Rhode Island Rams Preview and Q&A

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Friday, February 20th, 2015 With 0 Comments

Tomorrow at 4 pm, George Mason (8-17, 3-10) wraps up their three-game homestand at the Patriot Center with their only meeting of the season against the Rhode Island Rams (18-6, 10-3). The Rams are currently tied with VCU and Dayton for first place in the Atlantic 10, and are on a two-game winning streak.

The Rams and the Patriots split a pair of games last season, with Mason winning 61-54 in Fairfax in a non-conference matchup on November 30, and Rhody taking revenge on January 18 in a 71-69 overtime victory for the Rams. Including Patriot victories from November 2011 and November 2012, Mason leads the all-time series 3-1.

Rhody is led by a pair of super sophomores, guard E.C. Matthews (16.3 points per game) and forward Hassan Martin (12.0 points), who is fourth in the nation in blocked shots (3.2 per game). Matthews was the 2014 A10 Rookie of the Year while Martin was selected to the All-Rookie team. Freshman Jared Terrell has provided an additional offensive threat, contributing 9.6 points.

The Rams boast an RPI of 66 and a 4-4 record against the RPI Top 100. Their best out of conference win was a victory over then-#22 Nebraska back in November, and Wednesday’s victory over UMass (RPI 38) should soften the blow of their only bad loss, 10 days ago at RPI 168 St. Joseph’s.

For the second season in a row, I asked Dave Ascoli of RhodyRampage.com to answer some questions about the Rams:

masonhoops.com: Sophomore guard E.C. Matthews continues to impress with his 16.3 points per game, but his shooting percentages are actually down a tick this season, and he’s averaging 3.9 turnovers. What are the pros and cons of his game?

Dave: First, a little qualifier on E.C. – he’s been playing with plantar fasciitis since New Year’s Eve. He missed the St. Bonaventure game on January 25, as he was sidelined in a boot and on crutches. So I think that can explain away his shooting percentages—but maybe not the turnovers. Matthews has struggled with his ball handling pretty much all season (injury or not), and it’s making him much more of a “catch and shoot” type player. That said, E.C. is an incredibly talented scorer who can connect from pretty much anywhere on the court. But he’s especially dangerous in transition and when he’s slashing to the basket. He has given teams fits all season, and I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.

masonhoops.com: Sophomore forward Hassan Martin is scoring 12 points per game while shooting a cool 62.9%, leading the Rams in rebounding at 7.7, and leading the conference in blocks at 3.2, but he’s only 6’7″. What kind of a challenge will he face in matching up with the 6’11” Shevon Thompson?

Dave: URI fans need constant reminders about Martin’s height, because it’s very easy to forget that he’s 6’7″ when you’re watching him. And it’s safe to say that he personifies the “plays bigger than he is” cliche. Look no further than last time out against UMass when Hassan and the Rams limited the 6’10” Cady Lalanne to just five points in 31 minutes. Still, Thompson could be a big test for a Rhody team that really only goes three-deep with big men (Martin, Gilvydas Biruta, Earl Watson). Limiting him while avoiding foul trouble is going to be key for the Rams.

masonhoops.com: What are the other important strengths and weaknesses of this year’s Rhode Island team?

Dave: In terms of strengths, it starts with defense. Rhode Island ranks 11th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings and the D is winning them games, even on days when the offense is sputtering a bit. Another strength that Mason fans won’t experience this year is URI’s play at home. They’re 12-1 at the Ryan Center so far this season, with the only loss coming to then-#17 VCU. Rhody’s biggest weakness right now is their youth and their inexperience. It seems weird two cite that as a weakness considering their four best players are two freshmen and two sophomores. But as talented as they are, youth has occasionally reared it’s ugly head for Matthews, Martin, Jared Terrell, and Jarvis Garrett.

masonhoops.com: Rhode Island remains tied for first place in the A10 (with VCU and Dayton) after a huge win over UMass on Wednesday. With five games left, can the Rams win that number 1 seed in Brooklyn?

Dave: They sure can. Although “will they?” and “is it that important?” are two other questions to ponder. After Mason, Rhody hosts Davidson, then plays at La Salle and at Dayton, a brutal three game stretch. (Not a brutal four-game stretch, though. Sorry, Mason fans.) URI will probably have to go 2-1 in that span, and one of the wins will likely have to be over Dayton to secure the tiebreaker. It won’t be easy. But I think right now the more important thing is making sure to finish in the top four of the standings and secure a bye to Friday is Brooklyn. A one seed is nice from an aesthetics standpoint, but earning the two-day bye is much more important. And much more realistic.

masonhoops.com: What does Rhode Island still need to do to lock themselves into an at large NCAA tournament bid?

Dave: Ah, the first tourney bid for Rhode Island since 1999. GMU has been four times (including a Final Four) since then. Needless to say, Rhody fans are hungry. But it’s probably going to take a 4-1 finish and a trip to the finals in Brooklyn to earn an at-large. The URI resume has some serious weaknesses when it comes to both RPI and so-called “signature wins” (aka top 50 RPI wins). There’s obviously plenty of hope that the Rams can get there via at-large or automatic, but I think an NIT berth – their first since 2010 – is more realistic right now.

masonhoops.com: Danny Hurley seems to have done a fantastic job rebuilding the Rams so far, and several of his core players are underclassmen. How bright is this future for this young team?

Dave: It’s going to be a fun couple of years for URI and their fans going forward. Rhody will only lose Gilvydas Biruta and T.J. Buchanan at the end of this year, and they’re bringing in several highly-touted players for 2015-16. That includes Memphis transfer Kuran Iverson, who was a consensus top 100 recruit coming out of high school. So while Rhode Island fans are hoping for an NCAA Tournament berth this year, they should be expecting one next season.

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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