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2017 NCAA tournament preview: Rhode Island

Rhode Island Rams: 21-9, 13-5 in the Atlantic 10

Head coach: Dan Hurley (5th season)

Players to watch: E.C. Matthews (14.9 PPG), Hassan Martin (14.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.2 BPG), Kuran Iverson (9.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG)

Season recap: When Duke met Rhode Island in November at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, the then-No. 21 Rams had the look of a team on the rise. But after defeating Cincinnati and playing the Blue Devils tough, Rhode Island has not enjoyed the success many thought it would achieve this year.

The victory against the Bearcats still stands as Rhode Island's best win, and the Rams went 1-3 against a likely trio of nearly and fellow tournament teams in Providence, Dayton and VCU. A pair of close losses against the Flyers kept the Rams from competing for the Atlantic 10 regular season title, so instead they needed to make a run in the conference tournament to solidify a spot in the Big Dance, which they did in winning the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Led by head coach Dan Hurley—the younger brother of Duke legend Bobby Hurley—Rhode Island is a veteran squad led by seniors Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson in the frontcourt with juniors E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell in the backcourt. Rhode Island struggles from the perimeter and shoots just 34.0 percent from beyond the arc, but even in a down year for Matthews, he is capable of exploding offensively and putting up points in bunches.

How they make a run: The Rams have made their living on the defensive end of the floor this year, holding opponents to less than 41 percent shooting overall and 28.5 percent from deep. That stingy defense, plus a big night from Matthews or Martin, leads to an upset or two and Rhode Island has a chance to play in the tournament's second weekend.

How they falter: The Rams fail to contain a major conference opponent on the defensive end and without Matthews leading the way offensively, Rhode Island is knocked out in the first weekend.

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