Insider Breakdown: Rams Keep Rolling, RPI Ascends to 11th in the Nation

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Jared Terrell
URI Guard Jared Terrell. Photo credit Alan Hubbard

Rhode Island dismissed UMass 73-51 on Wednesday evening to improve to 14-3, 6-0 on the season. The win showcased many familiar, foundational team traits, including depth and defense, that are proving too much for conference foes to overcome. This one was essentially academic by the 11:40 mark of the first half, when back-to-back three pointers vaulted the Rams to a 20-6 lead that their defense (which forced 14 first half turnovers) would not relinquish. Let’s dig deeper and examine where Dan Hurley’s team stands with six Atlantic 10 league games in the rear view mirror.

11 and 43. Two numbers to keep in mind, the first is Rhode Island’s RPI ranking as of this morning, a shade outside the top 10 in the nation. The Rams currently rank ahead of programs like Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Arizona and are firmly positioned for the postseason. Their overall strength of schedule is at 21 and their non-conference – which includes wins over Seton Hall (12 RPI) and Providence (40 RPI) and losses only to teams in the RPI top 30 – is now fourth in the nation. The second number above represents the calendar duration between today and the last time this Rams team lost, December 6th at Alabama (26 RPI) which beat now 17-2 Auburn last night. That’s a month and a half.

Perspective. Last season’s Dayton Flyers team went 15-3 in the Atlantic 10 regular season, led by veteran standouts Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard, among others. That squad surgically made its way through the conference schedule with an average scoring margin of 9.4 points. Eliminating their losses, the average winning margin for the Flyers jumps to 12.8 per game. Through the first six A-10 games for Rhode Island, all wins, Hurley’s Rams check-in at 15.8 per game.

Photo credit Alan Hubbard

Enjoy the guards. There’s a fair amount of chatter from talking heads that Rhode Island has the deepest back court in the country, right there with the likes of Villanova. When you’re steeped in the weeds as a fan or follower during the season, it’s challenging to step outside of the game-to-game focus and appreciate. Don’t make that mistake with Rhode Island. Several variables and unexpected consequences have brought this crew together, from potential Oklahoma State bound Jared Terrell finding his way to Kingston, E.C. Matthews earning a fifth year, and Stanford Robinson transferring in from Indiana. Along with Jeff Dowtin, Jarvis Garrett and Fatts Russell, the convergence of this six-pack of talented guards shouldn’t be taken for granted.

High floor. Against UMass, Matthews, Dowtin, Russell and Garrett had off games, combining for 12 points and 5 turnovers on just 5-24 shooting from the field. The Rams still won easily by 21 points, courtesy of Terrell and Robinson combining for 41 points and 17 boards on 14-23 shooting, including 5-8 from three-point range. The ability of Rhode Island to dispatch an opponent when two-thirds of its guard corps experiences an off night is why the team has such a high floor., performance-wise, each game. It’s that depth combined with the constant of their defensive intensity.

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Pipkins, now Darrell Davis. UMass sophomore guard Luwane Pipkins was named the National Player of the Week and riding high entering Wednesday’s contest against the Rams. He scored 44 points last week against a defensive-minded coach/team in the La Salle Explorers… and averaging 25.5 points after the half in his last few contests. Against Rhode Island, Pipkins sputtered to 5-17 shooting and 4 turnovers, for a volume-shooting-aided 13 points. His mate, promising freshman Carl Pierre was just 1-5 from the floor.

Next up for Rhode Island, Dayton senior Darrell Davis who is in line for not only an all-conference team but perhaps most improved player in the league as well. Davis has taken the torch passed by Smith and others and elevated his scoring from 5.5 to 17.3 points per game between his junior and now-senior seasons – improvement that is almost unbelievable.

Davis has expanded his game yet still tilts towards catch-and-shoot first, so being there on the catch with a high hand and chasing him off the three point line will be a point of emphasis for Dan Hurley and staff. The Rams want force Davis to make plays with the ball, not be the beneficiary of off-ball movement and spot-up opportunities.

Overall, Dayton (9-9, 3-3) is young and erratic, but talented. They’ll be hungry to avenge a loss to Saint Joe’s when they take to their home floor to face the conference leading Rams on Saturday. No true road game is an easy game. Another tough test awaits.