We continue our flyover of the Atlantic 10 Conference with one blurb per team on what we’ll be watching. Previews are for another day… for now, some summer teasers on what could mean a couple more W’s for your program of choice.
An infusion of talent, physical players on the interior, an intriguing tug-of-war for minutes at the point guard position — just a few of the enticing subplots for this season’s Rhode Island Rams. But, for my money, the second wave scoring is what we’ll be watching. Before we go further, let’s throw out this number:
That’s the total points per game generated by the four reserves that saw significant floor time for Dan Hurley last season in 56 combined minutes a night. That’s .19 points per minute.
But it’s unfair to suggest the reserves’ lack of production was solely their own doing. Other than Xavier Munford, even the Rams’ starters lacked the consistency to buoy any reserves who entered. Hurley had no choice but to lengthen possessions and grind clock to keep his team within striking distance — no matter which five he had on the floor. Not a blueprint for prolific ‘O’.
This season’s Rams team is more talented and much deeper, with seven new players suiting up. Only the Atlantic 10’s second leading scorer, Munford (17.4ppg), and Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta (9.6ppg in 2011-12) figure to be bet-the-house locks to start. I see Rice transfer Jarelle Reischel joining them, but Reischel’s versatility and his ability to facilitate also make him an attractive reserve option. Assuming for the sake of argument that Reischel does start, however, that leaves a possible bench made up of seven of these nine players: Mike Powell (G), TJ Buchanan (G), EC Matthews (G), Matthew Butler (G), Biggie Minnis (G), Hassan Martin (F), Mike Aaman (F), Ifeanyi Onyekaba (F/C), and Jordan Hare (F/C).
Matthews, a slippery southpaw off the bounce, is a special talent. Buchanan flashed an improving jumper late last year and a consummate role player. Martin, just 17 years old, is developing ahead of schedule and figures to chip in given his high motor. The Texas Tech transfer Minnis is explosive in ball screen situations. Powell looks like a more confident shooter. Onyekaba uses his physicality well and can score with his back to the basket. Aaman is capable in the pivot if not respected. Hare is a year wiser and will find seams where he can avoid contact and convert. Butler, billed as a shooter, will vie for minutes.
Again, two of these players will begin the night in or around the jump circle. But Hurley hopes combinations including the remaining seven can (a) protect against Sahara-like scoring droughts that occurred often last year, (b) take pressure off Munford and Biruta, (c) produce when others are affected by foul trouble, and (d) help him wear through only one set of shoe soles per month… rather than one a night.
Just how much offensive punch will the bench brigade bring?
That’s one thing to watch.
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Other schools in the Series so far…
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