While those inside the Rhode Island program may have been quietly confident about the Rams' chances this season to reach postseason play and challenge for the Atlantic 10 title, those around the Atlantic 10 had their doubts. Rhode Island was picked to finish eighth out of 14 teams in the 2009-10 Atlantic 10 preseason poll .
But the Rams, under the leadership of coach Jim Baron, are defying the preseason expectations, sporting an 11-1 record heading into tonight's game versus Akron. With wins over BCS conference foes such as Providence , Boston College , and Oklahoma State , Rhode Island has to be included in the discussion as a contender for the conference title.
The key to the Rams' success has been the play of three seniors who were previously asked to play supporting roles stepping up their game. Keith Cothran, a 6'4" guard, has become the leading scorer for Rhode Island, a role he wasn't so sure he wanted in the preseason.
"It's a little tough, to be honest, because at times I'm going to have to confront or get on my teammates," Cothran said in an interview with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook prior to the season.
Cothran has increased his scoring from 13.2 points per game last season to 16.8 this season. Part of the reason may be his improved free-throw shooting. After shooting 60 percent at the stripe last season, and no better than 66 percent in his career, Cothran is 40-52 at the line this season (77 percent).
Delroy James, a 6'8" forward, and Lamonte Ulmer, a 6'6" forward, have increased their scoring outputs as well.
James has adjusted well to his increased role, after being the team's sixth man last season. The increased minutes have seemed to help his shooting stroke. He is averaging 13 points a game, up from 9.9 points per game last season. Although his overall shooting percentage is down, James has made great strides in his shooting at the line and behind the arc.
At the line, James is 30-36 (83 percent) after shooting just 61.5 percent last season. James has already made and attempted more three-pointers this season than all of last season. Shooting just 9-40 last season from three, James is already 14-41 this season, a much more respectable 34 percent.
Ulmer is an energy guy who has become more of a factor on the offensive end as well. Ulmer is averaging 11.5 points per game this season, up from 7.7 a game last year. Ulmer leads the team with 6.8 rebounds per game, impressive for someone at his size. He is also shooting at a very high percentage, converting on 55.4 percent of his field goal attempts.
"He's one of the best athletes I've ever had," Baron said of Ulmer in the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook earlier this season. "He can get up and down the floor and really attacks the basket.
It's not just a three-man show up in Kingston though. The Rams have plenty of depth to support the big three. Six other players are playing at least 10 minutes per game. They are all contributing in the score book as well, as all six of those players average at least four points per game.
Rounding out the starting five are 7' junior center Will Martell, who holds down the paint, contributing a solid 6.8 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game, and 6'1" junior guard Marquis Jones, who runs the point unselfishly with 5.6 points per game and a conference leading 5.2 assists per game.
Leading the bench are sophomore forward Orion Outerbridge and freshman guard Akeem Richmond. Outerbridge is scoring 7.8 points per game and chipping in 3.5 rebounds in 18 minutes per outing. Richmond is an outside threat, shooting 35.6 percent from three (21-59), putting up 7.6 points per game in just 16 minutes of action per night.
With all of the depth and options Baron has, it's easy to explain the team's efficiency on offense. Opposing defenses cannot key on one or two players, as everyone is capable of putting the ball in the hoop. Rhode Island is shooting 48 percent from the field, and averaging 1.1 points per possession, ranking first in the Atlantic 10 and 27th nationally.
The Atlantic 10 will definitely not be a cakewalk with Dayton , Richmond , Temple , and Xavier all looking solid in non-conference play as well. But if Coach Baron can keep the balanced and efficient offense going, the Rams will be a major factor in the A-10 title race this season.
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