Basketball is kind of mesmerizing, isn’t it?
Watching the ball hit the floor and come right back up, over and over again. The sound is a little hypnotic. It’s almost like music. And if it’s done right, it can look like a well-orchestrated symphony.
That’s what the Rams looked like last year, a well-orchestrated symphony. They were so good- holding the longest winning streak in the country, winning the regular season title at home, beating Providence College, especially beating PC. Looking back it all kind of brings a tear to my eye when I think about it.
This year, Rhode Island has to do a lot of the “bouncing up” that you see in basketball. As talented as they are, the Rams aren’t last year’s team. It would be disrespectful to the 2017-18 team to say there isn’t going to be a drop-off. They lost too much.
I’m not even talking about Dan Hurley leaving for the University of Connecticut. Before writing this, I looked back on some stats from last season and did a little math. E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett, Stanford Robinson and Andre Berry accounted for 66.7 percent of URI’s points last season. Want to know something those guys all have in common? They walked the stage this spring. Throw in Nicola Akele, who left to play in his home country of Italy, and 68.9 percent of URI’s points are no longer with the team.
Fatts Russell and Jeff Dowtin are both going to have to transition into brand new roles in the offense. Dowtin, a junior who led the Atlantic-10 in assists with 5.6 last season, is going to have to ditch the facilitator role and shoulder a lot of the offensive burdens. Russell, in just his second year, is going to have to do the same.
There’s no question surrounding the abilities of these guys, but in newness, consistency is always trouble at first. Dowtin and Russell are talented scorers, two of the best in the conference, but in order to keep the Rams at the top of the A-10, these two are going to need over 15 points a night. Though they’ve proven themselves, especially in big games, they’ve always had the likeness of Terrell and Matthews to fall back on. These two were never the guys.
So there’s going to be a transition with these two, but there’s a silver lining. They aren’t gone after this season, and they’ve already got some big games under their belts. Dowtin has two NCAA tournament wins and dropped 20 his freshman year against Creighton in the first round. Russell put up 20 against PC, arguably one of Rhode Island’s biggest games each year. The talent is there, and the consistency will need to be proven. But it’s tough to count them out.
Leading the learning curve is first-year Head Coach David Cox. While he’s new to the job, he’s no stranger to Rhody Basketball, serving as Hurley’s associate head coach for the last two seasons and an assistant coach from 2014-2016. He recruited some of the top guys to come through the program, including Dowtin and Russell themselves. Two weeks after Hurley’s departure was confirmed, Athletic Director elected to stay within the program by hiring Cox.
If there’s ever a positive to losing five seniors, it’s having five open roster spots. Before heading from Kingston to Storrs, Hurley recruited one of his best classes yet. The freshmen are led by Jermaine Harris, a 6’8 forward from Maryland. He was a highly sought after recruit, ranked No. 77 on the Rivals.com Rivals Top 150 2018 Prospect list. His final choice was between Rhode Island and Xavier, and well, do I even need to finish the sentence?
Harris is joined by Omar Silverio, Tyrese Martin, Dana Tate and Aris Tsourgannis. Silverio was considered a three-star recruit and had offers from several teams across the A-10 after de-committing from Santa Clara. Martin, who played against new teammate Russell in high school, joins Silverio in the backcourt as another three-star recruit. He had offers from several teams in conference too, as well as Seton Hall. Tate comes out of Massachusetts and adds size and a jump shot to an already talented backcourt. He started in both exhibitions and looks to see significant time in the frontcourt. Tsourgannis was recruited late out of Greece and replaced Mike Layssard on the roster.
With youth, in anything, comes a learning curve. None of these guys have really played college basketball before, aside from two exhibition games. To expect them to come right out of the gate and do exactly what needs to be done to bring this team to another tournament is absurd. These guys are talented, but miracles are incredibly rare.
Nowhere am I saying Rhody is going to be bad this year. I wouldn’t be shocked if they do pull through and make the tournament. They’d have to win the Atlantic 10, but it’s certainly possible. The returning players know how to win, and know what needs to be done to win. So does David Cox.
What helps the Rams is their non-conference schedule. It’s nowhere as difficult as last season’s, and it gives the freshmen, as well as Dowtin and Russell, time to grow into their roles. Come Atlantic-10 play, this team will have the experience together to compete for a conference championship. Don’t be shocked if Rhode Island makes national headlines again, folks.