It’s time. Time to throw the projections out the window. Time to forget about the preseason teams and rankings. And time to start playing the games. The Rhode Island Rams open up their 2013-14 campaign at home tomorrow night as they begin work on improving an 8-21 record from last season. Their first challenge? The Maine Black Bears of the America East Conference. We previewed Ted Woodward’s squad last month and predicted a Rhody win, which is easier said than done. Here’s how they can make it happen:
1. Perimeter Defense
Dan Hurley said it best after the exhibition against Southern Connecticut State. “I was really disappointed with our guard defense tonight. We practice too hard, we work too hard for that in practice.” Unfortunately for the Rams, Maine’s best player is Xavier Pollard, their 6’3″ point guard. Rhody’s D on the outside needs to improve, because if they let Pollard go off… it could be a tough night.
With or without Gilvydas Biruta, URI should be able to dominate on the glass. Yes, the Black Bears were one of the better teams in the country (57th overall) in rebounding last year, but four of their top five rebounders from 2012-13 have graduated. The Rams certainly can’t take anything for granted, but if they control the boards as expected, they’ll have a great chance to pick up win number one.
3. Foul Trouble
This certainly isn’t an issue unique to Rhody. The new NCAA regulations have seen fouls galore in exhibition games around the country, and the rules aren’t going away. At least the Rams have 40 minutes of experience with the plethora of whistles, so they’ve had a week to make adjustments. With Hare out indefinitely and Biruta hobbled, it’s especially important that URI’s front court limits their foul troubles.
4. The Status of Gilvydas Biruta
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating. The Rams can and should win tomorrow night even if Biruta is on the bench in street clothes. Still, they’re obviously a better team with the 6’8″ junior on the floor. The only concern is a potential re-injury that puts Gilvydas out for an extending period of time… particularly the upcoming game against SMU. The medical staff is probably eight steps ahead of us, but Rhody can’t risk injuring one of their stars tomorrow night.
This was another problem that crept up in the SCSU exhibition. URI turned the ball over 12 times in the first half alone, a very uncharacteristic number for a team that protected the ball so well last season. A full year of excellent turnover numbers certainly trumps what was likely a blip on the radar last week, but the Rams will still need to avoid granting extra possessions tomorrow night.
Let the games begin.