When the AP Preseason Top 25 was released, the Rhode Island Rams squeezed in at No. 23. Some may wonder how a team from the Atlantic 10 that went 17-15 last season could garner so much early respect.
It’s simple: E.C. Matthews.
Two nights ago, Rhode Island had a tough time outlasting Brown, barely defeating the Bears, 79-72.
This was the first stumble of the young season for Rhode Island, but had it not been for Matthews, it could have turned into one of the year’s first major upsets. The junior scored 17 points on 60 percent shooting from the field.
Last season, the Rams entered with similar expectations. However, injuries -- primarily Matthews’ season-ending injury on opening night -- derailed all of Rhode Island’s hopes to be on that level.
Matthews came into last season with 999 career points, but before he even had a chance at No. 1,000, he heard a pop in his knee.
Diagnosis: an ACL tear. Out for the season.
And just like that, the Rams’ bright future turned dark. But now, Matthews is fully healthy and his return to the lineup has made all the difference.
He is an all-around player. Heck, Matthews could be named an All-American this season and has already been designated a preseason Jerry West Award watch list and Naismith Award watch list member.
So far in 2016, Matthews has lit up the scoreboards. In all three of Rhode Island’s early season wins, the 6’5 guard from Detroit has averaged 20 points, 3.3 rebounds and one steal per game. His shooting percentages are even more incredible.
Even though these numbers can’t possibly sustain for the entire 2016-17 season, they’re still worth marveling at. Matthews is currently shooting 71.9 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from three.
Some might say Matthews is enjoying a breakout year, but in fact, he has been good for his entire Rhode Island career.
He quickly made his name known within Atlantic 10 circles during his first collegiate season when he averaged 14.3 points while shooting 42.1 percent from the floor. Those statistics helped Matthews earn A-10 freshman of the year honors. The sky was the limit for the young guard.
Then in 2014-15, Matthews impressed even more as his average ticked up to 16.9 points per game.
Rhode Island did a decent job last year at surviving without its best player in the nation’s toughest mid-major league, but it is understandable for a team that once had such high hopes to see those dreams crash after losing such a player.
Now with a healthy Matthews, Rhode Island looks like it has the potential to reach the level that many around the nation believed they could reach last season.
Although it has only been three games, Matthews has shown how special of an athlete he is. And this Saturday, Matthews has huge shot to prove his doubters that he is truly back, as the now-No. 21 Rams take on the No. 24 Cincinnati Bearcats. If he is able to put up numbers like he has in his first three games back from injury, perhaps the greater college basketball world will finally take notice.