As the season approaches, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a closer look at its preseason Power 15 teams.
It's been a long wait for Rhode Island fans... The Rams have not been to the NCAA Tournament this century and it feels as if Kingston is finally at a fever pitch and ready to break through in year four of the Dan Hurley era. Last year the Rams fell to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 semifinals and their RPI of right around 50 just wasn't enough to vault them into the NCAA Tournament.
Obviously the focal point this year will once again be talented scorer E.C. Matthews. Matthews has what it takes to be the A10 Player of the Year, but does he have what it takes to lead the Rams back to March Madness? A pair of sophomore guards in Jared Terell and Jarvis Garrett will help to buoy Matthews in the Rams backcourt. Last year the two combined for over 15 points and 4 assists per game. Both sophomores also averaged over 25 minutes per game so expect similar numbers during their sophomore campaign.
You would think that the Rams backcourt depth took a bit of a hit with the departure of Biggie Minnis to Wright State but Hurley has replaced Minnis with sharpshooting journeymen Four McGlynn. McGlynn has spent time at Vermont and Towson and now brings his 12 points per game to Kingston. McGlynn could be that x-factor the Rams need to get over the hump and will provide a nice perimeter option for Hurley and a whole lot of experience.
Keep an eye on two names in the frontcourt this season that could set the Rams a part in the Atlantic 10. Hassan Martin is back for his junior season after averaging 11.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a year ago. Martin is one of the conferences best traditional bigs and should be even better this year. Martin will also get a boost this year playing alongside Memphis transfer Kuran Iverson. Iverson averaged a modest 4.6 points per game at Memphis, but he certainly holds the athletic ability to become a real force in the A10. Senior Earl Watson also adds a nice bit of depth for the Rams off the bench.
I expect Rhode Island to have another 20+ season. Obviously the ceiling for this team is an Atlantic 10 title and a nice NCAA Tournament run but I have two primary concerns. First, this is yet another team with transfer pieces. Hurley has been a bit of a media darling every year at URI with the Rams being routinely overrated. We obviously saw this two years ago with URI posting a losing record during the Xavier Munford era. Hurley is looking for a jumpstart and it'll be interesting if he can find chemistry this year.
My second concern is the Rams schedule. There is no question that it hurt URI last year on Selection Sunday when the conference looked at their non-conference slate and saw basically no quality wins. This year the schedule is a little better but still comes with a bit of risk. There are the traditional match ups against Providence and Brown, and there are also games against solid mid-major squads Iona, ODU, and Valparaiso. The thing is URI should win those game and it doesn't do too much for their case if they win but could crush them if they lose. Basically the whole non-conference slate comes down to the Cancun Challenge where they'll kick off against TCU for a likely shot at Maryland. That tournament might be URI's only real shot at an eyebrow raising win though.
Like I said, Ram fans have plenty to be excited for and should be in for a good season. But there is still a lot of weight in that 15+ year trend that is going on.