Full disclaimer: I am a URI Student. A URI fan. The mind behind everything Barstool Rhody. With that being said, I am a journalist. As hard as this is going to be, here is my full, unbiased preview for the biggest college hoops game in the state, if not New England, all year.
It’s that time of year. The early Christmas for college basketball fans in Rhode Island- rivalry week. This Saturday, URI and PC will square off for the 131st time, with the Friars holding the bragging rights with 73 wins to Rhody’s 58. Under the lead of Dan Hurley, the Rams took their first win since 2009 at the Ryan Center by a score of 75-68.
Rhody heads into the rivalry game off of a 71-51 victory over Brown University and they sit at 3-2 on the year, with losses to Stony Brook and College of Charleston. The Friars sit at 5-2, with a loss to Wichita State and No. 18 Michigan. They head into Saturday’s game off of a victory over Fairleigh Dickinson, 69-59.
We’ll start by breaking down the backcourt. The guard play was one of the main factors of Rhode Island’s victory in 2017, on both sides of the ball. Fatts Russell, a rookie in last year’s game, led all scorers with 20 points in the game. On defense, the guards had 11 steals, three of them coming from this year’s point guard Jeff Dowtin. Dowtin also had 10 points and four assists in the matchup. Between Dowtin, Russell, and the senior combo of Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett, and Stanford Robinson- Friar’s star point guard Kyron Cartwright was held to just two points of 1-7 shooting.
One of the keys to Rhode Island’s win was the turnovers they forced- 21. Providence averages 13.6 turnovers a game this year, and Rhody forces 16.8. That being said, the Friars’ top two leading scorers are both guards, in junior Alpha Diallo (18.7 ppg) and freshman A.J Reeves (13.6 ppg). Throw in freshman David Duke, raised in Providence, and the Friars have a dangerous mix of guards who can score points in a hurry.
Russell and Dowtin lead a young back court, with help from senior Christion Thompson, a two-way player, and look to stop possibly the hottest combination of guards in the Big East. Fortunately for David Cox, the Rams’ first year Head Coach, Russell and Dowtin have been consistent defensively all year. Besides these three, Rhody’s backcourt consists of all freshmen. Tyrese Martin has been giving over 20 minutes a game, but little on the scoring end. (He has a breakout game in store for him, soon.)
Throw in Thompson, who has been a stand-out on the defensive end for Rhode Island, and the Rams matchup very well against Providence’s backcourt. Plus, they always seem to take out the opponent’s best player- see the Brown game. Desmond Cambridge came in averaging 15.8 points and left with seven points and a terrible shooting night.
On the downside, URI has had shooting troubles, especially the backcourt. In the victory over Brown, Dowtin and Russell finished 4-for-23 combined from the field. Dowtin had 11 points, while Russell finished with just four. Dowtin leads the team in scoring, with 17.2 per game and 4.2 assists.
On the season, Russell has been slow to transition into his new role. He is just 6-of-38 from deep, about 16 percent, and shooting a clean 25.0 percent from the field. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, scoring 20 points against Harvard and nailing the game-winning three.
In his defense, he is averaging 14 more minutes per game, about nine more shot attempts, and is getting to the line roughly six times as often as last season. Perhaps the big stage of the rivalry is just what the doctor ordered to bring Russell’s production to where he expects it to be.
Or, perhaps it’s the emergence of a dominant front court. Which transitions to the next part of the preview: the big men. Rhody’s two bigs are coming off their most impressive night of the season on Wednesday. Cyril Langevine dominated every aspect of the game, scoring a game high 19 points while pulling down a game high 17 rebounds- 12 of them from the offensive glass. He’s now averaging a double-double on the season, with 14.6 points and 11.2 rebounds a game.
Jermaine Harris, after starting the season 3-for-13 with 10 total points through four games, decided he’d join in on the fun. He shot a perfect 6-for-6 and had 15 points to add to Langevine’s 19, and added five boards as well.
Ryan Preston has been quiet on the box scores, but impressive on the court in all his appearances this game. He recorded the game-winning block against Harvard, and had an impressive play against Brown, stopping a fast-break dunk after running the length of the court. He is shooting 9-for-13 on the season, averaging 4.4 points and 4.2 boards per game. Overall, Rhode Island averages 25.6 points in the paint per game compared to Providence’s 31.4.
For the Friars, Nate Watson has been the most impressive member of the frontcourt. He’s averaging 9.9 points per outing, and does it at an efficient rate, shooting 53.5 percent on the season. He was named the team’s most promising prospect last season and will be the tallest player on the court, standing at 6’10, two inches above Langevine and Harris.
Diallo is the rebound leader on the squad, with 9.2 a game, but Watson and Isaiah Jackson each offer about five boards per night. Kalif Young has started every game at forward for Ed Cooley, but offers more on the defensive end with his size than he can on offense. The skills of their guards on the dribble and penetration are the reason for the bulk of points in the paint.
Ed Cooley returns for his 8th rivalry game, posting a 6-1 record all time against URI. On the contrary, David Cox enters the Dunkin’ Donuts Center for his first game against Providence College as a head coach. He leads five players who are also experiencing their first rivalry game, and Russell will play at the Dunk’ for the first time in his Ram career. Cooley’s experience as a head coach outnumbers Cox’s by a long shot, and that’s being generous.
The game is also played in Providence- taking away Rhode Island’s student section, which is- in my opinion- a huge factor in several games. There’s a reason Rhody has two losses in that building dating back to 2016.
The Friars have the better team on paper- they have a legit shot at finishing as one of the top teams in the Big East. Ed Cooley has never lost in his building. But Rhody matches up well, and these games are rarely a blowout. I have Rhode Island taking this one, 68-65.
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