Top 25 Preview: No. 22 Rhode Island finally healthy to fulfill destiny

14 MAR 2015: Rhode Island Rams head coach Dan Hurley reacts to an officials call in  the second half of the Semifinal round A-10 Tournament game between the Dayton Flyers and the Rhode Island Rams played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn,NY. The Dayton Flyers defeat the Rhode Island Rams 56-52.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Dan Hurley’s rise through the college basketball coaching ranks has seemed inevitable. Even during a season in which his program, the Rhode Island Rams, managed to win only 17 games, the 43-year-old member of New Jersey’s royal basketball family remains a name on the national radar.

Luckily for those who root rabidly for #Rhody, he’s around for at least one more run at fulfilling a destiny that was meant to happen last March.

It is certainly worth mentioning that Rhode Island’s 2015-’16 season was cut short before it ever truly had a chance to begin. One of the teams many projected to be consequential last year, the Rams were riddled with injuries and other bad-luck situations that never allowed the team to have a go at punching destiny right in the kisser.

Using a tired cliche popularized by mothers around the world and their Facebook pages: That was so yesterday, though.

Rhode Island will finally get its chance to ascend to national relevance in earnest in 2016-’17. Hurley, who will continue to hear his name rumored for other gigs, is bringing back an assemblage of incredible talent.

E.C. Matthews will be walking through that door, returning from an injury; Kuran Iverson, and his never-ending flashes of brilliance, will return to do a little bit of everything; Jarvis Garrett, who emerged in a huge way last year, is hoping to parlay his surprisingly successful sophomore campaign into a juggernaut junior year; Hassan Martin remains a Rams fixture; and Jared Terrell is back to get at it again.

Basically, everyone is back from a 17-win team… plus Matthews, who was arguably one of the nation’s best-kept secrets heading into last season before being injured in his first game.

Matthews is the primary reason Rhode Island is expected to make a huge leap forward this season. In 65 games in a Rhode Island uniform, the likely All-Atlantic 10 Team member for this coming season has averaged 15.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game.

Even better, the 6-5 guard commanded the respect of opposing teams throughout his collegiate career. He opened up the floor for his teammates. He is, in the simplest of terms, the main cog in the Rhode Island basketball wheel.

Matthews’ excellence cannot be overstated. Fans of college basketball were sincerely robbed last season when the guard went down with an ACL injury after playing a grand total of only 10 minutes.

E.C. Matthews of Rhode Island -- Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

E.C. Matthews of Rhode Island — Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This season should be different. Matthews is coming back, presumably fully healthy, joining a roster that was relatively successful without him. Save for fan favorite Four McGlynn (and to a MUCH lesser degree Earl Watson), every player who matters is returning, intent on grabbing those elusive dancing slippers.

If one refuses to focus on the insane talents of Matthews, his teammates reinforce the claim that the Rams should not be trifled with in 2016-’17.

Iverson, Martin, and other members of the supporting cast would likely comprise a team that would contend for the A-10 title even without Matthews. That’s how good the team is, and now we’re sprinkling in a talented guard who — if completely healthy — is good enough to be a dark horse for an All-American team? This is a holy BLEEP, Batman, situation.

This accumulation of talent should scare the heck out of any other team in the conference, not to mention Rhode Island’s non-conference foes. An already rock-solid team returning everyone AND one of the better players in the country tends to be a rock-solid thing to bet on.

Casual fans may not yet be aware, but the Rhode Island Rams have been building something special for some time. We might be one year too late in receiving what we already should have, but I doubt the Rams faithful would argue with another tired trope — it is better late than never.

Look out, America. Rhode Island is about to introduce itself to you, and finally meet that pesky destiny fellow the Rams were meant to high-five seven months ago.

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