The last time the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team made an appearance in the NCAA tournament was in 1999, and if they want to make the streak end this year, they have plenty of work to do.
Coming off a huge 59-55 home win against conference foe George Washington, the Rams record now sits at 15-5 overall and 7-2 in conference play. That posting may certainly seem like they are in prime position to capture a tournament berth if they keep their play up, but despite their win total, the Rams lack the things that tournament teams have come March. Namely, quality wins.
Simply put, the Rams lack the victories to even be sniffing a tournament appearance. Unfortunately for Rhode Island, however, it may not have many more chances. The Rams currently have nine games left in their season and just two of those games, Feb. 25 vs. Davidson and March 3 at Dayton, feature teams that “may” make the tournament. The problem with that however is that none of those teams are locks to make the big dance and therefore will not make any statements to the selection committee come March.
The dearth of quality wins will also be a problem because the chances to grab them have already come and gone. As it stands today the Rams have faced three teams nearly guaranteed to make the tournament, but have gone winless in such games against Kansas, Providence and most recently at home against VCU.
The Rams have also faced a team on the bubble along with them in George Washington, and were able to pull out a quality win from it. A victory against one of those aforementioned three teams as essentially certain tournament squads would have greatly increased the odds the Rams would be still playing come March.
With nine games remaining the Rams best wins to date are their recent edging of George Washington and a 66-62 overtime win against then-No. 21 Nebraska, who currently sit at 12-7 overall with very little chance of making the tournament. Neither of those teams are in the class of wins to make a statement to the committee come March.
The next most important thing for a profile is to have no “bad losses.” Bad losses are any ones that come at the hands of a team to which you should not lose or have no chance of making the tournament. Currently the Rams possess two such losses, coming against the University of Massachusetts and Georgia Tech.
The only way to lessen the blemish of a bad loss is to get more quality wins, meaning it is imperative for the Rams to win at least seven of their remaining games versus opponents. The Rams must also be able to continue to win their games down the stretch, avoiding more bad losses. If Rhode Island is able to get through their schedule with no more than two losses in their remaining nine games, paired with two or three wins against quality opponents, they increase their tournament odds exponentially.
They could also enhance their chances by doing well in the A-10 Conference Tournament in March. Winning it all would get them in automatically, however, if they were able to play VCU again and beat them on a neutral court, that in itself could go a long way towards proving they belong in the field of 68.
At 15-5 overall, the Rams must hope they are able to finish the regular season with a record of at least 22-7 and make some noise in the conference tournament.
Nevertheless the first step toward obtaining a tournament berth begins Sunday at Richmond, in a game they cannot afford to lose. Â If they do, they will be spending March at home, rather than on the court.