Even though we're only officially five days into the college basketball season, the Valparaiso Crusaders and the Rhode Island Rams came into Tuesday's College Hoops Marathon match up with two very different stories.
Rhode Island dispatched American on opening night but that wasn't the key story at all. Instead focus shifted to losing Atlantic 10 Player of the Year candidate E.C. Matthews for the whole season. The Rams needed to regain focus after the blow and still charge towards their first NCAA Tournament appearance this century.
On the other side of things were the Valparaiso Crusaders, who continue to climb our Mid-Major Power 15. After taking down IPFW opening night, Valpo crushed fellow mid-major power Iona in our Game of the Week on Sunday.
Rhode Island couldn't find that moral boosting win today and Valpo now has quite the impressive early season resume after taking down the Rams 58-55 in Kingston.
Both teams started this morning's game cold and at halftime Rhode Island held a narrow 20-18 lead. It was immediately apparent that depth is now going to be an issue for Rhode Island's backcourt as Four McGlynn, Jarvis Garrett, and Jared Terrell all played over 35 minutes. All in all the Rams bench went 1-for-2 from the field, only played three players, and contributed 4 points and 5 rebounds. Those kind of numbers clearly are not going to be sustainable.
Hassan Martin was also asked to carry the load for Danny Hurley playing 38 minutes and posting 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks. He kept the Rams in the game in the post. Kuran Iverson only contributed 6 points in 21 minutes of action as the Memphis transfer started slow and never caught up.
On the other side of the ball Valpo's performance was all about balance as four of the five starters for Bryce Drew finished in double-figures. The Crusaders all-american candidate Alec Peters was the one who iced the game nailing a three and two clutch free throws in the last 90 seconds of play. Peters finished the day with 14 points and 5 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Vashil Fernandez added 12 points, 4 boards, and 2 blocks.
Tevonn Walker and Keith Carter had a solid day in the backcourt contributing 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists combined.
Rhode Island has nothing to be too down about. It's clear that their season is going to be tougher than anticipated without E.C. Matthews. Hurley is going to have to find some depth in his rotation to avoid playing four guys 35+ minutes a night. The Rams will get a few days off before hosting another Horizon League challenger, Cleveland State, on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Valparaiso has a bit of an odd schedule with back-to-back games against non-Division I opponents on Wednesday and Thursday. The Crusaders then head out west to play #25 Oregon on Sunday evening. That game will be yet another chance for Valpo to beef up their resume.