Meet the Atlantic 10: URI Preview

Posted In The Reading List - By Alan Kelly On Friday, January 17th, 2014 With 0 Comments


Saturday’s opponent for the Patriots is more familiar than most, as they goes on the road to Rhode Island (9-9, 0-3), for their second meeting of the season with the Rams.

In the first meeting on November 30 in Fairfax, Mason won 61-54, to finish a three-year, three-game sweep of the now-completed out-of-conference series. This time around, when the Patriots take the court at 12:30 pm on Saturday in Kingston, RI (TV: NBCSN), the game will count toward the Atlantic 10 conference standings, as both teams look to avoid falling to 0-4 in conference play.

Under new coach Danny Hurley (in his second season), many expected Rhode Island to start a major program turn around this season, with some parallels being drawn to last year’s Towson squad. While that may yet happen, the results haven’t really shown up in the win-loss record so far, in part because the Rams roster has been depleted by injuries and other absences.

Yesterday, I asked Dave Ascoli of RhodyRampage.com to answer some questions about the Rams, especially focusing on what has changed in the last seven weeks.

masonhoops.com: George Mason and Rhode Island have met in out of conference play in each of the last three seasons, so Mason fans already have some familiarity with the Rams. But there’s been a lot of roster turnover, so who’s in the  starting lineup now, and can you give us a brief description of each starter?

Dave:

Hassan Martin – Mason fans will notice at least one change in the URI lineup from when they faced the Rams in November. Freshman forward Hassan Martin earned his way into a starting role earlier this month, replacing Ifeanyi Onyekaba. Martin makes his impact felt on the defensive end, especially in terms of shot blocking (2.1 per game). His offensive game isn’t quite there yet, but his effort and intensity are off the charts. Rhody fans are really looking forward to what he can do over the next three and a half seasons.

E.C. Matthews – Martin is joined in the lineup by URI’s other star freshman. The two-time (and counting, hopefully) A-10 Rookie of the Week winner has had ups and downs like any first-year player, but there’s no doubt that he’s going to be a star in this conference before his time in Rhode Island is up.

Xavier Munford – Mumford, who Mason fans have most likely heard of, occupies another guard spot. His shooting has been spotty, but he’s still scoring the ball (15.7 PPG), and is definitely URI’s biggest offensive threat.

Gilvydas Biruta – The Rutgers transfer can also fill up the box score. The forward has put up four double-doubles this season and has been solid on the inside after a tough start to the season.

As for the starting point guard… that seems to be up in the air at this point. Biggie Minnis has been starting for the Rams, but he may have played himself out of the role. A string of poor performances has led Dan Hurley to publicly question if he needs to shift Minnis to the bench. If he does, it’s likely that T.J. Buchanan will be slotted into the lineup.

masonhoops.com: Who are the key bench players and what do they contribute to the team?

Dave: Besides Buchanan (or Minnis), the Rams are pretty thin on the bench. First Buchanan, who is URI’s token sixth man. He can play either guard spot and brings the type of hustle plays and energy that have seen him earn a co-captain spot mid-season. Onyekaba is also a space-eater inside, who is good for a couple of points, rebounds, and fouls each game. The last major bench player is Jarrelle Reischel, a swingman in his first season with Rhode Island after transferring from Rice. His play has been inconsistent as of late, and Rhody fans never know what kind of game he’s going to have off the bench.

masonhoops.com: How much have injuries and the season-long absence of forward Jordan Hare (who took a personal leave of absence but is still enrolled) hurt the team’s depth?

Dave: The Rams actually haven’t had a basketball-related injury this season, but they’ve certainly had their personnel issues. Besides Hare, junior point guard Mike Powell has left the program and sophomore big man Mike Aaman was injured in an alleged assault off-campus. He also missed time before that when he underwent an emergency appendectomy. It has left URI with just an eight man rotation, with freshman three-point specialist Matthew Butler occasionally seeing some minutes.

masonhoops.com: What are the strengths of this year’s team?

Dave: Rhody is rebounding the ball quite well this season, especially compared to last year. The Rams have addressed their issues in the front court and have been competitive on the glass in nearly every game so far. The other strengths are Matthews and Martin. Not only do they give fans a nice future to look forward to, but the two freshman are actually pretty good right here and now. Either one of them is capable of exploding for a big game at any time, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

masonhoops.com: What are the weaknesses of this year’s team?

This one’s easy: point guard play and free-throw shooting. While Mike Powell’s play wasn’t exactly impressive, Rhody could use another option right now considering the ongoing Minnis situation. Buchanan is versatile, but he’s not a true PG. As for free-throw shooting, welcome to URI fan hell. They’re coming off an 11-21 performance against La Salle, and sadly, a night like that from the line isn’t all that uncommon. Their 66 percent season average from the line makes guys like me squint when someone steps to the stripe.

masonhoops.com: Are there are particular statistics or trends for which fans could watch, that might indicate whether the game is going well or poorly for the Rams?

Dave: Besides foul shooting, there are a few others, and excuse the obviousness. URI can struggle with turnovers from time to time, so any hint of trouble in that area usually leads to a loss. And going back to the depth issues, watch for any sort of foul trouble for Rhody. If guys like Biruta or Matthews (or Munford, but that hasn’t been a problem yet this season) have to sit for an extended period, it could lead to the the flood gates opening for Mason’s offense.

masonhoops.com: When the two teams met on November 30, Rhode Island was 6-2. Including their loss that day to the Patriots in Fairfax, the Rams have gone 3-7 overall since and 0-3 to begin A-10 play. What have the last 10 games revealed about this year’s team? Are there trends emerging?

Dave: The biggest trend over that stretch has been URI’s schedule. Aside from Arizona and SMU, Rhody’s first eight games were against some pretty weak competition. The record doesn’t indicate it, but the Rams are actually improving, even though it’s not exactly linear. The last two games have been pretty poor, but Rhode Island beat LSU and kept things quite close with both Providence and Saint Louis. These next few games should tell fans a lot more about where this team stands this season.

RHODE ISLAND RAMS FACTS
Institution
Founded: 1892
Type: Public
Endowment: $122M
Location: Kingston, RI
Campus: Rural
Students: 12,900 undergraduates
Men’s Basketball Program
Athletics Budget: $23.5M (2012)
Men’s Basketball Budget: $4.7M (2012)
Began Play: 1903
Joined A-10: 1980
A-10 Championships: 1 (Most recent: 1999)
NCAA Appearances: 8 (Most recent: 1999)
NCAA Record: 6-8 (.429)
NIT Appearances: 14 (Most recent: 2010)
Head Coach: Danny Hurley
Coaching Tenure: 2nd season
Coaching Record: 17-30 (.362)
Arena: The Thomas M. Ryan Center
Arena Opened: 2002
Arena Capacity: 7,657
Colors: Keaney Blue and White
Student Section: Rhody Ruckus
2013-14 Season
Preseason A-10: Picked 9th
C 9-9 (0-3)
RPI: 159
Pomeroy: 138
Top wins: at LSU
Bad losses: at Detroit
George Mason Series History
Meetings: 3
Record: Mason leads, 3-0
Current Streak: Mason, 3 wins
Most Recently: 11/30/2013, Mason won 61-54

Meet the Atlantic 10: An introduction to each team in George Mason’s new conference
VCUSt. Joe’sUMass – URI – Fordham – GW – SLU – Dayton – Duq. – St. Bona – Rich. – La Salle

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About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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