With the return of guard E.C. Matthews, the addition of Stanford Robinson and the leadership of Hassan Martin, the Rhode Island Rams reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999 last year under head coach Dan Hurley.
URI defeated Creighton in the opening round and had an opporunity to stun the Oregon Ducks — who eventually made the Final Four — in the second round, but failed to put Dana Altman’s squad away down the stretch.
Expectations have been raised for URI heading into the 2017-18 season, as they return the majority of their roster, especially on the perimeter.
With one of the deepest backcourts in the nation and emerging sophomore talents, Rhody has themselves in the perfect position to reach the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since the late 90s.
Record: 25-10 (13-5)
Key Returnees: E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson, Jarvis Garrett, Jeff Dowtin, Cyril Langevine, Nicola Akele, Christion Thompson
Newcomers: Daron ‘Fatts’ Russell (three-star PG)
Departures: Hassan Martin, Kuran Iverson
1. How good can Rhode Island’s backcourt be?
One thing that is for certain this season for Rhode Island: their backcourt is flat-out loaded.
Just look at the names.
- Matthews, who is now two years removed from his torn ACL, is projected to be in the running for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year.
- Terrell is an excellent two-way player who was second on the team in scoring last season.
- Robinson is a former Indiana Hoosier who plays with a certain confidence and swagger. He had his best game of the season in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Oregon, when he dropped 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
- Dowtin, a sophomore, is a star in the making.
- Garrett, who had a down year in 2016-17, has potential off the bench
- And even Russell is a fearless player that adds speed, energy and youthfulness.
Other backcourts may have better one-two punches or more NBA potential, but is there really a team that has the combination of depth, talent and experience that URI has?
Great coaching and elite guards win you games in March.
And that’s exactly what Rhody possesses this season.
2. Who will emerge in the frontcourt to replace Martin and Iverson?
The biggest question for Rhode Island this year lies in the front court, where they are losing their senior leader and best defender, Martin, and a skilled offensive player in Iverson.
Martin was the team’s second leading scorer in 2016-17, while Iverson was the fourth leading scorer.
So who will replace these two?
Langevine, Akele and a combination of Andre Berry, Mike Layssard and Michael Tertsea.
Langevine is the biggest piece to the puzzle as the 6’8″ sophomore emerged as the second best rebounder on the team late last season. During the last month of the 2016-17 campaign, Langevine not only played more minutes and produced more often, he was also a force on the glass, averaging almost six boards an evening.
In the NCAA Tournament, the East Orange, NJ native grabbed five boards against Creighton and nine versus Oregon.
Akele is another unique piece as he is often used as a pick-and-roll threat and a glue guy. This season, Akele will have to battle more on the boards (he’s only 215 pounds) and protect the rim using his length.
Meanwhile, Berry, Layssard and Tertsea are unknowns due to their lack of minutes last season. Berry is a senior and stands at 6’8″, 275 pounds, so he will be expected to earn the most minutes of these three.
However, Layssard and Tertsea were both three-star centers who stand at 6’9″ in the class of 2016. If one, or both, can progress to the point where they’re able to rebound, defend within the confines of the system and provide the occasional points at the rim, URI will have a chance to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
3. How beneficial is URI’s schedule?
The Rams’ have a solid non-conference schedule that will only help build their resume. In addition to a road game at Nevada (the Wolf Pack made the NCAA Tournament last season), they play in the NIT Tip-Off during Thanksgiving Week (first against Seton Hall and then against the winner/loser of Vanderbilt-Virginia), at home against Providence, at Alabama and home versus Iona.
Earning wins against potential ranked teams like the Pirates, Crimson Tide, Friars and Cavailers will be critical given the fact that the Atlantic 10 is expected to have a down season.
Rhode Island is the clear favorite in the league, but if they want to have a higher seed than the 11 they earned last year, they must snag wins against the RPI top 50 opponents on their non-conference schedule.