In their first match-up against a ranked team since a February 2nd game at Butler, the Rhode Island Rams will take on the #5 Arizona Wildcats in Tucson tonight. But it’s not just the opponent that makes this a notable game for Rhody. This evening’s game is also the 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off West Regional final, with the winner advancing to Madison Square Garden to face the winner of Rutgers and Drexel. URI will have to pull a huge upset tonight if they want to advance to NYC, however. Here’s what it will take.
1. Start Strong
In their past two games, the Rams have struggled through the first twenty minutes before turning on the jets in the second half. It’s been awesome to watch the comebacks, but it won’t fly tonight. Rhody needs to put together back-to-back solid halves if they’re going to overcome ‘Zona. Ideally, URI will come out of the locker room hot and get everyone involved early. It might be their only chance to pick up the win.
2. Keep Bigs Out of Foul Trouble
The Wildcats are a tall, strong group that can certainly beat up teams inside. URI has the personnel to limit them, but they need to keep their best players on the floor. Both Gilvydas Biruta and Ifeanyi Onyekaba have spent considerable time on the bench over the past two games. Rhode Island needs both of them playing significant minutes tonight to try to slow Arizona down inside.
3. Get Hands in Passing Lanes
We rolled through our entire preview of the Wildcats without mentioning T.J. McConnell. That certainly speaks to how many stars Arizona has on their roster, but URI is going to have to account for the star point guard. McConnell is averaging a silly 7.3 assists per game this season, and Zona Zealots described him as a “pass-only” player. If that’s the case, Rhody is going to have to try and create pass deflections to try and limit McConnell’s effectiveness.
4. Continue to Drain Threes
Most likely, the Rams are going to have to put up points in bunches if they’re going to hang with the Wildcats tonight. If they can continue to shoot 40-plus percent from three-point range like they did last night, that will go a long way towards a Rhody victory. Matthews, Munford, Reischel and Powell will all need to be on point from deep to keep pace with one of the best offenses in the country.
5. No Pressure
Let’s be real here. URI is not expected to win tonight. The early line for this game is hovering around Arizona -20. So what’s the worst that can happen? If they lose, they lose. It’s one game against a superior opponent. But if they win… they’ll shock the nation. Rhode Island most likely will settle in, play their game and see if they can make something happen.
So what do you think, Rhody fans? Do the Rams have a shot? Can they at least cover the spread? Let us know in the comments!