On February 23, 2018 the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball program was on the positive side of 81-56 blowout victory over the Dayton Flyers at home at the Ryan Center.
Rhody fans will remember that game. Not because Jeff Dowtin dropped a 20-piece or E.C. Matthews added 18 points. But the Rams won their program-best 15th Atlantic 10 Conference game and secured the first A-10 Regular Season title in program history.
What a difference a year can make.
Here we are 364 days later. Trouble has hit the village of Kingston. Rhode Island has lost four straight and six of their last seven. Woof.
Blame is being tossed around and fingers are being pointed. The Rams are underperforming and it’s frustrating.
Tuesday night’s game vs. VCU was tough to watch. It was yet another poor performance on the road where Rhody finished just 2-11 from deep and gave up 70 plus points for the eighth time this season.
It seems like the same old song and dance at this point for Rhode Island; poor three-point shooting, lack of effort and a loss of defensive identity.
This is the lone problem about success: when you start to struggle everything gets looked at underneath a microscope. Frustrations are warranted and understandable right about now but let’s not jump to conclusions, Rhode Island still has key pieces to work with moving forward.
Despite the underperformance we are seeing from Rhode Island, the Rams have one of the most dominant big men in the country patrolling the paint. Spoiler alert: he’s a junior.
Cyril Langevine has been a monster for Rhode Island. If there is a team MVP award, he’s getting it. Langevine has 14 double-doubles and is trying to become the first Ram since Kenny Green in 1989-90 to average a double-double for the season.
Dive deeper than the rebounds and points and the story remains positive. Langevine has been healthy this season. He’s made 25 starts in 25 games while playing 32 minutes per game after having not played more than 19 minutes per game each of the last two seasons with just eight total starts. If he stays consistent, Langevine will be a first-team all conference selection.
Cyril Langevine with another double-double, 12 points and 13 rebounds
Tyrese Martin adds 16 points and 6 rebounds
Jeff Dowtin and Fatts Russell both with 12 points
— Anchor Sports Network (@AnchorSportsNet) February 23, 2019
In all but two games this season, Jeff Dowtin has scored in double figures. That stat warrants attention, but even more impressive; Dowtin’s adjustment from a pass-first to score-first guard has looked pretty clean. Dowtin is taking just over 12 shots per game. That’s over four more shots per game than last season. He’s doing this while connecting from the floor more than he ever has in his career. Dowtin’s shooting percentage is up to 46 percent this season.
Take the performances from these two juniors and add the emergence of Tyrese Martin and you’re looking at both three returning starters for next season and three guys that can really make some noise for URI in this year’s A-10 tournament.
Further analysis of the team reveals Fatts Russell and Jermaine Harris still developing into their roles. Fatts is playing nearly double the minutes he did last year and went from scoring option eight to scoring option two.
Harris has to slow the pace of the game down. He overcomplicates the game and lacks discipline often leading to foul trouble. Once he can slow down, get his feet underneath him and work the block he’s going to make great strides.
Again, frustrations are okay. If anything they show the level to which this program has risen. After less than a full year of not meeting expectations, we’re already questioning decisions and the future.
Take this as a sign that this too shall pass. After all, look at the difference a year can make. Answer this question as optimistically as possible: where do you see Rhode Island this time next year? For me, the answer is that I see them in a pretty good spot.