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Game 1 Preview: Rhode Island Rams vs Norfolk State Spartans

So, anything going on tonight?
It’s HERE. Opening Night. The start of the Dan Hurley era and a season of hope, curiosity, and excitement. As we try to temper both our enthusiasm and our clichés, let’s take a look at tonight’s opponent:

Norfolk State University
Mascot: Spartans
Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)
2011-12 Record: 26-10 (13-3) [#15 seed in NCAA Tournament, lost in second round]

The Spartans made their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history last year, then made more history with they won their first round game as a 15 seed. Their incredibly successful season ended with a 84-50 loss to 7-seeded Florida in the second round. However, they’ve lost four out of their five starters from last season, including their top two scorers (Kyle O’Quinn – 15.9 PPG and Chris McEachin – 12.8 PPG). That said, let’s take a look at who they DO have:

Projected Starting Lineups

Norfolk State
G: Jamel Fuentes, Jr, #3, 6’3″, 185
G: Pendarvis Williams, Jr, #11, 6’6″, 195
G: Malcolm Hawkins, Jr, #25, 6’5″, 215
F: Rob Johnson, Sr, #1, 6’8″, 220
C: Brandon Goode, Jr, #23, 7’0″, 225

Rhode Island
G: Mike Powell, So, #1, 5’11″, 175
G: Xavier Munford, Jr, #5, 6’2″, 180
G: Andre Malone, Sr, #12, 6’6″, 210
F: Nikola Malesevic, Sr, #23, 6’7″, 200
F: Jordan Hare, Fr, #4, 6’10″, 205

As we mentioned yesterday, the guy that is going to make the Spartans go this year is Pendarvis “Penny” Williams. He played the point for a good chunk of last year before being gradually shifted over to the 2 spot in favor of Fuentes, so that is the lineup we expect to see at tip-off. Williams was named to the Preseason All-MEAC first team and he’s the leading returning scorer for the Spartans. Williams is a dangerous player because of his size and ability to score from almost anywhere on the floor. He has a dagger of an outside shot (39% from three last year), and he can play multiple positions. Our thinking is that Rhody will switch up their defense on him to give him a few different looks, but expect to see Powell or Munford start out defending him. Shutting him down may not be possible, but containing his production will be key to a Rhody victory.

Another player to keep an eye on is Jamel Fuentes. He’s Norfolk State’s prototypical “floor general”, leading the team in assists last year at a clip of 2.9 per game. He’s also arguably their best defender, so Powell will have his hands full, and ball security should be a top priority for him. Down low, the Spartans have a stout big man in Rob Johnson, who averaged only 6 PPG last season, but came on strong late in the season, doubling his scoring average in the MEAC Tournament, which earned him All-Tourney honors. He will slide into a starting spot this year, and his role will no doubt increase. Rounding out the “players to keep an eye on” is true 7-footer Brandon Goode. Not much of a scorer, Goode will provide rebounding, blocked shots, and everything else you can expect from a player who is “good at being tall”. Despite not starting in the scrimmage, we’re once again predicting that Jordan Hare will be on the floor for the opening tip. His size will be needed against the big man, and it will sure as hell be a good test for the Rhody freshman.

The bottom line is this isn’t the same Norfolk State team that made a run last season. They lost scoring, size, and leadership, and it’s evidenced by the fact that they’re picked 4th in their conference. You’d expect more after the history campaign they had last year, but it shows what’s expected from them, which is “not as much”. This is a winnable game for Rhody – they need to contain Williams, protect the basketball, and score like they did against Coast Guard to take this one. The Rams are also going to need the home crowd to be rocking to get to 1-0, so make it happen Rhody Nation! And stick with us the rest of the day and night for much more. GO RHODY!

Tags: Basketball Norfolk State Spartans Rhode Island Rams

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