Friday, November 28, 2008

Preview -- Rhode Island

The Wildcats and Rams, winners their respective semifinal games at the Philly Hoops Classic on Friday, are slated to face each other in the finals of the Independence Bracket. Rhode Island and Villanova share a coach, the legendary Jack Kraft finished his career in Kingston after his 12 year run on the Mainline. Krafty built a winner in Kingston, returning Rhody to the post season in the years before his retirement. Bad health forced him out of the head chair at the beginning of the 1981 season (URI's first in the Eastern Eight Conference). The Wildcats lead the series 4-2 -- all 6 games were played between 1924 and 1950. The Rams earned a bid to the NITs last season, and from appearances so far, are hungry for more...

What Others Say...
...Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a B and the bench/depth a C+. The BRY projected Rhody to finish #9 (out of 14) in the A10 this season. College Chalktalk Blog's Chris DiSano wrote a very detailed preview of Rhody that placed the Rams #9 in the conference...and the A10 coaches made it unanimous in their preseason poll, announced on Media Day.

With some quality players left over from a 21-12 (7-9) team and some promising newcomers joining the ranks, it could be an interesting year in Kingston.

"I think it's been a real good transition," said coach Jim Baron of how his incoming players have meshed with the veterans. "They're really good athletes. We want to try to continue pushing the basketball like we did the last two years. "These new guys will add a lot of depth, as well as athleticism to a solid program. Along with that, our sophomore class will make it very exciting"
--Rich Fisher's season preview, 11/10/08

Why Everyone Believes...
...The Rams had a great jag last season, running their record to 19-3 and a Top 25 rank in the polls before dropping 7 of their last 9 games to finish 21-12, dropping first round games in the A10 tournament and the NIT. The Rams lost leading scorer Will Daniels (forward) and assist leader Parfait Bitee (point guard), but bring back senior sg Jimmy Baron and 2 older but wiser starters from last seaon's squad. Coach Jim Baron has wno over 300 games during a career that spans two decades.

So Far...
Rhode Island (A10, 5-1, RPI #32) has wins over Brown (Ivy, 2-3, #136 RPI), Monmouth (NEC, 0-6, #267 RPI), VCU (CAA, 2-2, #185 RPI), Hartford (AE, 2-4, #169 RPI) and Penn State (Big Ten, 5-1, #154 RPI). Their sole loss, a 4 point road heartbreaker, to Duke (ACC, 7-0, #11 RPI). The 'Cats and Rams both played share several opponents this year:

The 'Cats enter this game sporting a 5-0 record - their most recent an uneven 17 point victory over Towson.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Rhody has quite a few options with the departure of Daniels. Coach Baron has decided to go with experience by starting senior Kahiem
Seawright (6-8, 235lbs) and junior Delroy James (6-8, 220lbs). Returners senior Jason Francis (6-9, 280lbs), junior Lamont Ulmer (6-6, 215lbs) and sophomore center Will Martell (7-0, 245lbs) are joined by transfer Ben Eaves (6-7, 225lbs), a junior who put in 2 years with Coach Calhoun at Connecticut, and freshman Orion Outerbridge (6-9, 210lbs). Through Tuesday James and Seawright have started and seen most of the available minutes, as Coach Baron is going with a 'tweener frontcourt. Ulmer is first off the bench (for the front court), while Martell and Eaves appear to round out "the second wave" Francis and Outerbridge have minutes, though aren't part of the rotation. Seawright, James and Martell have been foul-prone so far, as Seawright has logged 4 fouls in 3 of the Rams' first 4 games. And Martell fouled out of the Duke game.

Cunningham and Pena will start for Villanova, while Clark, if previous games are a measure, will provide efficient scoring in limited minutes. Beyond those three the rotation appears to be game-to-game, with senior Frank Tchuisi, junior Casiem Drummond and walk-on Russell Wooten potentially available to contribute. Cunningham and Pena have had to sit out first half action twice over fouls.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...The Rams back court features pre-season All-A10 Conference 3rd Team #2 guard senior Jimmy Baron (6-3, 195lbs), the son of coach Jim Baron, and Rhode Island record holder for most 3 point field goals in a single season (99). Feeding Baron are point guards sophomore Marquis Jones (6-1, 200lbs) and freshman Steve Mejia (5-9, 175lbs). Junior Keith Cothran (6-4, 195lbs) puts in time on the wing while freshman Jamal Wilson (6-5, 195lbs) provides depth. Coach Baron has opted for experience by starting son Baron, Cothran and Jones in all 6 games this season. Baron has logged 76.0% of the minutes at the #2 through the Rams' first 5 games. Cothran & Jones have logged about 66.0% of the minutes at the point and wing. Cothran went on a tear against Monmouth, VCU and Hartford, scoring 18, 23 and 22 points respectively. For the season he has hit 61.7% of his FGAs (eFG% is 80.0) through Tuesday's Hartford game. Baron may play a larger role in the offense, but Cothran has been quietly(?) putting up very efficient points. Mejia is getting an average of double digit minutes backing up Jones.

