It’s really hard to pinpoint what went wrong when nothing went right. But the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team’s 78-48 loss – yes, you read that right – to St. Joseph’s Tuesday night was an eye-opener and not in the way URI fans hoped it would be on Senior Night.
Right now the best-case scenario for the Rams is they learn from the loss, move on, perform well at the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and make it to the second weekend – or further – at the NCAAs.
Worst-case? Cinderella’s gown just turned to rags before the dance started.
St. Joseph’s exposed what nobody in Kingston really wanted to admit. When it comes to 3-point shooting, URI flat out stinks.
The team isn’t built with a reliable 3-point shooter, nevermind an elite one. Jared Terrell is the only Ram to shoot over 40 percent this season (60-for-147 after going 1-for-7 Tuesday) with Jarvis Garrett (38.7 percent, 24-62) and Jeff Dowtin (36.2 percent,17-47) the only other players over 32 percent.
No Reliable Outside Shooting
This becomes a problem when a team decides to play a dedicated zone and are prepared to prevent penetration at all cost. Usually the Rams hit a couple shots, force a team out and into different looks that allow the pace of the game to speed up. But throwing up brick after brick Tuesday left no reason for the Hawks to do anything except close gaps and box out. URI wasn’t taking threes as much as St. Joe’s was letting them.
St. Joseph’s also did a decent enough job taking care of the basketball. URI comebacks are built on the back of its terrorizing defense, but the Hawks got sloppy with the ball seven times in the first half. When you’re shooting at a 50 percent clip – not to mention 5 of 9 from 3 – one or two too many turnovers are easy to overcome.
Can every team repeat what SJU did defensively and taking care of the basketball? Probably not. Don’t expect URI to shoot that poorly again either.
The Blueprint Against URI
But anyone the Rams play going forward should adopt the Hawks’ philosophy. Force URI to shoot. Just camp out in a zone and trust it will work. If the Rams make one, don’t blink. Two in a row? Move on. Until they’re hitting at a Steph Curry-like clip, let them shoot and don’t let them drive and attack because that’s where they’ll get you.
This loss should knock URI out of the Top 20 and maybe the Top 25. Mid-majors tend to drop big when they lose by a billion at home to a double-digit dog.
But that ranking doesn’t mean as much as how this loss is going to effect Rhode Island’s NCAA Tournament seeding.
Before Tuesday the Rams were staring at a five seed and had they won out, maybe a four in an absolute best-case scenario.
Now? Kiss a four and five seed goodbye. Six is probably the hope and that might require an A-10 tourney win. Take a loss in the A-10 tourney before the final? An eight. Lose Friday to Davidson and not make the A-10 final? Hello double-digit seed.
Good news for fans is URI is in and since the program hasn’t made it to back-to-back NCAAs since Lamar Odom. Playing meaningful games in March isn’t something to be that depressed about. It would have been great to have been a four or five seed, but you take what you get – but it’s OK to hope you avoid the eight or nine seed.
So to avoid the 8/9 game of death followed by a game vs. a No. 1 seed, URI needs to get back to playing the basketball it was two weeks ago, because these last four haven’t exactly been the type of games that fill you with confidence heading to March. Mediocre plays leads to a tough loss at Bonaventure, bad play but you escape with a win at La Salle, great play at home against a down Dayton team and Tuesday night. Anyone feel good about those?
Dan Hurley shouldn’t. And he probably doesn’t.
And now we’re going to see what he’s all about.
Rebuilding the program was Hurley’s first test and he passed with flying colors.
But now he has to validate this season. You can’t win 23 games then choke away the last two weeks of the season and hope you pick somebody off in the tournament.
Will They Handle Adversity?
Hurley showed how important the regular season was to him by allowing for an over-the-top celebration after Friday’s win over Dayton. Confetti? Cutting down the nets? That’s tournament stuff, but it’s clear Hurley believes winning the regular season title proves a little more than a team that might catch fire in the A-10 Tournament, sort of like his team did last year.
Before Tuesday, the Atlantic 10 Tournament wasn’t a priority. Getting to the final would have been fine, making the semifinal would have been manageable. Now it has to prove this season wasn’t a fluke. Winning the A-10s is a need now, not a want.
Because if they don’t, there’s a good chance this season to remember is going to be one URI fans want to forget.