Arduous Non-Conference Schedule Begins for the Rams

 

URI’s Tyrese Martin – Photo Courtesy URI Athletics

CATCH LIU @ URI, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5 AT 9PM (TAPE DELAY) ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND.

Rhode Island tips off its 2019-20 season at 7pm tomorrow when it faces a veteran-laden LIU Brooklyn Sharks team at the Ryan Center. It’s an easy game for the casual observer to overlook, particularly with games against the Marylands and Alabamas of the world looming.

Don’t be fooled. The Sharks, coached by former UMass head coach Derek Kellogg, return all five starters from a team that finished 2018-19 strong before losing in the Northeast Conference semis. They’ll present challenges for a Rhode Island team that’s not as deep as anticipated because of an adverse ruling on two transfers that came down on Friday.

Both 6-1 junior Jeremy Sheppard and 6-7 RS sophomore Antwan Walker were denied waivers by the NCAA. Per release, Rhode Island issued these statements on Friday:

“We are disappointed in the decisions from the NCAA,” Rhode Island Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn said. “We feel strong arguments were made on behalf of both Antwan and Jeremy. The results are unfortunate, but we will move forward.”

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Antwan Walker – Photo courtesy URI Athletics

“This is certainly not the news we hoped for, and my heart breaks for Antwan and Jeremy,” Rhode Island head coach David Cox said. “These are young men who have done everything asked of them since they arrived, and both remain significant to our program moving forward.”

Less is known about Sheppard’s case which could relate to his journey (and perhaps transcript/credit transfer issues that can often crop up in junior college transfer situations) given his path from East Carolina > to College of Central Florida > to signing with URI on April 18, 2019.

The situation with Walker, who made his way to Kingston from Georgetown much earlier, feels different. The NCAA rule states that one must complete one academic year in residence (i.e. two semesters). The “spirit” of the rule is to preserve integrity in the transfer process so, for example, schools/players can’t shop around and gain immediate eligibility in situations where they arranged a change of scenery and the student-athlete didn’t sit the full two semesters. The waiver process exists for extraordinary circumstances.

Walker was involved in an on-campus altercation at Georgetown last fall. According to sources, he was singled out and told that he needed to find another situation. Also according to sources, he was escorted to his dorm room to collect his belongings and provided withdrawal paperwork as he packed his belongings and left GU.

Assuming the veracity of these facts, Walker was involved in a situation where he did not voluntarily initiate his own withdrawal from school. He next took a reasonable time to consider options, find a new home, and enrolled at URI for second semester. He sat the entire competitive year, not appearing in a game. It’s a unique set of circumstances.

Here, it appears the NCAA rigidly and textually interpreted the rule — heavily favoring the letter of the law (i.e. 2 full semesters, period) over the specific context and circumstances behind Walker’s split from the school.

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URI vs LIU

Poor in-article transitions aside, the games must now go on. So here are a few areas to spotlight as the newly-branded LIU Sharks pay a visit to the Ocean State:

Veteran Responsibility. Remember the Phil Martelli teams with DeAndre Bembry a few years ago, or perhaps Archie Miller’s 2015 team that beat Providence in the NCAA Tournament? Both were thinner on the depth chart: Miller’s team only ran with about six guys while the Hawks only went about seven deep. Each team played terrific positional defense and communicated exceptionally well. This limited the amount of fouls committed, preserved the thinner rotation, and allowed for easier man-management by the respective coaches.

Rhode Island wants to play a style that’s distinct and more aggressive from these squads of the past — but the message rings true.

Stay smart, stay on the floor.

It will be up to David Cox and his staff to scheme game-to-game and place the Rams in positions to succeed. And it will be up to the older, wiser Rams to play together and take the long view of a 40-minute game, ensuring they’re on the floor when it matters.

Transition Defense. LIU presents an intriguing test out of the gates. Derek Kellogg’s crew is projected to win the NEC this season, the first time since 2012-13, and loves to push pace the way that his UMass teams with Chaz Williams did. They’ll run off misses with senior guards Julian Batts (9ppg, 4rpg, 2.4apg) and Jashaun Agosto (10.7ppg, 4.8apg) looking to press the action and find teammates in transition. Rhode Island will be well served to take quality shots in the flow of their own offense, helping to avoid run-out opportunities.

But LIU will also run opportunistically off of makes — so it will be important for Rhode Island to focus, identify threats early in transition, and not allow the Sharks to generate easy buckets. Despite their talent, the senior guards are susceptible to turning it over, and averaged 5.1 per game between them a year ago. If the Rams talk, stay on assignment, and get in the gaps they can force some frustration miscues.

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URI’s Dana Tate – Photo Courtesy URI Athletics

Length. Past Rhode Island teams after the Delroy James era didn’t often have swing men to mark talented small forwards with the best success rate. David Cox and staff have addressed that. Whether Tyrese Martin, Dana Tate, Mekhi Long, or others, there’s a significant amount of length on the roster. They’ll need that length tomorrow to frustrate All-NEC performer Raiquan Clark, a 6-foot-6 forward. A terrific story, the redshirt senior began his career as a walk-on, playing in just one game his freshman season (which he’s now reclaimed as a redshirt). Since, he’s been nothing short of stellar. He led the NEC in scoring at 18.9ppg on a robust 50.3% shooting from the field. He’s a high motor guy who hit the glass to the tune of 6.8 per game. Checking him in this one is a crowd-sourced assignment for the group of swingmen on URI’s roster.

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Notice all three of these spotlighted areas are defense-focused. That’s where building a contender begins. Speaking of beginnings, LIU is the first opponent of many that will present challenges for the Rams this season. So sit back and enjoy on Yurview as the 2019-20 URI season gets underway.

CATCH LIU @ URI, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5 AT 9PM (TAPE DELAY) ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND.

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