URI Rams Take-Aways from Sunday’s St. John’s Scrimmage

Jeff Dowtin and Cyril Langevine (left to right) (Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard)

Rhode Island prepares to tip off its 2018-19 season with a Thursday evening exhibition against Pace at the Ryan Center. Seeking a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Rams usher in many new faces this season, the most important of which is a familiar one who slides over a chair on the bench. That would be new head coach David Cox, who assumes control of the program.

While Thursday’s tilt against Pace will be the team’s first before fans in the stands, Rhode Island played an inappropriately named “secret scrimmage” against St. John’s on Sunday, emerging with an 85-79 win at Carnesecca Arena in New York.

It would be both rash and unfair to infer too much from this one, but examining some early outputs from the secret scrimmage against some overarching season themes is fuel for discussion. So here it goes.

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Jeff Dowtin (Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard)

Dowtin Aggressiveness. Jeff Dowtin remarked in June about being excited to lead this new group of Rams and that he was using the summer to work on his strength and ability to get his shot off quicker. David Cox has stated it will be incumbent upon Dowtin to amplify his aggressiveness and production, while continuing to be the offensive orchestrator. Against the Johnnies, Dowtin knocked down 5 of 7 threes in route to 22 points on 18 shot attempts. The execution; total makes to attempts (7 for 18 in this case) isn’t as important as the intention to be aggressive. That pilot light will need to remain on at all times as Dowtin guides the younger Rams.

Assist-to-Turnover Ratio. Younger teams are going to turn the ball over more. It’s a fact. David Cox knows this and its one of the reasons why the Rams will look to play faster. It’s all part of an effort to generate more possessions, recognizing that some will end up empty. Sure, one can argue that playing faster could lead to more miscues, but more often than not it’s the opposite. Generating turnovers and/or rebounding and running puts these younger Rams in advantageous situations (think, 4-on-3s, 3-on-2s) where they can play freely and capitalize against defenses in conversion mode. Teams are less prone to misstep in these spots than in trying to find a seam in a rooted Saint Joe’s zone for 27 half-court seconds.

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Coach David Cox (Photo Credit: Alan Hubbard)

With this maturation process, there will be bumps…and against St. John’s the Rams turned it over on 22% of their possessions and recorded just 12 assists to 16 givebacks.

It’s only an exhibition where coaches are mixing lineups, sometimes want to see a particular group together for 5-10 possessions, or experiment in other ways, so we all should pump the brakes on sweeping conclusions. But it’s an area to monitor for progress as the team moves forward.

Defense. A hallmark of the Rhode Island team’s over the past several seasons has been tenacious defense.

David Cox is tethered to maintaining this same defensive identity as the program’s anchor – and the Rams held SJU to 39.7 percent shooting from the floor and forced 19 turnovers on Sunday, a positive beginning.

Re-establishing foundational areas on defense – playing hard through full possessions, communicating and having each other’s backs, sacrificing the body when needed – are the focal points of re-casting the defensive mold for the upcoming year with new personnel. The more nuanced areas of defense, for example, of ball screen coverages and rotations will come.

From those I spoke with post-scrimmage, the team is on pace and making progress in its collective understanding here.

Cyril Langevine. In 35 minutes of action, Langevine was a beast against the team predicted between third and fifth in the Big East, depending on your preseason pub of choice.

He recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds and, equally impressive, was his 8-12 from the floor and 7-7 from the stripe.

He did turn it over a half dozen times and his continued growth in court awareness will serve him and the team well as the lights get brighter. Langevine’s presence on defense is well-documented.

This next-level offensive production shown is critical night-in and night-out… So consider this effort a confidence builder for the junior big man.

Freshman Debut? Yep. When Pace travels to the Ryan Center on Thursday, expect consensus 4-star and top 100 recruit Jermaine Harris to be in the lineup.

He was held out of the St. John’s scrimmage due to illness, but the 6-8, 220 pound freshman will be a go on Thursday from what I’m told.

URI Basketball on YURVIEW begins its season on Tuesday, November 6th at 8:30pm with an in-state matchup as Bryant takes on the Rams. YurView is Cox channels 4 and 1004. (This game is tape delayed from earlier in the evening.)