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A Thanksgiving Feast of Rams News and Views

Fatts Russell – Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard


With six contests in the rear view mirror, Rhode Island sits at 4-2 overall, a win over Alabama to its credit, and no resume-damaging losses.

The two blemishes, a road loss at now No. 5 Maryland and a neutral floor defeat on Sunday at the hands of fringe top-25 program LSU don’t invite much criticism. Next up, a home tilt with the 3-1 Manhattan Jaspers at 4pm (televised on Yurview).

Here are a few story lines – both in Kingston and around the league – to keep in mind as Thanksgiving approaches:

Strong start. Across the Atlantic 10 footprint, Monday night box scores proved out – yet again – the Atlantic 10’s blistering beginning to non-conference play.

Dayton smoked previously unbeaten Georgia, La Salle beat Murray State, and George Mason and VCU won.

The win of the evening, however, belonged to Richmond which beat Big 10 foe Wisconsin 62-52 in the Legends Classic despite an uncharacteristic 1-5 night from the field from star guard Jacob Gilyard. Wagner transfer Blake Francis continues to impress and poured in 19 fueling the Spiders in the victory. Chris Mooney’s team is now off to a 5-0 start.

As for the league overall, it’s nabbed seven top 85 wins (acc’d to Kenpom) already and is off to a 55-26 start. That’s the type of performance that has been elusive in recent years when the young league took its lumps. Now seasoned A-10 teams are dishing out some hay-makers that they hope will buoy everyone come March.

rhody insider uri athletics newsletterWhat’s on tap? A six-pack of non conference games remain for Rhode Island, beginning with the Jaspers tomorrow and followed by games @West Virginia, vs. Providence, vs. Western Kentucky, @Middle Tennessee, and vs. Brown. Here’s where this group currently stands on kenpom.com:

  • Manhattan – 249
  • West Virginia – 45
  • Providence – 35
  • Western Kentucky – 87 [Forward Antwan Walker eligible]
  • Middle Tennessee – 225
  • Brown – 197

Hold serve against Manhattan and Brown and then win at least 2 of 4 against the remaining opponents and they’ll assure themselves of an 8-4 non conference record through a challenging slate.

Win 3 of 4 and they’d complete a terrific non-conference showing, particularly given the depth issues.

Either of those scenarios (or better), combined with the Atlantic 10’s showing thus far and the conference tests that await, will position the Rams well for postseason as far as strength of schedule.

Bench play. Rhode Island has done yeoman’s work to this point in navigating its schedule without the services of Jeremy Sheppard (ineligible in 2019-20) and Antwan Walker (eligible come December 21st versus Western Kentucky).

Not surprisingly, four starters are averaging over 30 minutes per game with Fatts Russell leading the way at 36.2 per night. Jacob Toppin (6.3ppg, 4.3rpg) is progressing nicely in his freshman season in just under 17 mins per game — and has contributed meaningful minutes off the bench.

The Rams need more from the rest of the bench brigade against Manhattan, West Virginia, and Providence over the next 10 days. Against LSU, bench players not named Toppin combined for 2-8 shooting and uneven contribution in 32 minutes.

Dana Tate continues searching for his offense and has been unable to find his rhythm in the early going. Tate has all the makings of a glue guy. If he can generate some opportunistic buckets off his defense and offensive rebounding, it will infuse comfort and confidence in the rest of his game, and shots that he takes within the flow may begin falling.

Mekhi Long and Gregory Hammond are just frosh and enduring the usual adjustment phase but hopefully Hammond, in particular, continues his progression because spelling Russell and Dowtin with productive minutes come conference play will be vital.

Jacob Toppin – Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard

Player of the Week. Fatts Russell (19.5ppg, 5.2apg, 3.3rpg, 3.5spg) was named A-10 Player of the Week but, make no mistake, he’s been Rhode Island Player of the Month. The junior guard has elevated his play across the board and his shooting percentages are up 10% (2PT FGs), 12% (3PT FGs) and 13% (FTs) year over year.

Well beyond the numbers, Russell is playing with a focused, disruptive force on both sides of the ball — and has carried the Rams for long stretches, specifically in the last three games against Nicholls State, North Texas and LSU. His confidence is brimming and he’s able right now to get anywhere he wants on the floor.

Equally as impressive as his offense is, is his defensive handiwork. He ranks 5th in the nation in steals through the first month, flashing a responsible aggression that is giving opponents fits. His critical steal with the Rams down seven to Nicholls, his smart, yet impactful play for 16 first half minutes with two fouls against LSU; he’s found ways to positively affect play on the defensive end — and bring that energy to his teammates when needed. It’s wayyyy to early to talk about Player of the Year (despite over-excited tweets from folks here and there)… but one thing is for sure… through the first 20% of the season, there aren’t five players in the A-10 playing better than Russell.

Signees. Two student-athletes to be – Elijah Wood and Ishmael Leggett – signed their letters of intent, as announced on GoRhody.com yesterday. We did deep dives with both of them after they verballed to David Cox, Kevin Sutton, and the Rams. Learn more about these young fellas:


Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 television 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