Conference play rolls on for the Rhode Island Rams tomorrow afternoon, as they head back to the friendly confines of the Ryan Center for their Atlantic 10 home opener. And what may have looked like an easy game when the schedule was released is now anything but. So let’s take a look at what Rhody needs to do as they try to post their first win of the season in conference play.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Conference: Atlantic 10
2012-13 Record: 13-2 (1-0)
How does this sound: “The first place Charlotte 49ers.” …? Sounds a little strange, right? Especially since this team was picked to finish 10th when the Atlantic 10 preseason polls were released. Charlotte is tied atop the league with 14th ranked Butler, both with 13-2 (1-0) records. The 49ers started their season 9-0 before falling to Miami on the road. Their only other loss also came to an ACC team when Florida State came into Tar Heel State and topped Charlotte by three. The 49ers out of conference schedule was rather weak, but some of their key wins came against Northeastern, Davidson, and most recently versus La Salle. The 13 wins for Charlotte already matches their total victories from a year ago. And for what it’s worth, the 49ers topped Rhody last season 73-66 at home.
Projected Starting Lineups
G: Denzel Ingram, Fr, #10, 5’11”, 173
G: Pierria Henry, So, #15, 6’4″, 200
G: Terrence Williams, So, #14, 6’4″, 211
F: Willie Clayton, Fr, #21, 6’8″, 236
F: Chris Braswell, Sr, #35, 6’9″, 227
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: Ryan Brooks, Sr, #33, 6’8″, 220
Charlotte seems to be almost the complete opposite of Richmond, Rhody’s last opponent. While Richmond struggles to rebound and play defense, those are both key parts of the 49ers’ game. The defensive effort was evident in Wednesday night’s affair versus La Salle as Charlotte held the Explorers to 32.5% shooting and just 17 first half points. They also limited Ramon Galloway, La Salle’s leading scorer and one of the best players in the conference, to 7-29 shooting – the most misses by an player in regulation since 2008. The 49ers are holding opponents to the 10th lowest shooting percentage in the country, so the Rams going to have to figure out a way to get some easy baskets.
Charlotte’s other forte is rebounding, which could definitely be a problem for URI in this one. The 49ers currently average 39.1 rebounds per game, which is in the top 50 (41st) in the country. Charlotte’s top three rebounders (Clayton [7.3], Braswell [6.1], and Darion Clark [5.5]) all average more than Nikola Malesevic [5.2], Rhody’s top man on the glass. This will be the best rebounding team the Rams will have faced up until this point of the season. In facr, URI has faced just one other top-50 rebounding team this season in Ohio State (43rd), and the Buckeyes came away with a 32-24 edge on the boards in that one.
The good news is that the 49ers average just a shade under 15 turnovers per game, so hopefully the Rhody defense can capitalize. Point guard Pierria Henry is coming off a six-turnover game versus La Salle, and he leads the team with 2.3 miscues per game. Look for Mike Powell to crack down on defense and try to orchestrate some fast breaks for the Rams. It won’t be just MP though; Charlotte has a very balanced offense, so all five Rams will need to turn up the defensive intensity tomorrow afternoon.
It’s hard to expect anything but a low-scoring, hard-fought, defensive battle for this one. It’s no doubt going to be ugly at times, too. But hey, an ugly win is better than a pretty loss. Stick with us as we have more on this one to come.