Rhody Summer Notes: Deep Diving into a Brutal Non-Conference Schedule

URI Rams Head Coach David Cox
URI Rams Head Coach David Cox, Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard

There’s a saying that resurfaces around this time every year, “Summer deserves a speeding ticket.” Somehow, we’re less than 70 days away – 67 to be exact – from URI tipping off its 2019-20 season with an exhibition against in-state foe Rhode Island College on October 26th. As the curtain draws on our Narragansett beach days, let’s cover off on a few Rams notes of interest.

Positioning. There are schedules and then there are schedules. Rhode Island’s non-conference schedule signals its intention to be nationally relevant and tested for March. Road challenges at Maryland (preseason No. 7 by NBC, consensus top 10), West Virginia, and Middle Tennessee… Home tilts against Alabama, Providence and Western Kentucky… and neutral games against LSU (preseason No. 19 by NBC) and perhaps Utah State (preseason No. 14 by NBC) in the Jamaica Classic form the bulk of what is about as welcoming an opening run as a Tough Mudder in February. Yet within it exists tremendous opportunity.

“I’m extremely excited about the challenges and opportunities that lie before us with this non-conference schedule,” says David Cox. “We have an older, more mature, and talented roster. It’s gonna be paramount that we come together very early in the season, particularly our defensive prowess. We need to be at a championship level defensively, early. I’m excited about getting out there and playing a lot of these teams, Power 5 and non-Power 5. Just as exciting as the games at Maryland and West Virginia, or home against Alabama are games like Western Kentucky coming to the Ryan Center, which at the least is a quadrant two game against an NCAA-caliber team, a very good team.”

Scheduling is both inexact science and art. It’s also cutthroat. [Catch me at a Rams game and I’ll share with you some horror stories shared with me by coaches who used to write with College Chalktalk]. It’s difficult for non-Power 5s to corral games against Power 5s, but Cox believes Rhode Island’s ascension as a program since 2013 coupled with new NCAA requirements have helped.

“I think it’s more reasonable to get it done now (with our brand),” says Cox. “Also, the NCAA requirements have changed so you’re not just looking at ranking and kenpom. Quadrant one and Quadrant two allows teams to take chances, and when you take them and come up on the losing end they don’t hurt you as much. So you have Power 5 schools now that are more willing to take those chances, even with us, now as opposed to five years ago.”

These non-conference match-ups offer ample fodder for resume building wins. When coupled with an improving Atlantic 10 top-to-bottom and home-and-home match-ups with league heavyweights Dayton, Davidson, and VCU, it’s a schedule that should withstand the toughest selection committee scrutiny.

Dana Tate, Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard
Dana Tate, Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard

Jump year for Tate? According to program sources, quite possibly. The 6-foot-7, 210 pound Boston native averaged 4 points and 2.9 rebounds in his freshman campaign and made it a priority to work on his body during the inappropriately named “off-season.” He’s become leaner and more fluid without sacrificing strength, which should allow him to operate more effectively inside and out. Offensively, that could translate into a more comfortable perimeter game. Defensively, perhaps he becomes a guy who can more effectively guard multiple positions and stay foul free.

Hearing… I’m hearing Ryan McCloskey is likely to be promoted to the Director of Operations position, replacing the void left by T.J. Buchanan’s elevation to Assistant Coach. McCloskey spent five seasons with the Florida Gators staff before traveling north to the Ocean State last year, where he served as Video Coordinator. Also hearing the remaining assistant coach position should be filled within the next 10 days.

Jeff Dowtin, Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard
Jeff Dowtin, Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard

He never left. Jeff Dowtin had an all-conference worthy season last year as a junior (15.3ppg, 3.7apg, 3.4rpg). He actually improved his shooting percentage to 47% from the field on a team where several nights (particularly early in the year) he was the only offensive threat and thus attracted a ton of defensive attention. After summer sessions, teams usually disperse for a short time and players head back to their hometowns. Dowtin never left. He worked an event operations job on campus – not surprisingly at the Ryan Center – setting up and breaking down stages and the like. And when he wasn’t working that job, he was in the gym. All summer. The type of work ethic Dowtin possesses is rare among athletes. Don’t be surprised to see an expanded game and greater impact from the senior this year.