Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR|
In the climax of what is one of the greatest seasons for Rhode Island men’s basketball, the Rams find the whole weight of the state behind them as they compete for back-to-back Atlantic 10 championships this afternoon. The Keaney blue faithful packed the Capitol One Arena on Friday and Saturday, and already masses of fans are rushing through the doors to take their seats. Even Ed Cooley, head of the coach of the Providence Friars, expressed his support for the Rams, a sincere gesture from one of Rhode Island’s greatest rivals.
“Wishing @RhodyMBB all the best today against Davidson,” Cooley tweeted out Sunday morning. “Let’s show the nation what all our great fans know, that some of the best basketball in the country is played right here in the Ocean State!”
The Rams eye their third A-10 championship, winning the title in 1999 and again just 364 days ago. A win today would signify their first consecutive titles in program history, something Dan Hurley and his team are craving.
“We want Commissioner [Bernadette] McGlade to hand us a third straight trophy,” Hurley said following Saturday’s 90-87 victory over St. Joe’s. “I mean, that’s an exciting feeling.”
The last opponent standing in the way of the Rams’ quest for the title is the No. 3 Davidson Wildcats, coming off an upset win over No. 2 St. Bonaventure yesterday 82-70. The Wildcats find themselves in the “Next Four Out” in Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracketology, meaning today is win or go home for their NCAA Tournament chances. Make no mistake, however, the Wildcats present one of the toughest matchups the Rams have and will face all season, and with a lot on the line for both teams today, this year’s A-10 championship is going to live up to the hype. Let’s break down the Wildcats and what the Rams have to do in order to secure another A-10 title.
Like children of parents in the military, Davidson is always on the move
The “Running Rams” will certainly have to live up their name today, as Davidson’s offense is constantly in motion. Running a form of the Princeton offense, Davidson executes plenty of backdoor cuts and slants to the basket. Spearheaded by the guards Jon Axel-Gudmundsson and Kellan Grady, Davidson runs their offense at the top of the perimeter and key, constantly having players slashing left and right and executing high pick and rolls. If there is no open path to the basket, the Wildcats will kick out for a three in the corner or spot up at the top of the perimeter. There is no idle time to catch your breath, as Davidson is always on the move.
There is no easy way to counter an offense like the Wildcats, but if there is a defense that is built to null it is the athletic versatility of Rhode Island. The Rams present some of the most laterally-quick guards in the nation, including the likes of All-Defensive First Team guard Stanford Robinson, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett, all players who have proven to lockdown elite players who the Rams have faced. Rhode Island also relies heavily on man-defense, which eliminates backdoor cuts and allows the Rams to intercept passing lanes. The Rams have allowed 59 and 63 points to the Wildcats in both of their games played against them, below their season average of 67.9 points per game. Hopefully the Rams drank their water yesterday, as they’re going to run miles today keeping up with the Wildcats.
Peyton Aldridge is a Rams’ worst nightmare
No disrespect to Taylor Funk or Anthony Longpre’ of St. Joe’s, but those stretch forwards are nowhere near the caliber of player that is Peyton Aldridge. The Co-Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Aldridge has a combined 59 points on 21 of 34 shooting from the field through two games this tournament, including going a mind-boggling 12 of 13 from three-point territory. Aldridge is a matchup nightmare for the Rams, as they lack the type of defensive player who can keep up with him outside the perimeter. He has the capability of pulling up from anywhere on the court, whether it is a drive to the basket, a mid-range jumper, or well beyond the perimeter.
It will most likely be Robinson who draws Aldridge in today’s matchup, who currently lacks four inches on Aldridge. However, Aldridge has not found his normal scoring numbers against the Rams, averaging 16.5 points per game on 42.3 percent from the field, numbers below his season averages. Contain Aldridge, like the Rams have relatively done in their previous two games, and it is your best shot at locking down the Wildcats.
Point Guard University
Wildcats Coach Bob McKillop loves to find diamond in the rough point guard prospects. During their 2008 Elite Eight run, it was Stephen Curry, now one of the best players in the NBA. Last year, the Wildcats graduated Jack Gibbs, one of the most prolific scorers in A-10 history. Now, McKillop found his next point guard of the future, and his name is Kellan Grady.
The A-10 Rookie of the Year, Grady finished yesterday’s contest against the Bonnies with 23 points on eight of 14 shooting from the field, as him and Aldridge combined for 47 points. Grady is a very efficient and smart shooter on the year, shooting 51% from the floor. In his two games against the Rams, Grady is averaging 17.5 points per game on 53.5 percent from the floor, as he has been the most efficient Wildcat on the court for Davidson. When Aldridge is cold from the floor, Grady is there to pick up the slack. Whoever matches up with Grady has to shadow him and force him to take mid-range jumpers, his lowest percentage shot on the court. Shut down Grady and Aldridge, and the Wildcats will crumble and Rhode Island will lift the Atlantic 10 trophy.