The Rhode Island Rams have been absent from the NCAA tournament since 1999, when the team was led by Lamar Odom. It's been five years since Dan Hurley took the helm for the Rams, and the program has been on the rise under his tenure.
How They Got Here
Rhode Island (24-9, 13-3) enters the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country as they are currently on an eight game winning streak. Finishing third in the Atlantic 10 regular season, Rhode Island captured the conference tournament title over the VCU Rams.
The staple for the Rams comes on the defensive side of the ball. They’re ranked No. 32 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating, only allow 64.9 points per game, and take away teams’ ability to shoot the ball from deep by holding opponents to 29% shooting from behind the arc. Their length, speed, and athleticism give them the ability to close out and contest shots at a high rate.
Offensively, the physicality of the Ram allows them to attack the paint, and the mid-range game is the strength of their half-court attack. Senior forwards Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson combine with junior guard E.C. Matthews make up the trio which drives the bulk of their offensive game plan.
Is Rhode Island poised to upset 6 seed Creighton?
One thing is for sure, Rhode Island won’t be intimidated going into this contest. The Rams’ confidence is high from competing in one of the best leagues in the Atlantic 10, and they were within a few possessions in almost every single game that they lost. The defense will have to be up to their standards in order to knock off the Creighton Blue Jays, a team that likes to score and score often. Rhode Island should gain some traction since the Blue Jays haven’t been at full strength, due to the loss of Maurice Watson Jr., although they have found an identity as well as success since his injury.
The tall task will be for the Rams perimeter defense to contain Marcus Foster, along with the rest of a Creighton team that is loaded with quality shooters. On the offensive end, Rhode Island can’t have one of their off shooting nights, and will need to take advantage of their scoring threats in the post. If the Rams can get some baskets off of their defense, they can certainly put up enough points to give them an opportunity to advance to the second round.
Bench production: Something to keep an eye on
During the madness of March, it’s very common that teams that make a run receive a pleasant surprise from a reserve or two. Rhode Island will need a role player to elevate their performance to take the pressure off their big three to carry the load. Stanford Robinson could provide more perimeter offense for the Rams with his 39% three-point shooting. Creighton has four players averaging double figures, and as a team they score about 83 points per game. If the Rams defensive doesn’t slow them down, they will surely need a boost in order to keep pace.
E.C. Matthews is a do-it-all type of performer that must bring his A-game against the Blue Jays. When he is playing fearless on both ends of the floor, Rhode Island plays with a different level of passion. Matthews can create in a tight ball game as well as lock up to get a clutch defensive stop. The Rams won’t go quiet in the night, so don’t be surprised when they are still dancing into the weekend.