Rueb: URI Loses A-10 Championship, But Greener Pastures Lay Ahead

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You’re probably upset.

There was plenty of offensive inconsistency. The defense played hard but gave up too many open threes and who knows how many open layups that weren’t made. The game was there to be had in the last minute and neither possession looked like something you want to see.

But you’re Rhode Island.

And things are good.

A Jeff Dowtin’s fadeaway 3-pointer that glanced off the rim and landed harmlessly on the hardwood wasn’t how the Rams wanted to see their second straight Atlantic 10 Championship appearance end, but the 58-57 loss isn’t a tragedy. It’s just another part of the journey.

This is a program that three years ago just hoped to make the tournament. Five years this March, the first year of the Hurley regime, you were watching St. Louis win the A-10 after the Rams went 8-21. That’s eight wins, 21 losses.

Standards Are Higher

Ten years ago you were ready to watch URI make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999 before a February fallout where the Rams lost seven of eight, followed by a first-round loss in the A-10 Tournament and a one-and-done in the NIT.

That’s your most recent history and you’re wallowing about an Atlantic 10 championship game loss?

Getting to this game is what Hurley promised when he came to Kingston. In five years he turned the once-proud program that briefly flirted with being a laughingstock into an A-10 elite. Yes, you won the regular-season crown, but that doesn’t guarantee anything except the one thing you wanted most when Hurley arrived.

An NCAA bid.

Beating Davidson would have helped seeding, sure, but how much? Your seeding was all-but determined at the end of the regular season, not the loss Sunday. You were hoping to be a six and might end up a seven. At worst you were a seven and might end up an eight. Hell, the loss might help you stay on the seven line because, guess what? You just added another win over an NCAA Tournament team to your resume and maybe the selection committee will give you a first-round matchup against a meddling Big 5 team that had a solid conference tournament. Perhaps one that wears black and hates that you’re getting more attention than they are right now? (BTW, the state would burn to the ground if this happened.)

Sunday doesn’t determine how you judge URI’s season. Next weekend does. If you go one-and-done it’s a disaster, but it’s still better than not making the dance. Win a game, good year. Win both on the first weekend? The state better throw Hurley a parade right down 138.

So grieve. Just stop once the brackets come out. The NCAA Tournament, that’s the season that matters. That’s the season Hurley promised he’d get to when he came and that’s the only season you should care about because it’s the one this team has really worked for. If anyone within the program says winning A-10s means more than making NCAAs, they should be fired immediately.

Greener Pastures Next Week?

Sunday’s loss may end up helping. URI didn’t fall on its face as it had in previous losses. Anyone expecting to roll over Davidson doesn’t really pay attention to what happens in college basketball in March. How the Rams lost wasn’t that much of a surprise – couldn’t make threes because they’re terrible shooters; defense had trouble vs. a slow-paced, meticulous offense; and Hurley’s end-of-game coaching was about par for the course, despite what URI/Hurley apologists would have you believe, and probably something that Bobby will talk to Danny about at the 2018 Hurley Family Reunion on the Jersey Shore this summer if his Arizona State team is one of the last four teams who don’t make the dance.

Rhode Island can use the loss to motivate them because it’s going to take the shine off this squad, which isn’t a terrible thing seeing how they’ve dealt with pressure. This team deals with it like playoff Peyton Manning and going to the NCAAs after winning the A-10 regular season and tournament and then becoming everyone’s dark-horse Elite Eight/Final Four team would have put the Rams on a rollercoaster of pressure they haven’t proved they can handle.

So let this breathe. Celebrate, don’t commiserate. Right now you’re exactly where you want to be.

And this weekend is when the real fun starts.

Eric Rueb
Eric Rueb is a freelance journalist. For more from Rueb on sports, entertainment and him living the #DadLife, follow him on Twitter at @EricRueb. Send him email at ericrueb@yahoo.com.
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