Christmas break for the Rhode Island Rams was a short one as they get right back at it with a tough road game this evening. In one of just 11 games in all of Division I tonight, Rhody heads to the West Coast for their second-to-last non-conference game of the season. And it figures to be a challenge. Let’s break it down and see what the Rams need to do in order to win their third straight:
Saint Mary’s College of California
Location: Moraga, CA
Conference: West Coast Conference (WCC)
2011-12 Record: 27-6 (14-2) [#7 seed in NCAA Tournament, lost in First Round]
St. Mary’s comes into this one with an 8-3 record on the season, and return three of the five starters from their NCAA Tourney team a year ago. While the Gaels haven’t faced elite competition so far this year, their schedule hasn’t exactly been filled with cupcakes either. Their notable wins have come against the likes of Utah State, Drexel, Drake, and Pacific. We should probably also point out that they dropped 120 (!) points on Jackson State en route to a 120-67 win. Yup, they won a game by 53 points. Yikes. If that wasn’t scary enough, St. Mary’s also ranks in the top 30 in the nation in several major offensive categories, including 10th in field goal percentage (50.7%), 15th in points per game (80.7), and 29th in assists per game (16.5). The Gaels three losses have come at the hands of Pacific (they have played them twice), Georgia Tech, and most recently to Northern Illinois on December 23rd.
Projected Starting Lineups
G: Matthew Dellavedova, Sr, #4, 6’4″, 190
G: Jorden Page, Jr, #1, 6’1″, 180
G: James Walker III, Jr, #35, 6’3″, 185
F: Mitchell Young, Sr, #3, 6’9″, 235
F: Brad Waldow, So, #0, 6’9″, 260
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
C: Jordan Hare, Fr, #4, 6’10″, 205
First, regarding the Rhody lineup: Mike Aaman will not play tonight. In fact, he didn’t make the trip to California at all. Here’s a tweet he sent earlier today from his hometown in New Jersey:
Mike is still suffering from post-concussion syndrome. Let’s hope he’s feeling better and will be returning to the court soon.
As for St. Mary’s, they certainly have a few players to keep an eye on. The first is 6’4″ point guard Matthew Dellavedova. He leads the Gaels in scoring at 18.5 points per game and checks in with 6.1 assists per game, also tops on the team. Dellavedova has topped the 30 point mark three times this season, including back-to-back 31 point games versus Drake and Jackson State. He’s posted 20+ points five different times, but is coming off a weak performance by his standards, netting just nine points against Northern Iowa on 3-11 shooting. Whatever UNI did to slow the senior guard down, Rhody needs to watch film and do the same, because if they allow Dellavedova to go off, they’re in trouble. Dellavedova also leads St. Mary’s in free throw percentage (94.1%), and he leads all of Division I in mouth guard size.
Junior guard Jorden Page is another player to watch, even though his numbers might not suggest it. He’s sixth on the team in scoring at 8.5 points per game, but he shoots 46% from three-point range and 92% from the line. Page is also coming off an unreal game against Northern Iowa in which he dropped 26 points on 10-14 shooting, including 6-9 from three. The Rams need to keep him from getting hot, because he’s dangerous when he starts to drain shots. If they can keep him in single digits like five other teams have this year, it will be one less thing for Hurley and Co. to worry about.
The Gaels excel in more than just guard play, too. Sophomore Brad Waldow and junior Stephen Holt are both scoring threats, and they’re tops on the team in rebounds. Waldow is second on the team in scoring at 11 points per game, but leads St. Mary’s with a 5.7 rebounding average. He also shoots at 64% from the field, so limiting easy baskets is going to be a priority for Hare and Brooks. Holt doesn’t start, but he has chipped in with 10.9 points and 5.4 rebounds off the bench. But does he throw his fists in the air and scream “STEVE HOLT!” every time he scores? We’ll keep an eye out for that tonight.
Between the short layoff after Christmas, the cross-country flight, and the loss of Mike Aaman, the odds seem stacked against URI for this one. This is a strong St. Mary’s team that’s made the NCAA Tourney with a good deal of regularity in recent years. Can a tough Rhody defense hold down one of the most prolific scoring teams in the nation? The answer comes in a few hours, as we see if the Rams can stay on the winning track.