The college basketball season is arduous. Certain nights you’ll fire on all cylinders. Others you’ll sputter your way through the 40 minutes of play. Some you just need to find a way to survive.
For Rhode Island (20-7, 12-3), Wednesday at Rose Hill Gymnasium against the lowly Fordham Rams was the latter. Aided by a stellar individual effort from Tyrese Martin (24 points, 16 rebounds) and a timely offensive rebound and ice-water free throws by freshman Jacob Toppin, the Ocean State Rams escaped with a victory.
As they prepare to face Saint Louis (20-8, 9-6) on Sunday, the blueprint for NCAA at-large selection (if not an auto-bid) remains intact. David Cox’s team sits at 42 in the NET rankings, is 7-6 in Quad 1 and Quad 2 games, and is bolstered by playing the 29th strongest non-conference schedule in the country (8-4).
Right now, however, the Rams are banged up, with Cyril Langevine sitting against Fordham and Jeff Dowtin hampered by a bone bruise. To say URI needs these two to convalesce quickly is a massive understatement.
Three more opportunities prior to the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship await. Rhode Island will try to improve upon its 12-1 home record with tests against Saint Louis and No. 4 Dayton (26-2, 15-0) before traveling to Amherst to face UMass.
Let’s touch upon a few storylines as the Rams navigate their final games of the A-10 schedule:
Critical Cyril. Rhody assistant Kevin Sutton and I recently chatted about how much Cyril Langevine has grown during his time in Kingston, particularly in understanding which of his skills are best leveraged for individual and team success. The highest compliment that can be paid to him is on the defensive end, where he is legitimately the hub. His presence alters the entire connectivity of the defense, his communication is essential, and his impact is tangible. We’ve seen the entire complexion of games change based on his re-entry from foul trouble (Duquesne) and we’ve witnessed offensively challenged teams experience success based on his absence (Fordham). Over these final three regular season games, URI faces a 6-foot-7, 245 pound beast in Hasahn French, the front-runner for national player of the year, Obi Toppin, and a likely future 1st rounder, Tre Mitchell, in the pivot. Trainer Daniel Anthony has never been more valuable… and hopefully Langevine is a go.
Tyndale’s Dad. Here’s a story I’ve held near and dear for a long time that I’ll share with you… When I first began covering the A-10 in earnest in 2007, Temple had its dynamic duo of Dionte Christmas and Mark Tyndale — both potent scorers. The NBA was scouting both and Tyndale’s dad sat right behind my row at Boardwalk Hall during the Atlantic 10 tourney. I’ll save you all the colorful language, but when Tyndale would make certain moves his dad would yell, “Now that’s some pro-S&%^ right there.” I loved it.
How’s this relate to URI? Well, there are certain moves and actions that Tyrese Martin makes gracefully and effortlessly that are pro-moves. He’s a glider. Consider his ability to play above the rim (think timely tracking, elevation and put-back against VCU), change shooting motion in mid-air and finish, etc. The list of guys able to to that in the A-10 is a short one, very short. And Martin is just a sophomore. He’s averaging 13.1ppg, and 7.1rpg and is increasing productivity as the season progresses.
A future all-conference player, as Martin improves his craft and possession-to-possession consistency on both ends, he’ll be providing plenty of Tyndale-esque snapshots.
Little Things. On post game radio, I’ve mentioned occasionally Rhode Island’s success in dead ball situations under David Cox and staff. It’s little, but vitally important. This refers to situations such as jump balls, emerging from timeouts, sideline out of bounds plays, baseline out of bounds plays, or shaking it up with dead ball defensive wrinkles. As the Rams fight for Atlantic 10 and postseason positioning down the stretch, key in on this area of strength. It’s often overlooked, but being purposeful and assertive in these situations can steal 4-6 points per game and make a world of difference when it matters most.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44