Thomas M. Ryan Center, Kingston, RI
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Radio: 101.5 FM (B101)
Vegas: URI -10
7-7, 0-0 in the Atlantic Sun
Last season: 26-8, 12-2 in Atlantic Sun (lost to Florida State in NCAA Tournament first round)
RPI: 207 (167.3 expected)
Leaders (after the first 7 Div I games of 2017-18):
Points - Brandon Goodwin, 18.9
Rebounds - Christian Terrell, 5.7
Assists - Brandon Goodwin, 4.8
Last Five (5-0)
12/22/17 @WICH L 75-65
12/19/17 @FIU L 91-88
12/16/17 ORU L 83-64
12/09/17 @UTA W 85-78
12/05/17 FAU L 92-88
The program formerly known as "Dunk City" visits the Ryan Center for URI's final OOC game of the season on Wednesday. Not a ton of interesting Nuggets about Chris Sale's alma mater, so here are some keys to the game, as I see it:
Momentum: URI comes in having won four of five, with the one loss coming on the road to a talented Alabama team by four points. In that span, they've beaten three potential tournament teams and blown out cross-state Brown. FGCU comes in having lost four of five, the one win coming on the road against a pretty good UT-Arlington team. In that span, they gave up 92 points at home in a losing effort against Florida Atlantic (kenpom 257), they were blown out at home by religious fanatics Oral Roberts (kenpom #218), and gave up 91 points on the road in a losing effort against Florida International (kenpom 300). Most recently, they suffered a double digit setback against a very good Wichita State team.
All of that would probably lead you to believe that Rhody Nation would be feeling good about the post-Christmas matchup with the Eagles. But, have you not met my friends at keaney blue dot com? "FGCU is going to clean our clocks!" they say. ""FGCU is no joke, we better bring our A game!" they say. "This team can ball!" "...not to be taken lightly."
We will see. Most of this is based on URI's recent shooting slump and aesthetically unpleasing approach in their last handful of wins, combined with a 20 minute stretch in which FGCU was somewhat competitive with Wichita State in a game that happened to have been broadcast in Rhode Island. Perhaps if we had tuned into either of their two preceding games we would have a different opinion.
Battle Readiness: As mentioned above, FGCU comes in fresh off another road test with one of the very few non-P5 programs who may be better than URI this year, and they played surprisingly well in that game. If we zoom out a little bit, though, FGCU has played the 210th hardest schedule in the country compared to Rhody's 8th hardest schedule, per live-rpi.com. According to kenpom, FGCU has played the 236th hardest schedule compared to Rhody's 30th hardest.
This helps put some of the team statistics in context. Gulf Coast is scoring 81.5 points per game compared to URI's 75.6, but FGCU's output has come against a schedule with an average defense of 215th per kenpom, where URI's has come against a schedule with an average defense of 26th. Similarly, the 74.6 per game that the Eagles give up have come against an average offense of 257th; URI's 69.2 has come against offenses with an average of 51st.
Pace/Tempo: The above stat might lead you to believe that there are differences in pace/tempo between the teams. And you'd be right about that - URI averages about 71 possessions per 40 minutes; FGCU averages about 73 possessions per 40 minutes. That might not seem like much, but URI's adjusted tempo ranks 122nd compared to FGCU's 55th.
FGCU will try to speed the game up a bit, and honestly as a URI fan I'd be OK with it if they succeed. I think URI could play at a faster pace with their deep stable of guards who can handle the ball, and getting in transition could lead to some better scoring opportunities which would presumably help alleviate the recent shooting percentage struggles.
Turnovers and Rebounds: Florida Gulf Coast turns the ball over fairly frequently, averaging 14.6 TOs per game (247th best - meaning 246 teams turn it over less frequently), and URI is 22nd in the country forcing 17.3 TOs per contest. Put another way, URI turns its opponents over on 21.6% of its defensive possessions, and FGCU turns it over on 17.6% of their offensive possessions. By comparison, FGCU forces a turnover on 16.2% of its defensive possessions, and URI turns it over on 14.1% of the time when it is on offense. This bodes well for URI.
On the other hand, rebounding will be a concern for URI. As we all know, total rebounds don't tell you that much because that number is influenced heavily by the number and quality of shots each team takes, so FGCU's 38-33 average total rebounds advantage doesn't concern me a great deal. However, this team averages 12.1 offensive rebounds per game compared to URI's 10.8. That number matters, because it represents extra possessions and extra chances to score. Looking at the Eagles' roster, they do have some tall guys, but their leading rebounders are guards Goodwin and Terrell (though this may be a result of how much they are on the floor compared to the interior players). Again, I would consider the respective competition levels of the two teams in accumulating these statistics, but this is at least something to keep an eye on. If Rhody wins on the glass or even fights them close to even, it should bode very well for winning the game.
Shooting: As was mentioned above, and as everyone following this team knows, URI has been in a bit of a slump from the field. Here are URI's FG and 3P FG percentages over their last four games: 42.4/26.3 (W), 35.2/30.4 (L), 41.5/26.7 (W), and 42.4/23.5 (W). Taken together, this is 40% from the field and 27% from three over the four game stretch. This is significantly worse than the 46%/36% we are shooting for the year, which does include the bad four game stretch as 40% of the sample. Prior to the last four games, the Rams were shooting 50%/43%. Last year, the Rams shot 45%/33% in what most here would consider a good year. I think you can assume that we are probably not the 50%/43% team we started the year as, and we probably are not the 40%/27% team we've been over the last few weeks. Reality is that we are probably in the 45%/35% range we have been in over the last 45 games or so, and that should be good enough to win most games with the way this team defends and turns the opponent over. Hopefully we start trending back in the right direction on Wednesday, and if we do we will be in good shape.
As for the opponent, FGCU shoots it at 48%/37%. Keep in mind again that they have not played particularly strong opponents, so URI hopefully be able to hold them under their averages. Turning them over should help make up a small shooting advantage in favor of the Eagles, too. They did not shoot it particularly well against Wichita (37%/41%) and still hung around, in large part because Wichita didn't shoot it well either. In light of the season-long numbers, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Wichita is more to blame for their poor shooting than FGCU, but it is something to keep in mind.
In terms of individual players, their best long range shooter is Terrell at 54% on 57 attempts, although Goodwin takes the most (70 attempts) despite only hitting 25.7%. I would almost consider abandoning our usual approach of running the opponent off the three point line when it comes to Goodwin. I'll take may chances giving a 25% shooter that loves to jack them up enough space to do so and let them try to beat us that way.
Free throw battle: Wichita won the game at the free throw line, going 22-26 to FGCU's 6-10. That more than made up the final margin. For the season, FGCU is better at getting to the line and sends its opponents to the line less than URI, so it will be interesting to see whether the margin in the WSU game was due to them being overmatched compared to their previous games or if it was just a fluke.
Once at the line, FGCU shoots it at 72.5% compared to URI's 70.4%, a slight advantage to FGCU but not enough of a difference to matter more than who gets to the line more often.
Bottom Line: No line yet, but rpiforecast likes URI by 12.5. If URI breaks out of its shooting slump, I can see them easily covering that. If not, we could get another Charleston/Iona type scare. I still like URI even without a great shooting night, but certainly FGCU could get us if they play well and we do not.