We finally made it to Championship Week. The A-10 tournament kicks off for the UMass Minutemen as they take on New England rival the Rhode Island Rams Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. You can find the game on NBCSN. The Minutemen come in with a record of 23-7, and 10-6 in the A-10. Rhode Island comes into tonight riding a two game winning streak and have an overall record of 14-17 and a conference record of 5-11.
The Minutemen swept the season series winning both games by a total of eight points. Chaz Williams, who was named First Team All-Conference on Tuesday, averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 assists in his two games against the Rams. Look for Chaz to have another big game tonight as he must still have a sour taste in his mouth after Saint Louis put a damper on his Senior Day when they won by 2 on a last second layup.
UMass' will look to run early and often as they like to push the tempo and force each team to score in the high 70s. Chaz loves to get the outlet of a rebound and zip up the court and look to distribute to teammates before the defense can get set. If UMass is able to keep the tempo up they have a distinct advantage as they rank 49th in the country at points per game averaging 76.4, while Rhode Island ranks 259th, scoring just 68.
While Rhode Island didn't have any player named to any of the All-Conference Teams that doesn't mean they are devoid of talent. E.C. Matthews was named a Co-Rookie of the Year and was joined on the All-Rookie Team by teammate Hassan Martin. Matthews averaged 19 points in the season series with the Minutemen.
URI's key to winning the game will be to limit UMass' transition offense and slow the game down like Saint Louis did. UMass struggles to score in the half-court at times, usually settling for a bad 3-pointer or a contested mid-range jump shot. The Ram's leading scorer, Xavier Munford has been terrific this season and has shown he can play both ends of the floor averaging 16.7 points per game and 1.1 steals.
One question many UMass fans have been wondering lately is where in the world has Cady Lalanne gone? He was so dominant during the early part of the season, scoring double figures in 18 of 23 games and recording double digit rebounds in nine of those. However since Feb. 9, ironically against Rhode Island, he has only two games of 10 points or more and one game with double digit rebounds. His defense has still been stellar and his blocks per game haven't dropped off too much, but his lack of offense has hurt UMass' half-court scoring ability.
Look for him to try and get back to his early season self against his last real shot at playing a team with significantly less talent. Lalanne is still averaging 11.9 points per game along with 8.1 rebounds.
My favorite match-up to watch will between Lalanne and Gilvydas Biruta. In their last meeting things got very physical and chippy as the two got into it on both ends of the court. That forced Xavier Munford to get into Lalanne's face resulting in a double technical. Biruta is Rhode Island's best inside scoring option as he averages 10.6 per game. He is also the leading rebounder at an even seven per game.
Trey Davis will need to get back to his usual self after having an uncharacteristically bad game last Sunday against SLU due to an illness. He has been instrumental down the stretch of the season and had his best game of the season against Duquesne on 3/1, tying his season high in points at 20 and contributing eight assists. Derrick Gordon also has found his scoring ability as of late and the three guard rotation of Gordon, Davis, and Williams has been deadly for opponents.
UMass will look to push the ball every chance they get and get transition baskets. If they can score more than 70 points tonight they have a very good shot at moving on. Rhode Island will want to keep the score down and will need to shoot very well from the arc if they find themselves falling into a shootout.