Rhode Island point guard Jeff Dowtin wrapped up a successful junior season, bridging his young team in a transition year from both a personnel and coaching standpoint. Averaging 15.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game on 47.5 percent shooting from the floor, Dowtin commanded the attention of opponents, while making the players around him better.
I caught up with Rhode Island’s high IQ point guard to discuss Virginia’s NCAA Tournament title run in a rapid-fire Q&A…
Chris DiSano: What are your thoughts on the national championship game and Virginia’s run in general?
Jeff Dowtin: A lot of people were surprised by Virginia’s run but that’s just how the game of basketball works. After losing in the first round last year, that was a major shock for everybody — UVa being the first one-seed to lose to a 16-seed. So from there you kind of have a chip on your shoulder and understand that many will count you out based on last year’s performance. So, their mindset was to stay together as a group, fight through adversity… and that allowed them to survive, advance and win the championship this year.
2018: 1-seed Virginia loses to 16-seed UMBC in 1st Round
2019: National Champions
A lot can change in a year. pic.twitter.com/TAZVEmXAEo
— ESPN (@espn) April 9, 2019
CD: Let’s expand the view for a minute. As you watched other games, were there any in particular that stood out to you?
JD: Yeah, there were multiple games that stood out. The Michigan State/Duke game was one of my favorite games… just going down to the wire. Players making plays and, of course, the championship game — going into overtime… and Virginia just finding a way to come back and finish. There were a lot of good games.
CD: Sticking with Virginia… you are a highly talented guard in your own right. As you watch the UVa guards, what are your impressions of what makes that group so tough?
JD: Their ability to play off one another and to move without the ball. The best guards are the ones who don’t need the ball in their hands 24/7. They find their ways, find their gaps to be able to make plays here and there. So watching those guys play off one another and just their ability to find the open man. They’re out there just having fun… and the game of basketball is so much easier when you’re out there having fun.
CD: Virginia and Texas Tech featured elite defenses. What did you see from each of the units that made them greater than the sum of their parts?
JD: First and foremost, Virginia has De’Andre Hunter who plays the wing/forward spot and then 6-9 Mamadi Diakite… They can both check guards on the perimeter and also check bigs in the post. When they are put in ball screen situations they can play on those guys and that makes the game easier. As a team, they also do such a great job packing the paint and communicating, making you shoot threes over the top rather than get into the lane and finish. And that goes a long way.
Texas Tech is impressive because they pressure the ball a lot and then have an amazing shot-blocker in Tariq Owens. So they throw a lot of ball pressure at you, and they get you to speed your game up. Then you’re forced towards the help and the elite shot-blocker. They do a great job speeding teams up.
CD: Kyle Guy stepped to the line in the most pressurized situation on Saturday and calmly sank game-winning free throws. What was going through your head as you watched him convert?
JD: That those free throws were made in August and September. He’s in the gym all the time. All the summer workouts, all the off-season work, all the practice. When he steps to the line it’s easier and that muscle-memory takes over.
CD: You’ve had a month or so since you walked off the floor in Brooklyn. Reflecting on this year, what are your thoughts about it and moving forward?
JD: This year was kind of up-and-down with a new coaching staff, four new freshmen, many of us changing roles, and trying to figure out how things would work. Trying to keep the family atmosphere… so many new changes and it really was a challenge to acclimate to everything. So we’re looking forward now that we’re all a year more experienced.
CD: That leads into my next question… As you watched this national championship game or other NCAA Tourney games, what were some key takeaways that you’ll try to impart upon your guys as a senior leader this coming year?
JD: One of the main things is seeing the confidence that championship teams carry. Now our freshmen have a year under the belt; there should be no butterflies and jitters moving forward. The older guys have been here before. We’ve played at a high level and are ready.
CD: What are your particular off-season goals individually?
JD: Mostly, continuing to put muscle on my frame. I’m up to 181 pounds now. And getting my shot consistent, being able to shoot anywhere on the court, and score at all three levels.
CD: I know you’re taking it a day at a time, but how special would it be to make it three of four years in the Big Dance come next season?
JD: It would be very special to go 3 of 4 times. I think about my freshmen and sophomore years in being a part of leading those seniors out with a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. So that’s a goal… to get back to where we were two years ago.