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UMass Minutemen vs. Rhode Island Rams preview: UMass enters its most important game yet

Riding a six game winning streak, UMass enters its most important game yet.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Massachusetts Minutemen have a lot of Ws on their schedule recently but just one of those wins have come against a team in the top five of the conference. The Wednesday night matchup with the hated Rhode Island Rams kicks off a crucial two game week for UMass where their place in the A-10 will be determined. It's time for UMass to prove that they deserve NCAA tournament consideration and fellow first place team. The game tips at 7 and can be viewed on the Comcast Sports Network.

Records:

URI 17-6 (9-3) T-1st

The Rams and UMass battled back on January 17 that resulted in a UMass 60-56 victory. After that loss however, the Rams seemed to find themselves as they rattled off five wins of their own including a narrow four point victory at home to GW. On Feb. 11 they suffered a tough 65-64 loss on the road to St. Joe's but bounced back last Saturday to beat Saint Louis by 13. Their only other conference loss was a very respectable 65-60 home loss to then ranked 17th VCU.

UMass 16-9 (9-3) T-1st

The Minutemen are riding a six game winning streak and have showed no signs of slowing down. They beat the Duquesne Dukes without much incident to the tune of 82-74 on Saturday. The last time UMass scored over 80 points was against Iona, all the way back on December 30. The team was up for this rivalry game the first time around and I don't see why winning six games in a row would change that.

Players to watch:

E.C. Matthews: The unquestioned offensive leader for Rhode Island who averages 16.3 points per game. The 6-5 sophomore is one of the most skilled players in the A-10 and has garnered attention for postseason A-10 honors and also from NBA scouts. The last time he played UMass though he had a rough outing scoring just 11 points and only attempted nine shots. His last game was also not on par with his season averages with just eight points on six attempted shots.

Hassan Martin: Shooting over 50 percent is pretty good for just about any player. Martin blows that number out of the water with his 63.4 shooting percentage from the field. He's the only other URI player to average scoring in double figures with 12 per game. On top of his efficient scoring, he is also the Ram's leading rebounder with 7.6 per game. Last time against the Minutemen he managed to score 13 points (7-8 FTs) and six boards in just 23 minutes on the floor. At. 6-7 he will probably matchup with Maxie Esho which should be a great matchup to watch.

Trey Davis: When Davis scores the Minutemen win. It's that simple. He's played brilliantly over the win streak and is a perfect 32-32 from the free throw line over that stretch. His 26 point outburst against the Dukes pushed him into the Minutemen's leading scorer spot at 11.9 per game. As long as he can get to the line I see no reason why he can't score around 20 points.

Cady Lalanne: While Esho will have a tough defensive assignment with Martin, Lalanne is the true commander of the paint. With his 2.1 blocks per game, he makes sure opponents think twice about coming into the lane. He will have a tough matchup with the big Lithuanian, Gilvydas Biruta, but Lalanne has held his own against stiff competition, Look for him to get his usual double-double.

Game time:

Playing in the Thomas M. Ryan Center is never an easy task to be taken lightly. URI is a tough minded team led by an a tough minded coach in Dan Hurley. Hurley will have his squad prepared and ready to get their revenge and defend their home court. Matthews and Martin will be ready to get going and ready to prove to the A-10 that this is finally URI's year.

Derek Kellogg has proved all year that he is more than capable of game planning for talented players. Matthews wasn't able to get much going last time these teams faced off and the constant pressure UMass puts on should frustrate him all the same on Wednesday.

On top of that, no one has really had a good answer for Lalanne all season. If they let him go one-on-one than he tears through his opponents in the low post. If they double or triple him though, it leads the rest of the Minutemen open and with both Donte Clark and Davis' recent display of outside shooting it is a dangerous situation to be in.

Matthews and the Ram's won't go away easily but UMass has proven that it isn't intimidated by playing on the road. My prediction: UMass 73, URI 68.