Rhode Island is rebuilding with seven new players under second-year coach Dan Hurley, but UA coach Sean Miller says the Rams are also the kind of team that could break out any one of these days.
Even if the Rams barely escaped Division II Metro State on Monday night.
“We play a very hungry Rhode Island team,” Miller said. “They have really good players and good coaches. Every November and December there’s one of those teams that venture out in this high major world and they remind everybody how they are.
“We don’t need to be reminded. We respect them a great deal. They beat a terrific Metro State team and when you think about them flying all the way across the country and playing at 9 their time and playing the (top-ranked) Division II (team), that was a set-up game for them. That second half really showed they have a really solid team. We know they’re going to win a lot of games this year and we have to be ready.”
Our scouting report for tonight's game is not available separately online but here it is if you're interested:
G T.J. McConnell (6-1 junior)
G Nick Johnson (6-3 junior)
F Aaron Gordon (6-9 freshman)
F Brandon Ashley (6-8 sophomore)
C Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0 sophomore)
G Mike Powell (5-11 junior)
G Xavier Munford (6-2 senior)
F Jarelle Reischel (6-6 sophomore)
F Ifeanyi Onyekaba (6-8 sophomore)
C Gilvydas Biruta (6-8 junior)
HOW THEY MATCH UP
The series: The Wildcats are 2-0 against Rhode Island but haven’t played the Rams since 1994-95
Rhode Island overview: Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley is hoping a major talent infusion can make a radical change in the Rams during his second season. URI was only 8-21 last season but brings in three Division I transfer, a sophomore forward in ifeanyi onyekaba who was a partial qualifier and three talented freshmen. Those newcomers blend with senior guard Xavier Munford, a juco transfer last season who played under Hurley in high school, and junior Mike Powell, a quick, sub 6-foot point guard. Two transfers, Lithuanian forward Gilvydas Biruta (formerly of Rutgers) and Jarelle Reischel (from Rice) have taken spots in the starting lineup.
Rhode Island Xavier Munford
The explosive senior added seven rebounds and five assists to his 16 points in Rhode Island’s win over Metro State on Monday. He only hit 1 of 7 three-pointers but has a quick first step that can make him dififcult to stop offensively.
Arizona T.J. McConnell
The Wildcats’ junior transfer has met every expectation of him so far at Arizona, and tonight he’ll have to keep teammates focused in a second straight late-night game if they are to reach New York.
Monday’s tipoff was at 11 p.m. back on campus at Fairleigh Dickinson, but the Knights had already broken their body clocks.
The Knights played Friday night at Hartford, practiced at home in New Jersey late Saturday night, took multiple flights to Tucson and arrived at 6 p.m. Sunday, then practiced at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night at McKale Center. Then they had Monday’s late-game with Arizona.
But coach Greg Herenda wasn’t complaining.
“We’re just happy to be in this tournament,” he said before Monday’s game. “It’s a privilege and an honor to be here. Our kids are excited to play a team like Arizona.”
For Herenda, there was a fitting touch to what was his first high-profile game as a Division I coach: He was facing UA’s Sean Miller, whom he once met when he and Miller’s father worked a clinic at Merrimack College, where Herenda was then an assistant coach.
“Sean was probably 15 or 16 years old,” Herenda said. “He and his dad did a lecture and I worked him out. I watched him in his career at Pitt and I know his dad really well.”
The NIT Season Tip-Off took former UA graduate assistant Luke Murray back to McKale Center after he worked on Sean Miller’s first Wildcat team in 2009-10. You’d think he wouldn’t recognize the place and what the program has become since then, now being the No. 5 ranked team, but Murray does.
“I watch every game,” he said.
Murray left UA to work under URI coach Dan Hurley during the 2010-11 season at Wagner College, then spent the past two seasons at Towson before rejoining Hurley at URI.
“Sean had great praise for him so I hired him,” Hurley said. “Now he’s doing a great job here for me.”
As a bonus, Murray will now get a chance to sit on the opposite site of the bench from Arizona.
“It’s a dream come true,” Murray said. “Coach Miller gave me a chance four years ago.”
3 – Division II teams ever invited to the NIT Season Tip-Off, Alabama-Huntsville last season and Metro State and Stillman College (of Tuscaloosa, Ala.) this season.
15—Rhode Island’s positive rebounding margin against Metro State.
17.4 – Munford’s scoring average last season, making him the A-10’s top returning scorer.
Rhode Island (3-1) at No. 5 Arizona (4-0) * NIT Season Tip-Off * McKale Center * 9 p.m. * ESPNU * 1290-AM, 990-AM (Spanish)
So who's left on UA's recruiting radar for 2014?
-- There's still no telling whether Justise Winslow might announce by Wednesday, the end of the fall signing period, or later. Meanwhile, Jahlil Okafor's dad wants him to head to Duke.
-- Findlay Prep forward Jonah Bolden announced a top five that does not include Arizona.
-- Findlay teammate Rashad Vaughn has Arizona in a group of seven finalists, and a mentor told SNY that the Wildcats have been coming on strong.
-- Big man Myles Turner of Texas still has UA among seven schools too, though, he, like Vaughn, is targeting a spring signing date.
John Gasaway analyzes the standout UA frontcourt so far (ESPN Insider access required for the link).
Colorado's Josh Scott gained weight and confidence that showed in a win over Arkansas State.
ASU has been sharing the ball.