Rhode Island State of Mind…

Chris DiSano is a good egg. He’s a Rhode Island insider, and knows basketball. He’s the kind of guy who, even if he followed University of Henrico, I’d say he’s a good guy. That’s why I always appreciate a text from him a couple days before VCU plays Rhody with an offer to swap information. I will post a link to my answers to his questions when I clear a couple work meetings, but here’s what he had to say about the northernmost Rams in response to my questions:
Fatts Russell not starting Wednesday against Davidson was, uh, noticeable, but he still impacted the game in a major way. Does starting really matter as long as the minutes are there? Part B: what has he done to become such an alpha player?
You’re right, it doesn’t. He sat for the first 4:06 – purportedly to shake things up and spark he and the team – and then proceeded to play the final 35:54 of the game and start the second half. He led the Rams in minutes and had one of his more efficient shooting games of the season at 10-16 from the floor. He also committed to getting downhill and effectively took up residence in the paint — an unwelcome sight for Davidson. As far as the alpha dog question, this piece I wrote on him last month summarizes the transformation of Fatts, which began with some soul searching in the off season.
Has Dowtin struggled, or are his numbers down for no other reason that Russell is that much better? I guess the crass question is, what’s up with him?
Dowtin is navigating some bumpy times with his shot. His floor game remains as steady as always — with 44 dimes against just 14 turnovers. His one turnover per game average is his fewest per contest since his freshman year. And he’s still as cool as ever under pressure. But as far as shooting it, Dowtin’s searching for rhythm and seems to be overthinking his shot selection. He’ll hesitate with a ten-toes-to-the-line 3pt look a split second too long, or decide to probe and end up elevating for a 2-pt attempt slightly off balance. e’s also seemingly taking a high percentage of shots off the dribble. I’d like to see Rhody get him some catch and shoot opportunities where he’s squared up so he can hopefully knock a couple down and regain confidence.The misses are a symptom of timing and comfort. It’s a phase and he’s too balanced a player to not emerge from it.
Rhody is playing fast and not turning the ball over. How fast do they want to play given VCU wants to speed teams up?
Rhode Island is fortunate to have two guards in Dowtin and Russell that thrive as responsible caretakers in an uptempo game. They’ll welcome the uptempo pace, with two caveats. First, the Rams only have 8 scholarship players and while they’re all talented and contribute, playing at breakneck speed at the Stu for the full 40 is likely a bit much to ask. Secondly, even though Dowtin and Russell are equipped to handle pressure, VCU also excels at speeding teams up so they take out-of-rhythm shots. So the onus will be on Rhode Island to not get pulled into the type of up and down game which sacrifices the quality of shots they take. That’s a delicate balance to strike.
We know the Big Three (Dowtin, Russell, Langevine). What other guy must play well, or is playing well, when Rhody is firing on all cylinders?
Without question it’s Tyrese Martin. The 6-foot-6 Martin (11.9ppg, 6.5rpg) is a skilled and fluid wing but his play over the flow of a game can still be mercurial. Yes, he’s only a sophomore and so there’s expected growing to do, but he endures stretches where he’ll float offensively or loses some edge defensively. His ceiling as he moves forward will be determined by how consistently he’s able to maintain focus on a possession by possession basis. His talent is undeniable.
Cox has mentioned shot selection as an issue, but 353 coaches say they have that problem. What is specific to Rhody that if VCU does it well or forces Rhody into, it spells doom for them?
It’s all about defensive communication for VCU. If they retreat well in transition, web up defensively, limit dribble penetration and force Rhode Island to execute in the half court and make perimeter shots, that’s all you can ask for as a VCU fan. Like VCU, Rhode Island shines when they can create live ball turnovers and generate easy makes. They’ve struggled some when teams take away their quick strike actions, clog the paint, and make them run clock and beat them over top — rather than cracking teams from within via paint touches as they’d prefer.