Archie Time: Year 1 Hopes & Dreams
You smell that? No, not the pumpkin spice or the apple crisp...it smells like college basketball. For college basketball fans like myself this is the start of the our favorite time of the sports year. As a URI basketball fan, however, most people do not the same excitement they had 4+ years ago when it was NCAA Tournament or bust. I'm here to tell you how this URI team can scrape and claw their way into it in year one of the Archie Miller era. I'm going to be straight up with you - I do not think URI will make the NCAA Tournament BUT I want to lay out some theoretical possibilities as to how they can make it happen. Here are the 4 keys (in my non expert opinion) for URI to make a run:
Buy in. Archie Miller needs to get this group of kids to buy into what he is selling. Handling a group of 12 college kids is no easy task. They have some solid experience returning and getting those guys in particular to buy in early will be the most important factor in their success.
Beat Providence. This may seem silly...but as a URI alumni and someone who was there the last time URI took down the Friars, I will be the first to tell you how much that sole victory means to the team and the fans. If you take down the defending Big East champs on your home court, the confidence of just knowing "We can take these guys" goes a long way. Take down your in state rivals heading into conference play and you can build up that confidence to go on a run.
Transfers. Can the new transfers have an immediate impact? Freeman, Tchikou, Bilau, Weston. Transfers from some big time programs - can they come into the smaller stage and ball out? They all have the raw talent to succeed in this conference but the question is will they produce right away? If they do, it will go a very long way
Thomas & Leggett. I really thought Rhody was going to lose both of these guys with the coaching change and was ecstatic to get both of them back. If you don't know, Thomas is a hometown kid. Graduated from Hendricken and chose URI. I think he has the potential to be one of the best ball distributors for URI ever. He creates plays and makes passes that I haven't seen in a long long time. Leggett is a baller - but shockingly regressed shooting wise big time in his sophomore year. If he's a deadly shooter like he was when he was a freshman (42% from 3) it will be MASSIVE for the offense.
Keep in mind this is all fanboy perspective of a dream NCAA Tournament birth in year 1 of Archie. Rhody is projected 8th-9th in the conference in most preseason rankings - obviously the expectations are not to make a tourney run. The conference from top to bottom is sneaky good, I am hoping 4 teams get into the tourney - Dayton, SLU, VCU, and my "sleeper" George Mason. The addition of Sister Jean & Loyola Chicago is only going to help the conference and even though losing Kyle Neptune to Villanova hurts, the bottom isn't as far down in the gutter as it has been in the past. Sure, teams like St. Bona and Davidson took big steps back but don't be surprised to see GW, URI and UMASS make some noise in conference play.
One final thing to note about this year: there is no pressure. Year 1 of a coaching tenure in CBB rarely has any expectations, especially in a conference like the A10. Let's look back really quick to the Dan Hurley (traitor!) era at URI. The end? Glorious. 4 straight winning seasons, an A10 championship, and back to back years (nearly a sweet 16 birth!) in the NCAA tournament. The beginning? Brutal. A mere 8 wins in his first season and a dead last finish in the conference. I don't expect a performance that bad from this URI team, mostly because there are a few teams that are significantly worse (Duquesne, Fordham, La Salle, St Joes) but also because this team is in a better spot than when Hurley took over. A solid season would be a .500 conference record and flirting with a run in the A10 tourney. It will be a whole new team with a whole new philosophy - the team won't run around the Mitchell twins who have taken their talents to their third school (Arkansas) and an experienced coach who should show far less in game mistakes. Nobody thinks they will make noise. Nobody thinks they have a chance against PC. Nobody thinks they can go into UMASS, SLU, GMU and get wins. Do I think they can? Maybe...more importantly I BELIEVE! I bleed keaney blue and I don't care who knows it. I believe this year can be fun and successful and having a passionate (or crazy?) coach on the sidelines will remind a lot of people of the Hurley years. Archie is a whack job and that is just what this school needs as head coach of their basketball team again. College basketball is finally back. Get hyped. Get excited. But most importantly #GoRhody