Friar Basketball

What to Expect from URI

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On Thursday night the Providence College Friars will look to rebound from their 14 point loss against Kentucky when they travel to southern Rhode Island to take on URI. Now in his second season as head coach of the Rams, Dan Hurley has his team at 6-3 heading into tomorrow’s matchup with PC. Last season, Hurley got his first taste of the in-state rivalry but that game is likely one he hopes to forget as the Friars took a 72-57 victory at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

A season prior, LaDontae Henton had what Ed Cooley labeled, “His best collegiate game,” against URI. In the 15 point win over Rhode Island, Henton chalked up 21 points and snagged a career high 17 rebounds. Kadeem Batts was also huge in that win, scoring a game high 23 points and pulled down 7 boards.

Tomorrow night gives Batts a great opportunity to bounce back from a very disappointing game against Kentucky, a game where he tied a season low with just 8 points on 3-14 shooting. On Tuesday, Ed Cooley addressed Batts by saying, “Kadeem and I met today for about an hour. I talked to him about needing to relax. He seemed to be in a rush. I told him to slow down, be patient and take the shot you want to take, not the shot the defense wants you to take. I think you will see a much more relaxed Kadeem on Thursday night.”

In terms of the overall matchup with URI, Cooley went on to add, “This is one of those game that really coaches itself. The players know what they are up against. I have to manage this game, manage our emotions. We are in a similar situation to where we were last year with all of the injuries. They are a better team than they were last year, but we are improving and learning to play hurt.”

Playing hurt, of course, has been a theme for this team ever since Vincent Council went down with a serious hamstring injury in last season’s home opener against NJIT. Since that night, PC has suffered injuries from Council, who graduated last Spring, Bryce Cotton and most recently Kris Dunn. Dunn has not played since November 25th when he re-injured his shoulder in a loss to Maryland. His return to the lineup remains uncertain.

Rhode Island enters Thursday pretty thin as well though as their leading scorer from a season ago, Jordan Hare, took a leave of absence from the program prior to the year beginning and has not returned to the team. Without him, URI has won six of their nine games. Additionally, freshman forward, Mike Aaman is listed as questionable as he is still recovering from an emergency appendectomy that took place after their loss to Arizona.

PC holds a 69-54 edge in the series with URI and they will look to improve to 8-2 on the season tomorrow night.
To help get you ready for the 124th edition of the Ocean State rivalry I have brought in Dave Ascoli who covers the Rams for RhodyRampage.com. You can follow him on Twitter @SmartyBarrett.

1) What are your impressions of the Rams through 9 games? 

The Rams have been a little hard to gauge this season, only because they have so many new players getting significant minutes. Between transfers (Gilvydas Biruta, Jarelle Reischel, and Biggie Minnis), freshmen (E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin), and another first year player (Ifeanyi Onyekaba), there’s been a lot going on in terms of things to watch. Rhody is still learning how to play as a team and meld all of these new faces into a well-oiled unit. It’s a little frustrating for fans that it’s taking this long, especially with the trip to Italy over the summer, but these things take time.

2) Two scores jump out to me on URI’s schedule, the 31 point loss to SMU and the 3 point win over Metro St. What exactly happened in those two games?

The SMU game was not pretty. Rhody hung with them for about the first 10 minutes of the contest before the wheels completely fell off. I can tell that from what I saw, the Mustangs are a really good team. They have a great shot to not only get into the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps make a run. This isn’t last year’s SMU team – Larry Brown is turning that program around big time.

As for Metro State, they came out and beat three Division I teams after their loss to URI, including the Jim Baron-led Canisius Golden Griffins. They are far from your typical D-II squad; they proved they can hang with the big boys by going 3-1 against D-I competition this season.

3) EC Matthews is a familiar name for PC fans as Ed Cooley targeted him prior to his commitment to URI, how has he performed thus far?

E.C. is already showing signs of what will hopefully be a very special career at Rhode Island. He was the team leader in scoring over their first few games before a bit of a slump recently has seen Xavier Munford take the lead. Matthews was injected into the starting lineup last week and has been there ever since… and that’s right about when his slump began. Coincidence? Too much pressure too soon? It’s hard to say, but fans have to keep reminding themselves that he is just a freshman. His ability off the dribble is unlike anyone we’ve seen here since Dawan Robinson.

4) How do you rate Dan Hurley’s progress, now in his second year at URI?

Last year was a clear rebuilding year, so most fans were willing to toss the results out and enjoy the positive signs – there we plenty of them. This season has been rocky at times, but it’s already a clear improvement (8 wins all of last year vs 6 already this year). There’s still a lot to improve as this year goes on, and the Rams definitely need another piece or two before URI fans can start getting really excited. But there’s no doubt that Hurley has things headed in the right direction.

5) Prior to the beginning of the season, it was announced that Jordan Hare was taking a leave of absence from the program. Is there an update on his situation?

There’s no update on Hare, other than he’s still enrolled at the University and still on the team’s official roster page. Other members of the media that are close to the team indicated that they feel that Hare will return at some point (link: https://twitter.com/BillKoch25/status/405469226665644032), but no one is quite sure when that is. My impression is that if folks are saying that, there must be optimism within the coaching staff as well.

6) In this week’s poll, two Atlantic 10 teams were voted into the top 25, the Big East just one. What are your thoughts on the Atlantic 10 in comparison to the new Big East?

The craziest thing in my mind is that the A-10 has two teams in the Top 25 and VCU isn’t one of them.
There was a lot of buzz in the preseason about UMass, but I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t expect them to be this good. The real shocker in the A-10 right now is Dayton – NO ONE saw them coming. As for the Big East, there’s certainly a lot going on between the realignment, the new schools injected into the mix, Butler losing one of the best coaches in the college game, etc. Besides Nova, there’s not a lot of big-time firepower in the conference right now… at least not that I can see. Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world if you’re a PC fan – they have a great shot at finishing near the top of the league this year.

7) Who should Providence be most concerned about on URI?

I’m going to go with a wild card here and say T.J. Buchanan, only because he’s been the most consistent player for Rhode Island thus far. Munford, Matthews, Biruta, Onyekaba… all of these guys have had their ups and downs through the first nine games. But T.J. really knows his role on the team and he’s flourishing. He provides an instant spark off the bench, plays in-your-jersey defense, and has a tremendous basketball IQ. The best thing about his play this year is that he’s taking guys off the dribble, getting in the lane, and scoring around the rim. He’s also making smart decisions with the ball, so he’ll dish out to the open shooter when he needs to. He’s struggled with injuries in the past, but he’s healthy this year and his potential as an impact player is finally being realized.

8) What are you most concerned about leading into this game?

The front court. The Rams are very thin right now, with Hare out and Mike Aaman questionable for Thursday night as he recovers from an appendectomy. That leaves only Biruta, Onyekaba, and Hassan Martin to deal with the likes of Batts, Henton, Harris, and Desrosiers. URI’s bigs struggled with foul trouble last time out against George Mason. If that happens again, they have their work cut out for them.

9) Game prediction?

I picked PC in the preseason so I guess I’ll stick with it. The Rams have played extremely well at home this season so they definitely have a chance, but they’ll need a lot to go right. Staying out of foul trouble, limiting turnovers, limiting scoring droughts… it’s possible. They’ll also need someone – think Matthews or Munford – to catch fire. Even with all that said, I doubt we’ll see a blowout like we saw a year ago. I’m thinking 77-69 PC.
pcuri
Game Information:
Where: Ryan Center – Kingston, RI
When: 8 PM
Television: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 103.7 WEEI FM
Follow Craig on Twitter – @Craig_Belhumeur

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