As we inch closer to tomorrow night’s first round match-up between Rhode Island and UMass, we decided to cross enemy lines to get some input on the game. Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the Atlantic 10 Tournament showdown.
Rhody Rampage: You’ve gotten to see the Rams and Minutemen face off twice this season. What impressed you about URI in those two games?
Matt Vautour: I’ve watched URI and wondered not if they’d be good, but how soon. E.C. Matthews could be the player of the year in the league somewhere down the road and I like Hassan Martin’s future as well.
RR: Obviously both games were very close contests, yet the records show a larger disparity between the two teams. Do you think the Rams match-up well with UMass? What is Rhode Island’s biggest advantage?
MV: I think URI has matched up well with UMass so far. I think the Rams have done a nice job making Chaz Williams work for the points he scored. If URI can repeat the job its done defensively on Williams in the past two meetings, while getting Matthews and Xavier Munford scoring, URI could be in position to pull off an upset and advance.
RR: The URI fan mantra right now seems to be “It’s hard to beat the same team three times in one season.” How much stock do you put into that line of thinking?
MV: I think that’s one of those adages in sports that everybody blindly believes is true, but really isn’t. So I put no weight in that concept. Despite that, I’m not saying URI can’t win. It absolutely can. But if the Rams win it will be because of continued improvement, not because it’s the third meeting.
RR: Finally, what do you think is the biggest key for each team tomorrow night?
MV: If I’m URI, I’d like to avoid foul trouble, especially on Gilvydas Biruta. While the starting five is A-10 competitive right now, the bench is less reliable.
For UMass, the key is commitment to defense. The sneaky thing about the Minutemen’s uptempo style is that they’re potentially a very good halfcourt defensive team when they commit to it. If Matthews and Munford don’t get many open looks, UMass would be in good position.