Rhode Island: 2017 March Madness

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 22-9

NCAA Tournament Seed: 11 (Midwest)

How they got to the Big Dance

The Rams entered the season ranked 23rd in the nation, moving up to 21st as late as last December. They finished third in the A-10 for the regular season before running the table in the conference tournament to clinch a spot in the Big Dance. Rhode Island’s best wins of the season were against VCU twice, including in the conference tournament championship, and then-No. 24 Cincinnati. They also almost upset then-No. 1 Duke, but lost by 10 to the Blue Devils.

Why they’re a legitimate contender

The Rams’ resume is solid. They have a top-50 RPI and a respectable SOS. The ranked win against Cincinnati is also a positive for the Rams. They limited their opponents to 65.2 points per game, which is 36th in the nation. Rhode Island has several sharp shooters, most notably Hassan Martin. The Rams also have three players who average more than 12.6 points per game. As of recently, Rhode Island has been good in close games, closing out tight matchups a handful of times in its current eight-game winning streak. This will be of an asset to them going into the NCAA Tournament.

Why they’re not a legitimate contender

The Rams shoot 33.8 percent from three and 65.5 percent from the free throw line. That free throw percentage is bad, considering most close games are won by free throws. Bad habits have led to bad losses in the past. Rhode Island’s last loss was by 10 points at home to 13-19 Fordham, a low point in the Rams’ season. If Rhode Island’s low shows in a single-elimination tournament, it will be out quick.

Player to watch: F Hassan Martin
The senior forward is by far the best shooter on Rhode Island. He is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.3 points per game, but he leads the team with 7.1 rebounds per game and 2.6 blocks per game. He also shoots 59.7 percent from the field. His size is his best asset. He is the Rams’ go-to player in the paint. He is also a senior, so he’s been playing his heart out the entire season and even more so in the postseason. That veteran leadership is vital to any team, so Martin is going to have a big impact for the Rams in the tournament.