Two years ago, the Rhode Island Rams (1-1) came to Tuscaloosa for a battle of teams just outside of the top 25 rankings, which the Crimson Tide (1-1) ended up winning 68-64. Both teams have seen quite a few changes since that time, but they are both hopeful to get back to earning votes in the AP Poll sooner rather than later. Both will be lead by different coaches than the last time they met. For the Rams, they are in the second year of head coach David Cox’s tenure, after Dan Hurley cashed in on the Rams’ NCAA Tournament run in 2018 and went across the street to UConn. After a rebuilding season a year ago, the Rams are looking to return to the Big Dance in 2020, as they are one of the main contenders trying to topple the VCU Rams in the Atlantic 10.
The good news for Rhode Island is the bad news for the Tide: this is an experienced club. All five starters return from last season, and they’ve already played #7 Maryland this year, so they certainly won’t be intimidated by Alabama. This is going to be a tough, tough test for the Tide, but it presents itself as a huge opportunity to get one back, so to speak, after the opening-season loss to Penn at home.
POINT 5’10 Fatts Russell (11.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Jeff Dowtin (13.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
WING 6’6 Tyrese Martin (11.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.0 APG)
POST 6’8 Jermaine Harris (5.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
POST 6’8 Cyril Langevine (11.0 PPG, 16.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 BPG)
This is a strong starting unit. Russell, Dowtin, and Langevine all played for the Rams when these two teams last met, and they’ve only gotten better since that game. Langevine, in particular, is going to give Alabama hell. The explosive big man has rebounded at a 22.8% clip in the first two games this season. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but Maryland has a number of big dudes who can crash the glass, and yet Langevine is rebounding nearly a quarter of every missed shot while he’s on the court. Dowtin and Russell are typically the two that get the Rams offense going, but Martin has actually been on fire to start the season (44.4%/54.5%). Harris is the key for the team though. The former 4-star has the talent to become a difference maker on both ends of the court. If he can meet his potential, Rhode Island is going to be a tough out for anybody.
GUARD 6’5 Greg Hammond (1.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.0 APG)
WING 6’7 Dana Tate (4.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 APG)
WING 6’7 Jacob Toppin (6.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
WING 6’7 Mekhi Long (1.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
The Rams are quite shallow in terms of depth. Tate and Toppin average 20.5 and 18.5 MPG, respectively, but no one else logs more than 7.0 MPG. The bench does have good size, but they’ve not been able to provide much of anything offensively thus far this year.
Three Keys to Victory
- Play Oatsball and Push the Pace. In what will be Alabama’s first road trip under Nate Oats, it will be especially important to keep to the script and play the style Oats wants to play. With Rhode Island being as shallow as they are, there’s no better way to take control of this game than to wear them out physically. When the defense gets tired, they get lazy. Lazy defense equals easy looks at the basket and cheap fouls for the offense. Time to put all of that conditioning this past off-season to work.
- Defend the Paint and Find a Man, especially Langevine, on Rebounds. As we’ve discovered early on this season, Alabama has trouble with a good big. Javian Davis did have a bit of a coming out party against FAU, but this Rhode Island team is a much different beast. If Alabama wants to multiply their pace advantage, having possession of the basketball is a major key. The Tide can’t let the slower-paced Rams negate their advantage by allowing them to corral every rebound. The good news for ‘Bama is that it appears Herbert Jones is going to be able to play tonight. The Tide missed him dearly in the opening-night loss to Penn in both of these areas.
- Get off to a Quick Start. This will be a tough road venue to play in, and with a number of young guys being counted on for significant playing time (Davis, Jaylen Forbes, Jaden Shackelford), it will be important for the Tide to get off to a fast start. Expect Kira Lewis and Beetle Bolden to attack the rim early on in this game.
This is truly a great opportunity for Alabama to make up for the loss to Penn in the home opener. I expected the team to be 3-1 when they make the trip to the Bahamas in a couple of weeks for the Battle 4 Atlantis, and a win tonight would get the Tide back on track. It certainly won’t be easy though, as the Rams are a veteran team with a starting five capable of playing with just about anybody. The return of Herb is a big boost for the team though, so hopefully they can build off of the positive momentum generated in the beat-down of FAU the other night.
The game will tip-off at 6:30 PM CST and will be televised on NBC Sports. As a side note, 5-star power forward Isaiah Jackson will be announcing his commitment at 2:30 PM CST tomorrow. He’s deciding between Alabama, Kentucky, and Michigan State. Most “experts” think he will commit to the Spartans, but others in the know have said it’s coming down to the ‘Cats and the Tide. Hope for the best.