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Schedule is tough, but Rams look tougher

November 27, 2012

Four games into the season and the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team still doesn’t have a win.
If this happened last season, people would be jumping off the roofs of the dorms on the Kingston campus and demanding the head of their coach.
This is a new era. And when Dan Hurley is calm, everyone should be calm too, even if the season hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start with losses to a strong Norfolk State team, an ACC team in Virginia Tech, the No. 4 team in the country with Ohio State and Sunday’s lost to Hurley’s alma mater, Seton Hall.
“Ideal would be 3-0,” Hurley said after the loss to the Buckeyes. “It’s exciting. It gives us a real sense beyond Thanksgiving to understand where we’re going as a team if we want to maximize our opportunities to win this year.”
Last weekend the Rams showed they might be better than a lot of people thought.
URI was overmatched by the infinitely more talented Buckeyes, who are a legit contender to win the national title this season with their blend of athleticism on the outside, power down low and one of the best point guards in the country in Aaron Craft.
The Rams played the game at Mohegan Sun like a card shark bluffing on the tables outside the arena; there was no fear in their eyes. They weren’t there to make an appearance.
They were there to win.
“At the end of the day they’re regular people just like us,” said sophomore point guard Mike Powell, who went toe-to-toe with Craft with little regard to the Buckeye junior’s reputation. “We went into the game with the mindset of it’s a game we can win, even though they’re ranked higher. People probably didn’t think we had a chance, but we all believed in ourselves at the beginning of the game.”
“We prepared all week for this we watched video we knew what we had to do,” said Xavier Munford, who’s proved in the first four games that he is URI’s No. 1 scoring threat. “We had to fight hard to make it a competition.”
The competition is going to be good for URI even if it doesn’t equate to many victories in the non-conference portion of the season. And if not, you won’t hear anyone say otherwise. It’s not like Hurley and his staff had a choice in the matter.
“It it wasn’t necessarily by design; 90 percent of it was done before we got here,” Hurley said. “That can be a really helpful thing for us as we go into conference playing.
“… For us it really gives us a chance to find the areas we need to improve upon and it should slow the game down for us as we get into the rest of the schedule because we have such a high level of opponents.”
The Rams face another difficult challenge against a mid-major opponent Friday at the Ryan Center in Loyola (Md.). The Greyhounds are 3-1 this season; they beat Norfolk State, their only loss was to Washington, a Pac-12 team and, oh yeah, they were a NCAA Tournament team last season.
It doesn’t get easier after that. Sunday URI travels south to play Auburn and next Wednesday they host George Mason, the darling of the 2006 NCAA tourney which has made it back two times since. The Rams opponent after that is Vermont, another 2012 tourney team, and they follow that against struggling rival Providence, which is never an easy game regardless of the records.
If you’re waiting for an easy game, stop. After PC the Rams host Southern Methodist, which is coached by Larry Brown. Yes, that Larry Brown. URI has its first “easy” game against Georgia Southern on Dec. 22 and a win is going to be exactly what the Rams will want for Christmas.
They finish non-conference at St. Mary’s, which has become one of the elite mid-major teams in the country, before finishing at home against Brown which, by the way, beat the Rams last season.
The next month-and-a-half isn’t going to be easy. Hurley knows it. His players know it.
But games like they’ve played are going to help and when they get through this stretch, the Rams will be more than ready for Atlantic 10 play. So they’re 0-4 but it’s a good 0-4, if there is such a thing.
“We have more confidence in ourselves,” Munford said, “and we know what to do to win now.”
“When we play other teams we won’t be scared of big moments today was a big moment,” Powell said. “… In the future it will help us be battle tested.”
“Obviously right now we’re not a good team,” Hurley said. “We’re transitioning to try and become one.”
So far, it’s working.

Eric Rueb covers the URI men’s basketball team for SRIN. He can be reached at 789-9744, ext. 127, by email at erueb@ricentral.com or you can follow him on Twitter @EricRueb.

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