It’s finally here. After a week off from Rhode Island basketball (no one would blame you if you had the shakes), the Rams are back in action this evening. Rhody will take on the UMass Minutemen tonight in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament in their first (but hopefully not last) win-or-go-home game of the season. Oh, and it will mark the third and final time that URI will play Massachusetts this season. So there are a lot of things at play here – let’s get right to it.
1. Play Angry, but Focused
You know the story by now. E.C. Matthews was not the sole winner of the A-10 Rookie of the Year award. Neither Matthews nor Xavier Munford made an All-Conference team. Hassan Martin certainly had the numbers to make to make the All-Defensive team. But none of those things happened. So the Rams could have a sizable chip on their shoulder heading into tonight – can they use it to their advantage?
2. Handle the Big Stage
This is a crazy factoid, at least until you think about it. Of URI’s current roster, only T.J. Buchanan has played in at Atlantic 10 Tournament game in his career. Jarelle Reischel, Gilvydas Biruta, and Biggie Minnis have all seen various conference tourney action in the past, but not in the A-10. Tonight will be a nationally televised game at one of the premiere basketball venues in the country. Can the Rams shine in the spotlight?
3. Chaz… Again…
So this Chaz Williams guy is pretty good. All of the senior’s accolades have been well deserved: first team All A-10, consensus best point guard in the league, and countless others. But URI has done a solid job of handling a player who has the ability to take over a game at any time. It’s why the two previous meetings between these teams have been so close. Rhody will need to contain the diminutive star once again if they expect to hang with the Minutemen.
4. Win Without a Rebounding Advantage?
If there’s one thing that’s a reasonable guarantee tonight, it’s that UMass will control the glass. While that’s obviously not ideal for Rhode Island, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the season. As long as the Minutemen don’t rebound URI by a significant margin, the Rams can still pick up a win if they can bring the offense… particularly their shooting percentages. UMass can’t rebound made shots.
5. The Final Five Minutes
Rhody has hung close with the Minutemen in each of their two games this season, but they’ve come up short both times. In both cases, Massachusetts made the plays down the stretch and the Rams did not. If URI can channel their performance in the St. Bonaventure game (and others), that might be all they need to advance.
So what do you think? Does Rhode Island’s season come to and end tonight? Or do they survive and advance? Let us know in the comments!