The David Cox era unofficially began on October 25th with an 80-65 exhibition win over Pace in stress-free fashion. Now the games all count and the University of Rhode Island Rams will tip off the regular season and officially trumpet in the Cox era against in-state foe Bryant at the Ryan Center.
Though the Bulldogs have been down recently (just 15-48 over the past two seasons) enthusiasm abounds in Smithfield. Jared Grasso, who spent the last eight seasons as an integral part of the Iona coaching staff, takes over from Tim O’Shea who retired after the 2017-18 season.
Here’s what you need to know about this match-up, including key areas of focus:
How will Bryant play?
Optimism is exaggerated in early November. Returning stars, incoming recruits at programs around the country… it’s easy for fans to become caught up looking lovingly, and only inward, at their roster — individual by individual. For Rhode Island fans, Bryant offers the first true test for this new group of Rams to navigate collectively.
Bryant is a work in progress as Grasso inherits a team that finished just 3-28 last season, but stylistically you’re going to see immediate changes as the Bulldogs look to develop and become a competitive team.
Offensively, they’ll be looking to play very similarly to Iona, which means pushing the pace and spreading the floor, hunting opportunities to attack quickly. This raises many areas of detail for Rhode Island, so let’s spotlight two in particular:
A core tenet of Bryant being able to open it up will be the ability of the Bulldogs to terminate Ram possessions offensively by holding their own on the glass.
This will allow Grasso’s team to push pace and run where they most dangerous, just like his Iona teams that amassed a 182-92 record in his eight seasons there.
The more aggressively opportunistic Cyril Langevine, Dana Tate, Christion Thompson and others can be on the offensive glass, creating second chance opportunities, the more advantageous it will be for Rhode Island.
Each second chance opportunity created/converted is another opportunity to run off a miss that’s stolen from Bryant. This, of course, comes with the caveat of picking and choosing spots wisely.
Offensive floor balance here is also key as the Rams want to be dictating the action offensively and attempting shots in the paint and from balanced areas they’ve identified as sweet-spots for their scorers. Easier said than done, but this aids both offensive glass-work and, importantly,…
The most important area of the game in this man’s humble opinion.
Bryant has a solid cadre of guards led by an All-NEC performer in junior 6-1 Adam Grant (15.6ppg, .342 3PT) and 6-0 junior Ikenna Ndugba (13.8ppg, .333 3PT), while also welcoming talented graduate transfer 6-1 Byron Hawkins (7.9ppg, .398 3PT) from Murray State.
All three are excited about implementing Grasso’s uptempo approach and attempted 190, 153, and 88 three-point FG’s, respectively, last season. Grasso’s Iona teams loved threes in transition and it will be imperative upon Jeff Dowtin, Fatts Russell, Thompson, Tyrese Martin, and Omar Silverio to retreat and mark when converting from offense to defense.
David Cox doesn’t want to trade 2’s for 3’s. The desire for URI is to force Bryant into a game of half-court execution against its characteristically stout man-to-man.
Defensively, Bryant will be looking to deploy their group of guards – which also includes returnees like senior point guard Taylor McHugh – in a pressing and attacking manner. According to Grasso, they want to be the aggressor on both ends of the floor. Sound familiar?
With that as the backdrop, the Rams must:
Protect the Orange
In two tune-ups against St. John’s and Pace, the Rams recorded 25 assists to 28 turnovers.
I’m loathe to read too much into that statistic because of the mix-and-match tenor and the tinkering coaches are engaged in during these primers. That said, Rhode Island will need to be attentive to detail in care-taking given Bryant’s intent to pressure them consistently.
Fortunately one of the best protectors of the basketball nationwide resides in Rhody’s backcourt. The 6-3 Dowtin registered 189 assists to just 43 turnovers in 2017-18, tying for second nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. The more the ball stays in his hands throughout, the better; particularly early on as the freshmen begin adjusting to game pace and the rigors of college basketball.
There will be miscues, but the goal is to limit live-ball turnovers that enable Bryant to run.
One intriguing match-up to watch is the 6-8, 225 Langevine versus 6-5, 260ish (he’s lost 25 pounds since 2017-18) Sebastian “Bash” Townes of Bryant. Thrust into a new role of primary inside presence, Langevine has been a force on the interior in the tune-ups, both offensively and defensively. Townes averaged 11 points and four rebounds per contest a year ago and is a high IQ inside-outside guy.
Whether Langevine can impose his will upon Townes is an important subplot to key on, as Rhode Island wants to work paint-to-perimeter if possible, setting the tone for better spacing and looks, while mitigating long rebound, throw-ahead opportunities for Bryant.
URI’s Iron men
A final note on the new big three for Rhode Island: Dowtin, Russell, and Langevine.
They’ve all been key contributors, but Tuesday night marks the first true opportunity for this new trio to establish itself as the foundation for this new group of Rams. They’ll need to complement one another, socialize and lead the freshmen as they adjust and, most importantly, stay on the floor and log heavy minutes.
These young Rams will go as far as this trio takes them — and it all begins Tuesday.
Watch URI vs Bryant Tuesday November 6th at 8:30pm (Tape Delay) on YurView, channels 4 and 1004 for Cox customers in Rhode Island.