When E.C. Matthews tore his ACL in the Rams' opening game, the nail was put in the coffin all too early when it came to Rhode Island’s chances of making a statement last year. Now, with Matthews expected to be back at full strength and coach Dan Hurley with a new contract extension, things are looking up in Kingstown.
After a 17-15 season that saw the Rams finish 9-9 in conference play, the program rewarded Hurley with a deal through 2021-22. Now with their coach in place for the foreseeable future, expectations will likely meet those that preceded last season.
All of the major outlets are beginning their "Way-too early (they really are WAY too early) preseason top-25 rankings" and many, including CBS Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and others have the Rams in the top-25 anywhere from 25 to as high as 15 on the list.
The hype around this team is real.
Matthews might be coming off of an injury, but as long as he is fully healthy, he will star on this team. During his sophomore season, Matthews was a finalist for the Jerry West Award as well as an All-Atlantic 10 second-teamer. He had impressive performances in games against Kansas, Providence and others, including his hometown school of Detroit as a sophomore. It all added up to 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game before his injury.
The Rams also have a strong supporting cast that was able to get even better despite his absence. Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell had great all-around seasons where they developed and stuffed the stat sheet. Both players made an impact on both ends of the floor.
Kuran Iverson and Hassan Martin showed their abilities to score and rebound last season. Iverson’s 7.1 rebounds per game and Martin’s 2.5 blocks per game were both key. With Matthews out of the picture, these two big men came into their own last season. Add all five of these guys together and you have a complete group that can make great things happen on the court. This could be the best starting five from top to bottom in the conference next season.
One wild card for this team is Stanford Robinson, who could turn into a great sixth man for the Rams. He was not able to make a mark at Indiana so he transferred to Rhode Island and sat out last season. Hurley could get a great boost from him if he pans out.
This Rhode Island team did so much to improve their role players last season and will look to put it all together. If the Rams can put the bad fortunes of last season behind them, they will compete for an Atlantic 10 title and can make a run into March.