Through the first two games of the season, the Rhode Island Rams are showing improvement over last year’s squad. Under new coach Dan Hurley, URI is playing improved defense, hustling more, and running better offensive sets. But they still don’t have a win to show for it. Rhody fell to 0-2 with a 69-50 loss to Virginia Tech last night, and they have two more difficult games coming up over the weekend before the schedule (finally) starts to get a little easier. Let’s break last night’s game down first, shall we?
Three Things to Feel Good About
1. Xavier Munford – Playing the role of Offensive Star Du Jour, Munford led all URI players with 24 points on 11-22 shooting. He struggled from three (1-9), but that only highlights how easily he was able to score high-percentage shots around the basket (10-13 shooting from inside the arc). X showed a variety of inside moves, scoring on highlight-worthy circus layups with ease. His ability to take it to the basket against a higher-quality opponent means he has a real ability to excel against some of the weaker teams on the Rams schedule. Besides the point total, Munford also tallied six rebounds and two steals in his 38 minutes of play.
2. Half-Court Defense – Out of the 26 baskets Virginia Tech scored on the evening, they were only able to muster eight made shots against Rhody’s set half-court defense. The Rams also were able to hold the Hokies to just two offensive rebounds in the half-court. Coming off a made basket, made three throw, or a time-out, URI’s D was impregnable. Unfortunately, due to Rhody’s inability to make shots most of the night, they didn’t put themselves in this situation as often as they wanted.
3. Role Players – On a team that’s not very deep, it’s always nice to see players come off the bench and contribute in their limited playing time. Last night, the two big bright spots were Alwayne Bigby and Mike Aaman. In just 10 minutes of action, Bigby chipped in with four points on 2-3 shooting, and also pulled down five rebounds, four of them on the offensive end. Despite going scoreless in his 23 minutes, Aaman was able to record seven rebounds of his own in addition to several hustle plays. When only 8 or 9 players are logging minutes each night, the Rams will continually need help like this from their reserves.
Three Things to Be Concerned About
1. Three-Point Shooting – Well this should be the least surprising concern of the game. Rhody shot… wait for it… 1-21 from three point range. ONE FOR TWENTY ONE! 4.8%. Some of this came in panic time down the stretch when the Rams were desperately trying to get back into the game, but overall it was a pretty even spread of suck. Powell: 0-6. Malone: 0-4. Munford: 1-9. Not good. Coupled with last game, Rhody is now 7-41 from outside on the season, or just 17.1%.
2. Transition Defense – We touched on the prowess of the URI half-court defense, but the game was lost in the transition defense. After a missed basket or turnover, the Rams had trouble finding their man and getting set, and it turned into a shooting clinic for Virginia Tech. The Hokies made 18 buckets in their transition game, including five of their seven three-pointers on the night. It’s not a lack of hustle on the Rams part – it’s more of a schematic issue, and it’s something we should see Hurley correct sooner rather than later. Of course, making a few more shots wouldn’t hurt…
3. Scoring – …which brings us to scoring. Or lack thereof. Friday night, the Rams saw Nikola Malesevic put together a great shooting night…with no help. And last night we saw the same thing for Xavier Munford. Rhody needs two or more guys to put together 15+ point nights if they’re going to win games. It can’t be a 25 night for one player, then a bunch of 6’s and 4’s and 3’s. The Rams have yet to crack the 60-point barrier this season, and are averaging just 52.5 PPG as a team, which ranks 314th in all of Division I. Their 31.3% shooting percentage ranks a similarly low 322nd. It’s only been two games and shots are going to start to fall, but as John Madden would likely tell you, you can’t win games without scoring points.
The Rams are off until Saturday, at which point they’ll play back-to-back games over the weekend as part of Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. First up is..*gulp*… #4 ranked Ohio State. Plenty on this game and and much more coming throughout the week.