Rhode Island-Providence Preview
Providence has won the last six games, seven of the last eight and eight of the last 10 games against local rival Rhode Island.
But none of those games were as big for the Rams as the rivalry renewal Saturday at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence.
While the Friars have gone to the NCAA Tournament the last three years under Ed Cooley, the Rams have been building. Now, PC is in a bit of a rebuild after losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to the NBA Draft -- and it's the Rams, the 21st-ranked Rams, with the expectations.
It's also the Rams coming off a tough loss at Valparaiso that may well knock them out of the top 25 (even though Valpo is looking like a ranked team) -- and losing to the Friars would certainly spell top 25 doom for URI.
The Rams (5-2) fought hard and went right down to the final shot in the difficult road assignment at Valparaiso -- URI relying mostly on its starters in that game (the bench logged 35 minutes).
"We got a little tight with our rotation," Rhody coach Dan Hurley said Thursday. "Stan (Robinson) and others will play more."
It was clear again in that game that E.C. Matthews, who missed all but 10 minutes of last season with a knee injury and is still working his way back.
"Right now, he's going through the struggles that any player would go through coming back from an injury like that," URI coach Dan Hurley said after Matthews scored just six points, the last two coming on a late tip-in. "We knew a large part of non-conference would be time for him to get his timing back and knock the rust off. By conference play, he'll be more of his old self."
Saturday is not conference play. But the game is huge and Matthews comes in just 12-for-39 from the floor in the last four games -- 0-for-5 from 3-point range in the last three.
While Matthews, on the preseason watch lists for the Naismith, Lute Olson and Jerry West awards, comes in anything but hot, PC's Rodney Bullock comes off a career-high 36 points in a win over New Hampshire that lifted the Friars to 5-2 on the season.
Bullock was 12-for-21 from the floor as Cooley, who notched his 200th coaching win in the game, said the basket looked like "an ocean" to his player. The Friars were also an impressive 12-for-21 from 3-point range in the game.
"It gets contagious," Cooley said. "We had one of those days. Hopefully, we have more left in us."
The Friars were 8-for-16 from 3-point land in a loss to No. 7 Virginia, making them 20-for-37 from deep in the last two games -- after a 2-for-20 stat in a win over Memphis.
Talking about Bullock in his big game against UNH, Cooley said, "It seemed like everything he threw up was going to go in. The basket looked like an ocean. Hopefully he continues to shoot like that. We're going to need it the whole year."
Said Bullock, who was just 3-for-13 against Virginia: "Today was one of those days I just had it going -- midrange and then stretching it out. That's what coach recruited me for."
The Rams have lost two of their last three, falling to then-No. 1 Duke in the final of the Naismith Hall of Fame Tipoff in Connecticut, then beating Belmont (behind Hassan Martin's career-high 31 points) and losing to Valparaiso.