmarks for me.
Finally, @Alex_Costa asks how many nights he should book a hotel for the Atlantic 10 Tourney in Brooklyn next month?
Total crap shoot. Of course, all depends on matchups, but outside of Davidson there’s not one team in the league that I’d be surprised to see lose its first game.
URI is among the glut of teams that could win a couple and make things interesting or make a quick exit stage left. My top recommendation for when you’re down there is this: go to Dinosaur Barbecue.