The 2017-18 season was arguably the best regular season in Rhode Island Rams basketball history. Rhody went 26-8 and made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament.
After the first-round win over Naismith Player of the Year Trae Young, something just didn’t feel right. All over national media, Rams head coach Danny Hurley was labeled as a top candidate to take a high major job. On the day between the first and second round games, Hurley was reported to meet with Pitt administration. Other rumored landing spots included Uconn and Louisville.
Five days after the second-round loss to Duke, Danny Hurley was the new head coach of the Connecticut Huskies. Nearly two weeks after that, his assistant David Cox was appointed the head coaching job at Rhode Island. With barely any turnover on the roster, the Rams were expected to flirt with a tournament bid again.
Rhody struggled in non-conference and went on a five-game losing streak in February. This losing streak included a 29-point loss to Dayton, an OT loss to A10 bottom dweller Fordham, and a 34-point loss to VCU. Most teams would just give up, but Coach Cox wouldn’t allow it with his squad.
After a 9-point primetime loss to Davidson, Rhode Island finished off A10 regular season play on a 4-game winning streak. They blew out both George Washington and Umass at home and were running into the conference tournament red hot. The Rams would end up winning 2 in Brooklyn, including an upset over top seeded VCU. URI was 3-3 against the top 3 teams in the Atlantic 10 last season.
The run at the end of the season brought back memories of the year before and has given Rhody a lot of confidence going into the season. Rhode Island brings back their top 4 producers, including Jeff Dowtin. This squad reminds him a lot of the 2017-18 team, saying “That team had great seniors who led the way and me and Cyril who played huge parts as sophomores. Now me and Cyril are the seniors and we got a great group of young guys willing to help.”
Those young guys include Jacob Toppin, brother of Dayton star Obi Toppin, 4-star recruit Mehki Long and Greg Hammond, the top player coming out the state of Louisiana. They are all big on defense and will play key roles off the bench early on.
They’ll most likely start off on the bench because the Rams return all 5 starters and 6 out of their top 7 producers.
Jeff Dowtin led the team in scoring last year with 15.3 Points Per Game. His fellow incoming senior, Cyril Langevine averaged 14.7 points per game and was a member of the Atlantic 10 All Defensive Team. They both made big plays down the stretch to help their team regain confidence.
Another leader on this Rhode Island team that all the college basketball world knows is, Junior guard Fatts Russell. The 5-10, 165 pound guard is nothing close to fat. He puts up fat numbers though, averaging 14.2 points per game. Jeff Dowtin exclaimed to me “He is like a senior leader as well”. Russell was named the CBS Sports player of the week during conference tournament week.
Rhode Island finished with the 5th highest KenPom rating in the Atlantic 10 but were one of the worst teams 3 point shooting wise. The Rams shot a terrible 28% from behind the arc. Coach David Cox has made it a key this offseason to fix that. Don’t think they were not a high scoring team though. Rhody scored 70+ points in nearly every game. They only lost three times in those twenty games.
The Rams were in the upper 6th of college basketball in defense. If they can put up good numbers shooting and keep up their defense, they’ll be a tough test any night.
URI will have their fair share of challenges in the non-conference portion of their schedule. The Rams will visit Maryland, and West Virginia. Host rival Providence and mid major power Western Kentucky. And play LSU and possibly Utah State in Jamaica. If the Rams could win half of these games, they could create a great at-large resume.
Do I think Rhode Island can sneak back into the top of the Atlantic 10? Of course! That’s why I am writing this article. The Rams bring back almost all their team from last season, and then some. If that late run going into the end of last season continues into this season, watch out for another A10 title from Rhody. They’ll be right there fighting with VCU and Davidson for another tournament bid.