SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The No. 11 Rhode Island Rams enter the 2017 NCAA Tournament fresh off their Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship. They claimed the A-10 trophy after their blowout of No. 1 seed Dayton, 84-60, in the finale. Rhode Island finished third in the regular season race with a 25-9 (13-5 A-10) record.
Awaiting the Rams is a hungry No. 3 Oregon (30-5) team coming off their fifth straight season with a tournament win. The Ducks’ offense exploded against No. 14 Iona (93 points) in the first round, led by Tyler Dorsey’s 24 points.
The Golden 1 Center will be the venue for the Midwest region second round affair. Tip is set for 4:10 p.m. PT on Sunday. The winner advances to the 2017 Sweet 16 in Kansas City, Missouri next weekend.
Oregon understands this is not a “typical” No. 11 seed in March Madness. The Rams are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Not to mention, they are one of the most efficient basketball teams in the country.
They have won nine straight games entering Sunday’s contest. URI looked like the higher seed with a convincing 12-point win over Dana Altman’s former team, Creighton, in the first round.
If the Ducks want to avoid Cinderella’s glass slipper, Dorsey must shine once again. Dylan Ennis reiterated those thoughts at Oregon’s practice on Saturday afternoon.
“They call him Mr. March (Dorsey). When March comes around, he’s a different breed,” said Ennis. “He’s playing smart basketball, better basketball. I don’t think he’s doing anything different. Around this time, he comes into his own and I don’t complain.”
The sophomore guard finished with a game-high 24 points on an incredible 9-for-13 shooting day from the floor. Dorsey certainly agrees with playing in his home state of California, as well.
Here are some of the special ingredients that make up the 2017 Rhode Island Rams:
IT’S ALL IN A NAME
The head coach at Rhode Island is the younger brother of Bobby Hurley, Dan. It has to be a family thing! Oregon is used to playing against a Hurley. The Ducks are 2-0 against Bobby and his Arizona State team this season. UO will look to make it 3-0 vs the legendary basketball family in 2016-17.
A STAR GUARD
E.C. Matthews is his name, carving up opposing defenses is his game. The 6-foot, 5-inch junior is averaging 14.9 PPG, alongside 4.3 RPG and 1.5 APG. He spreads the floor with his athleticism.
He isn't the greatest shooter, but can get hot in a heartbeat. For the season, Matthews shot 43 percent from the floor and 34 percent from downtown.
The guard was on a solid run, averaging 19.0 points a night over his last four. Yet, he struggled in the first round match-up vs Creighton. The Detroit native made just 3-of-12 shots from the field, and was 0-for-4 from 3-point territory on Friday.
Unlike Iona, this team plays defense. Namely, their two big men Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson. In total, this Ram defense blocks 6.0 shots per game, good enough for second-best in the nation.
For comparison purposes, Oregon entered the tournament averaging 6.5 blocks per game before the Chris Boucher injury. Rhode Island has an imposing interior presence with length. The Ducks’ rank No. 15 in the nation in defensive efficiency. Rhode Island enters Sunday’s game as the ninth-most efficient defense.
With Boucher in the line-up, the Ducks were the No. 1 ranked shot-blocking team in the land at 7.0 BPG. Without CB on the floor, Oregon has just five blocked shots total in their last two games. Take that with a grain of salt, as Iona didn’t drive the lane. They made their living from long distance shooting and avoided Oregon’s interior.
Martin is their second-leading scorer, alongside being their primary shot blocker. For the year, the undersized 6-foot, 7-inch forward averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Additionally, he added 14.1 PPG and 7.1 RPG in 2016-17. He shot 60 percent from the field this season.
His teammate, Iverson averaged 9.6 PPG, including 7.3 RPG, 1.9 APG and 1.3 BPG. The 6-foot, 9-inch forward can be problem down low with a long wingspan for deflecting passes and shots alike.
Compared to the up-tempo attack of No. 14 Iona, No. 11 Rhode Island is the exact opposite. They play a traditional game with a really conventional starting line-up. Basically, it is a 3-guard backcourt with two lengthy forwards. URI will try to slow down the game with their defense and limit possessions for Oregon’s offense with a methodical approach of their own.
Jared Terrell has been a solid contributor for the program the last three years. The 6-foot, 3-inch junior guard is scoring 12.5 PPG, alongside 2.9 RPG and 1.9 APG. He is the rock of the starting unit, logging a team-high 30.5 minutes per game this season.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
URI does not have anyone that averages more than 3.0 assists per game and they possess only one player that shoots 40 percent from deep. Yet, Nicola Akele averages just 12.9 minutes per game.
The Rams move the ball around and do not rely on any one player in particular. Matthews is considered their star, but they always have someone step up in a secondary role.
UO will not look past this opponent. Rhode Island finished a 25-win campaign with a tournament title against a solid group that included NCAA Tournament contestants Dayton and VCU.
A great deal of people are saying this is a “bad” match-up No. 3 Oregon. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I respect Rhode Island’s length and interior defense. I respect it enough to not be overconfident.
Altman told his players on Friday that it’s their decision how far they go. A Sweet 16 appearance is awaiting the winner of this Round of 32 showdown.
Oregon showed no signs of feeling sorry for themselves after the loss of Boucher. Amid great national doubt, the Ducks are poised to make another run. The next step is the defensive-minded A-10 tourney champ.
No. 3 Oregon (30-5) will meet No. 11 Rhode Island (25-9) in the second round of the Midwest region. The 2017 NCAA Tournament game tip is set for 4:10 p.m. PT on Sunday afternoon from the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Bill Walton will be watching.