Yes, the Rhode Island Rams are 4-2. But despite the winning record, we certainly haven’t seen this team play their best basketball yet… unless you count a few spurts scattered throughout the first six games. URI will get another chance to put together a more complete effort tonight when they take on the UNC Asheville Bulldogs at the Ryan Center. What is it going to take to pick up a win? Here’s what we’re thinking:
1. Win the Battle in the Paint
Easier said than done, right? Rhody has struggled all year down low, and the Bulldogs may have an advantage coming into tonight’s game. Asheville starts 6’10” D.J. Cunningham at center, who carries an 11.2 points and a 9.2 rebounds per game average into this one. When he needs a spell, UNC-A head coach Nick McDevitt turns to true seven-footer Jaleel Roberts. The junior averaged 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds off the bench, and he’s seen his minutes increase over their past three games. The Rams will need to either step up their front court play or get the Asheville big men into some foul trouble. Preferably a little bit of both.
2. Shuffle the Lineup
It’s time. Dan Hurley hinted at making some changes in his post-game presser following the UMass Lowell win, and we could see his plan in effect tonight. Conventional wisdom says that it will likely feature either Biggie Minnis at point guard, E.C. Matthews inserted somewhere, or both. Anything that gives Rhode Island a spark is A-OK with us.
3. Limit Turnovers
Which brings us to another problem area for Rhody. URI has struggled with ball security throughout the season, but mostly in the first halves of games. The good news here is that UNC-A doesn’t really force that many turnovers. Aside from Duke (strangely enough), teams have committed no more than 11 turnovers against the Bulldogs this season, with opponents posting single-digit TO numbers three times. Hopefully, tonight will see the Rams hang on to the basketball with a little more regularity – which is always key in a victory.
4. Get Others Involved on Offense
Last season it was the Xavier Munford show. This year X is co-starring alongside E.C. Matthews, but there’s not much else to the URI offense. Outside of Ifeanyi Onyekaba and Jarelle Reischel in the first game of the season, the Rams aren’t getting a lot of scoring production out of their other players. In fact, besides Matthews and Munford, only Reischel (once) and T.J. Buchanan (once) have reached double-figures in scoring since the season opener against Maine. The two M’s have done it four times each. With guys like Minnis, Gilvydas Biruta, and Hassan Martin in the fold, Rhode Island should be getting much more production from several other players on offense this point. It will be interesting to watch how those three produce going forward as they continue to shake off some rust.
5. Convert the Freebies
It wasn’t really a problem until Saturday, but URI will need to shoot free throws a little better tonight then they did their last time out. The Rams hit on just 19 of their 31 attempts from the stripe (61 percent), and had they hit on, say, 80 percent from the line, it would have been a 17-point win and maybe a little less panic in Rhody Nation. The real story here is that 61 percent is not good enough to beat some of the tougher teams on Rhode Island’s schedule. Let’s hope it was just an anomaly and nothing else.
Geez, all of this sounds pretty negative. But even with all of these areas to improve, the Rams are still the better team and our thinking is that they pick up their fifth win of the season tonight. What say you? Let us know in the comments!