Murray’s men’s basketball non-conference preview

With the men’s basketball season starting up, Murray’s Weekly Roundup has switched gears to Sam Murray’s preview of the Rams non-conference schedule.

It feels like the dust is still settling on what was the crown jewel for the University of Rhode Island athletics last year. With a roster that was molded by master recruiter Dan Hurley, the men’s basketball team dazzled the Atlantic-10 and Eastern Seaboard in route to its first conference championship and NCAA tournament win in 18 years, and this year the circumstances are no different. Returning a backcourt that is among the most elite in the country and a veteran bench core, men’s basketball looks to build upon their tournament run and achieve even greater success this year.

Rhode Island had a tough non-conference slate last season, taking on top 50 RPI teams in Cincinnati, Duke, Providence and Houston all in the span of two weeks. This year the slate is no different, and once again Rhode Island will face top tier talent early that is sure to make any team nervous.

 

Nevada

Fun will be had on Friday when Rhode Island will raise their Atlantic-10 Championship and NCAA tournament banners against UNC Asheville, but immediately after, Rhode Island travels to the wild, wild west to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack on Monday, Nov. 13. Projected to finish first in the Mountain West, Nevada welcomes an almost completely different team with four transfers, including the brothers Cody and Caleb Martin transferring from North Carolina State. Guard Jordan Caroline, the team’s leading returning scorer, and forward Elijah Foster, who only played seven games last year due to a suspension stemming from an arrest, headline the returning impact players. Expect the time difference to make a difference as the game will be played at 11:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU, so drink some coffee.

NIT Tip-Off Tournament

Every team in the NIT Tip-Off Tournament will be a formidable opponent for the Rams. Starting on Thanksgiving, Rhode Island will face No. 23 Seton Hall while most of us will be putting gravy on our turkey and mashed potatoes. Center Angel Delgado should provide fits for a young Rhode Island frontcourt, while three other returning starters and seniors Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanago will anchor a strong core of returning Pirate leadership. Should Rhode Island advance past a Pirates team that is sure to contend for the Big East Title, they will be rewarded with a game against either Virginia or Vanderbilt, both tournament teams with similar aspirations this year.

Providence

The crem de la crop of Rhode Island’s non-conference slate if you must, this is New England college basketball’s best rivalry no matter what Ed Cooley thinks. Both Providence and Rhode Island advanced to the “big dance” last year for the first time since 1997, and both are primed to do so again. Guard Kyron Cartwright, who found himself on the Bob Cousy Award watch list, and forward Rodney Bullock return for the Friars, while four-star recruit, freshman Mikai Ashton-Lanford looks to make an immediate impact. Just to put into perspective of how wild this series is, last time both teams squared off in the Ryan Center it took a Ben Bentil tip in as time expired for the Friars to win 74-72.

 

Alabama

No picnics will be had when Rhode Island travels to Tuscaloosa to take on coach Avery Johnson’s  No. 25 Alabama Crimson Tide on Dec. 6. The big news for this game is freshman phenom Collin Sexton will be ineligible to play according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Jeff Goodman. The school announced that Sexton had been identified in an FBI complaint into an ongoing investigation into corruption of NCAA men’s basketball programs across the country. With Sexton deemed ineligible, expect returning leading scorer Baxton Key, Dazon Ingram and Avery Johnson Jr. to test Rhode Island early on.

 

Florida Gulf Coast

Santa brought Rhode Island a present they didn’t want: a matchup against “Dunk City” Florida

Gulf Coast two days after Christmas. Fresh off another NCAA Tournament berth, the Eagles are coming off back-to-back Atlantic Sun Conference Championships and are projected to do so again. Guard Brandon Goodwin, who lead the team with 18.5 points per game and 4.1 assists per game, returns for his last year and to show Rhode Island that this Eagle has sharp talons.