Lessons URI Rams Will Need to Have Learned as They Face Brown

Jeff Dowtin (Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard)

Four games into the young season, Rhode Island sits at 2-2 — courtesy of a cruise control win over Bryant, a competitive road loss to a College of Charleston team currently atop the CAA, a nail-biting win over Harvard, and a flat home loss to Stony Brook last Saturday. David Cox’s Rams now prepare to face in-state foe Brown, winners of five straight games including an 84-60 win over Bryant last time out.

Let’s unpack some spotlighted lessons hopefully learned and areas of focus from the Stony Brook game and then look ahead to this Wednesday night matchup on Yurview.

Shot selection.

As we discussed on the B101.5 postgame show on Saturday – and it’s worth reiterating – shot selection is becoming an issue for Rhode Island. It’s too early to label it a defined wart, but not too early to discuss it.

In the past three contests Rhode Island is 9 for 62 from three-point land. That’s 14%. In fairness, not every attempt has been a poor one… but several have been rushed and off the dribble. Not a recipe for makes.

And it’s not just the misses in their own right. Borrowing and applying an economics term, it’s opportunity cost. In other words, what those misses potentially cost the Rams in terms of quality looks, they could have played out in additional ball and player movement, sharing, patience, and exploitation of defensive breakdowns over the life of the shot-clock.

Many of the attempts I saw the Rams pull the trigger on last Saturday would’ve been available any time in the shot clock; with no need to hoist them early. And, even if a 10-toes-to-the-line look is available for a player it doesn’t mean he should take it if he’s not a shooter.

Christion Thompson (Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard)

Couple this with the other consequences of a poor first shot:

  • Decreased ability to offensive rebound (where approx. 52% of second shots are successful)
  • Increased probability of a long rebound/runout by the opponent
  • Lack of proper floor balance among the team to retreat properly in transition defense

… and so forth, and you have a harbinger of tough times ahead.

As Rhode Island moves forward, it will be incumbent upon the returnees to promote spacing, unselfishness, ball movement and quality shot selection for this team.

There may not be a sure-handed option like Andre Berry to throw the ball into on the interior — and that does place more pressure on this largely new cadre of guards. But how well they adjust, trust each other as a unit, share it, and pick their spots moving forward is worth watching. If they use 15-20 seconds and end up with a less than optimal shot, so be it. The staff can live with that.

Perimeter defense.

When Hassan Martin patrolled the paint for this team, it was a luxury because of his ability to erase mistakes out high. Cyril Langevine – a preseason All A10 Defensive Player – is talented in his own right, but being asked to elevate his game in every facet on both ends of the floor while logging many minutes. And for all that Langevine is, Hassan Martin is arguably the best shot blocker (obligatory Kenny Green mention here) in program history.

With this new reality, Rhode Island guards must play positionally sound defense, get in the gaps, and communicate. Too many instances of gambling/reaching took place Saturday allowing downhill, piercing dribble penetration and placing Langevine and other interior defenders in compromised spots where they were both ill equipped to contest shots and more foul prone. Langevine (13.5ppg, 9.8rpg) has collected three straight double-doubles and it’s vital for him and the Rams that he stays on the floor.

Jermaine Harris (Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard)

So what’s Brown all about?

Mike Martin’s team has bounced-back strong after losing a couple of early contests and enters the Ryan Center brimming with confidence. To what should we attribute the winning streak? I caught up with Martin via text on Monday, who had this to say:

“We’re sharing the ball really well these past five games — leading to better shot quality and more efficient offense. Our defense also continues to improve. We have a lot of versatile defenders that allow us to switch some actions and, if we’re at our best, we’re forcing teams into tough one-on-one plays.”

For Rhode Island, tacking onto the defensive discussion above, it will be critical to mark Brown in transition. This Bears team appears early to run a bit more (as reflected, for you stat heads, on KenPom.com where they rank 26th nationally in pace), but they also mix in some read/react set plays and actions. Sophomore and 6-4 guard Desmond Cambridge (15.9ppg, 3.6rpg) is as talented as any guard the Rams have seen to date.

Offensively, David Cox and staff have no doubt made the Rams aware that Brown is one of the better teams at defending the three-point shot thus far, ranking first in the Ivy League. That’s because of the length of this Brown team and the switching Martin mentions above.

Guys like Cambridge, Obi Okolie, Tamenang Choh, Joshua Howard and David Mitchell are proving proficient and defending ball screen actions and forcing opponents into tough twos. This is where a player like Jeff Dowtin, with his high basketball IQ and facilitator mentality looms incredibly large for Rhode Island. Dowtin is adept at decision-making in ball screen situations where split-second reads become paramount.

The Rams need to get the young kids involved, elevate bench production, and generate momentum on offense. This becomes a fascinating game within the game to watch, and ties back nicely to shot selection – and ultimately likelihood of success – for the Rams on Wednesday.

Watch URI vs Brown Wednesday November 28th at 7:00pm on YurView, channels 4 and 1004 for Cox customers in Rhode Island.

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