Pressure can make or break a team. In sports, more often than not, presure decides your legacy. How athletes handle big moments, for a rookie, can set the tone for their career. The mishandling of moments can turn the tide for even the most seasoned of veterans.
But, how an athlete or a team is remembered comes down to how they played when their backs were against the wall. When they experience win or go home pressure. The fact is this: in sports you are remembered based on the end results, usually not the journey.
This year the pressure is on for Rhode Island basketball. Coming off their first Atlantic 10 Championship and NCAA tournament appearance in 18 years, the Rams have been picked as the favorite to win the conference this season receiving 27 of 28 first-place votes at the Atlantic 10 conference media day in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.
The lone first place vote that did not swing in the Rams favor went to St. Bonaventure who return their senior backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, who combined averaged 39.1 points per game last season for the Bonnies.
The Rams are also well represented on the preseason all-conference teams. E.C. Matthews has been named to the A-10’s preseason first team and Jared Terrell was named to the preseason second team, and preseason all-defensive team.
With the recognition from the A-10 comes some national attention, too. Matthews was named to the 2018 Jerry West Award watch list. The Jerry West Award is awarded by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame at the end of the college basketball season to the nation’s top shooting guard. The prestigious watch list included the likes of Grayson Allen from Duke, and Malik Newman from Kansas amongst others. This is the fourth time in his collegiate career that Matthews has appeared on this list.
Last season, the ends justified the means for Rhode Island. The Rams achieved both of Dan Hurley’s goals of winning the A-10 and making it to the NCAA tournament. However, pressure haunted the Rams in the middle of their non-conference schedule and later during their A-10 slate.
Rhode Island appeared in the Associated Press’ preseason poll and did not live up to that caliber. As the No. 21 team in the nation in 2016, the Rams lost two road games in one week to Valparaiso and in-state rival Providence College.
Later on in the season, about two weeks out from their conference tournament, URI suffered what Hurley called the worst loss since he had came to Rhode Island. The Rams dropped a game at the Ryan Center to the 10-15 Fordham University Rams, 53-43.
What happened after that Fordham loss is what will be remembered. The Rams had their backs against the wall and rattled off nine straight victories that included an A-10 crown and an upset win over Creighton in the round of 32.
I can almost guarantee when you ask a Rhode Island fan about the 2016-17 season they won’t mention the loss to Providence or the one point, home loss to Dayton despite leading with under 30 seconds left. They will tell you about the A-10 Championship and the big dance. The 2016-17 Rhode Island Rams left their mark. That is how they are remembered.
How will the 2017-18 Rams be remembered? Well, of course, time will tell. Until then, everyone is watching the Rams, and watching closely. They not only have been picked to repeat and win the A-10, but for most it seems the A-10 is Rhode Island and then everyone else.
As only one of two teams to have two players represented on the first and second preseason all-conference teams, that also adds pressure.
If the Rams play well in the big moments, when they matter, Rhode Island should be hanging another A-10 Championship banner from the Ryan Center rafters come November 2018. The pressure is on.