Maybe no team in the country had its season short-circuited as quickly as the Rhode Island Rams last November.
Just 10 minutes into a season-opening win over American, star guard E.C. Matthews crumpled to the floor in a heap while making a scoring move to the hoop. In that instant, a knee injury robbed the Rams of their leading scorer and perhaps the top player in the Atlantic 10, snuffing out any NCAA Tournament dreams.
The Rams didn’t fold their tents but simply became a very ordinary team (17–15, 9–9). To coach Dan Hurley’s credit, other players took on leadership roles and progressed in meaningful ways. Now with Matthews and a few key additions in tow, the Rams appear poised to make a run at a conference title.
“After we lost E.C., guys like Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell really stepped up and led our team,” Hurley says. “They’re juniors now, and the depth in our junior and seniors classes is what you like to see as a coach.”
All Atlantic 10 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Dan Hurley
2015-16 RECORD (A-10): 17–15 (9–9)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: None
2016-17 PREDICTION: Second in the Atlantic 10
G Four McGlynn (11.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
C Earl Watson (5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Matthews wasn’t the only Ram to battle injury, as the team’s projected starters missed close to 35 percent of the season due to assorted woes. Hassan Martin, Rhody’s frontcourt leader, coped with knee and ankle problems that eventually shut him down by the time March rolled around. The Rams badly need a return to top form by the undersized but bouncy and long-armed forward. When he’s on, Martin is a shot-blocking menace and efficient scorer around the rim.
He’ll be ably assisted by Kuran Iverson, a talented combo forward who ended up leading the Rams in rebounding with 7.1 per game. If he can avoid persistent foul woes that limited him to 27 minutes per game, Iverson could blossom into a major force. The Rams need additional bulk up front, and Hurley hopes he addressed that with recruits who will compete with 285-pound senior Andre Berry for time in the post. Mike Layssard, a 6'9" wide-body freshman, is the top candidate, but New Jersey native Cyril Langevine could be a recruiting steal.
Sophomore Nicola Akele showed some promise a year ago, and Hurley knows he’ll have to find time for swingman Stanford Robinson. He started 10 games over two seasons at Indiana before sitting out last season and flashing major promise in practice sessions.
This is where the Rams are as good as any team in the Atlantic 10 and can compete with virtually every team on their schedule. The key is a return to form by Matthews, who averaged 16.9 points in 2014-15. The lefty was one of the top offensive threats in the league in his first two college seasons and says that he learned a lot by sitting and watching last season. He returned from his ACL injury by the end of the summer and looks stronger than ever.
The good news is that Matthews won’t have to shoulder nearly as large of a load as he did earlier in his career. Hurley has a plethora of scoring options. Terrell stepped into the off-guard spot and led the Rams with 13.6 points per game. Garrett is now a seasoned point man and Hurley’s type of player. He played with a facemask for the last six weeks of last season after fracturing his jaw and still matured into one of the A-10’s top floor leaders.
The Rams are blessed with depth to complement the trio of Garrett, Terrell and Matthews. Robinson will certainly see time at the wing, as will sophomore Christion Thompson. Hurley is also excited about the shooting ability of Jeff Dowtin, a product of Washington D.C.’s powerful Catholic Athletic Conference.
The Rams add five players, and several could play key roles. Indiana transfer Stanford Robinson can guard three positions. Guard Jeff Dowtin is a dangerous deep shooter, and forwards Mike Layssard, Cyril Langevine and Michael Tertsea are all good prospects. Layssard owns big-time size and shooting range out to 15 feet.
Despite never coming close to an NCAA Tournament in four seasons, Hurley has received three contract extensions. That’s how much Rhody leaders think of him and the positive path the program is traveling. With a healthy Matthews last season, the Rams likely would have been in position to earn the school’s first NCAA berth since 1999.
Now that Matthews is back, Robinson is eligible and additional size is on hand thanks to solid recruiting, the pieces finally appear to be in place.
Give the Rams some badly overdue luck and they certainly should contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.