The Wildcats feature second team All-Big East Scottie Reynolds, All-Big East Rookie First Team Corey Fisher, sophomore Corey Stokes and junior utility man Reggie Redding. Reynolds and the Two Coreys will start, but count on seeing Redding for at least 20 minutes. Reynolds and Fisher had terrible outings against Monmouth, shooting a combined 3-14 from the field, making it up somewhat with a 7-8 from the line (13 points). They managed to compensate by dishing (between them...) 8 assists (4 turnovers), 6 rebounds (all Reynolds) and 4 steals. Against Towson...

Rhode Island By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years Rhody's RPI has swung widely from a low of #301 (2006-07) to a high of #77 (2003-04). Last season's squad was ranked #82. The Rams take a very average 68.5 possessions (adjusted) per game this season, ranking them #168 (per Ken Pomeroy's Efficiency Stats Page) -- the D1 average (as of 11/27/08) is about 68.6. A four factors comparison of Villanova and Rhode Island shows...

When Rhode Island has the ball...
Ram O57.116.841.126.0
'Cat D44.324.027.334.9

This is a strength vs strength matchup. Rhody is ranked #25 on eFG%, with special accuracy with 3 point shooting (46.1). Nova's eFG% defense is ranked #79 (but remember that is against some pretty mediocre competition), with a lackluster #108 ranking versus 3FGAs (31.1). Rhode Island takes about 31% of their FGAs as 3s, but if the Wildcats are especially effective in shutting down the close-in shots, expect Baron and Cothran to step it up on the outside. There will be fireworks when the Rams have the ball. Two of the three other factors (TO% and OR%) also match strengths. The Rams value the ball while the 'Cats expect to force the Rams to cough up about 1 in 4 possessions with no FGA. And Rhode Island expects to grab about 4 in 10 of their missed FGAs, while Villanova expects to limit the Rams to less than 3 in 10.

When the roles are reversed...

When Villanova has the ball...
'Cat O56.917.739.839.0
Ram D55.321.734.734.5

The Rams show some serious weakness on the defensive end, and this might be where the 'Cats can make up ground. Rhody's eFG%, their ability to defend the FGA, is weak as they are ranked #303 (out of 343) -- very weak indeed. They are especially porous against the 2FGA, ranking #318 in that category. This could be a very big game for the Villanova frontcourt, if they can stay in the game. The Rams are also not especially aggressive (in general, but also...) on the defensive boards, another area where the 'Cats shine (complements of Dante & Pena). Rhody will be vulnerable to putbacks from the frontcourt players. Interestingly, Villanova is slightly less effective than the Rams offensively, but given the differential on defense, expect the 'Cats to be far more effective in this area of the game. Duke has a slightly more effective defense than Villanova (see the Duke Scouting Report over at Ken Pomeroy's site), with a similar profile -- rebounding, 2FGA defense, turnovers, etc. In their game at Cameron Arena, the Rams took a one point lead into the locker room, but could not hold it in the second half when Duke became considerably more effective from the field and took control of their offensive boards.

Final Thoughts...
These teams are twins, albeit Villanova has the edge on talent and athleticism...and defense. The 'Cats have the better of it when back courts are compared, but Rhode Island has been able to rely on consistent scoring from two of their three guards. The Villanova guards need to shake off their shooting slump while continuing to provide good defense. The game could easily turn on whether either team can take the early lead & hold it, and keep their bigs out of foul trouble (and in the game).

Coach Wright has used a pretty consistent 10 man rotation for the first five games, doling out double digit minutes to 7-8 (the starters plus Redding, Clark and maybe one of Tchuisi or Drum?) of the 10.

The game will be played for about 65 possessions (a bit lower than the D1 average...Villanova has played in a larger than usual low possessions games so far) and will favor Villanova by 9 or so points, in the closest game yet this season.

Roster Notes
Villanova --
1. Still shorthanded in the front court with Dwayne Anderson still not cleared with foot problems and Maurice Sutton benched pending a redshirt.
2. Casiem Drummond dressed, but was DNP Coach's decision.

Rhode Island -- Nothing to report.

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