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Preview: Rhode Island Rams

[private]Leading scorer Kyle Singler will lead the Duke Blue Devils against the Rhode Island Rams on Sunday at 4:30 pm in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Rhode Island has size and athleticism, and will arrive at Cameron Indoor Stadium as the best team on Duke's schedule to date. It remains to be seen whether the Rams have the talent to seriously challenge the Blue Devils, but this game will not be a pushover so the Blue Devils need to be focused on the task at hand - beating Rhode Island - not looking ahead to New York City and Madison Square Garden.

Last year, Rhode Island jumped out to a 14-1 start before fading over the second half of the season and finishing 21-12 in the tough Atlantic 10 conference earning a bid to the NIT. Leading scorer Will Daniels (18.6 ppg/6.5 rpg) has graduated along with Parfait Bitee (11.8 ppg/4.7 apg), but Rhode Island returns six players who significantly contributed, and welcome three freshman and a transfer from Connecticut who sat out last season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

Seniors Jimmy Baron (6'3" 195) and Kahiem Seawright (6'8" 235) averaged 14.2 points/1.9 assists and 9.2 points/8.4 rebounds per game respectively. Jason Francis (6'9" 280) is the team's third Senior. Juniors Lamonte Ulmer (6'6" 215) and Keith Cothran (6'4" 195) both averaged double digit minutes, while Junior Delroy James (6'8" 220) averaged 9 minutes per game. The three Juniors combined for 17.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season. Sophomore Marquis Jones (6'1" 200) is projected to be the starting point guard.

Rhode Island strengths: Jimmy Baron is a very good shooter and has range. He made over 40% of his 3-point attempts last season and will be the Rams' Go-to-Guy. Baron made 91% of his free throw attempts so, like Jon Scheyer, he will have the ball in his hands a lot even though he isn't the point guard. Rebounding is another strength as Rhode Island was second in the Atlantic 10 and averaged 13.4 offensive rebounds a game. Kahiem Seawright was the leading rebounder in the Atlantic 10 conference. Seawright is the core of the Ram's inside game but he will receive support from small forward Lamonte Ulmer who is active on the glass. Ulmer averaged 7.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game off the bench last year.

Rhode Island vulnerabilities: The Ram's point guard is untested and against a high intensity defensive team such as Duke that could be a big problem. Perimeter defense is also a suspect area for Rhode Island. They were burned in Atlantic 10 conference play last season as teams exploited the Rams from behind the 3-point arc. Finally, Rhode Island likes to get out in transition but they can struggle in their half-court offense. When matched against teams that are able to match their speed and athleticism, the Rams are prone to being erratic on offense.

Keys to the game: Foul trouble will be the first indicator one team is in trouble. While both teams have sufficient depth, there are key players that must stay on the court. For Duke, the player is Kyle Singler. It is important that the combination of Lance Thomas, Miles Plumlee, and Brian Zoubek execute against Rhode Island's big interior players. If Kyle Singler is forced to do the dirty work inside, picks up fouls, and is forced to the bench, Rhode Island will gain an advantage. For Rhode Island, Seawright and Baron must stay on the court for the Rams to be competitive.

Second, turnovers will be critical. Both teams like to get out in transition and force game tempo. Which team will be successful? The team that successfully executes their running game by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition will gain a significant advantage toward ultimate success. Look for Duke point guards Nolan Smith and Greg Paulus to pressure Marquis Jones relentlessly in an attempt to deny Rhode Island the opportunity to establish fast paced offensive flow.  Lance Thomas and Dave McClure are very strong defensive players in a fast paced environment so look for these two to see plenty of playing time against the Rams.

Finally, long rebounds off of missed 3-point shots will be important. Rhode Island and Duke like to shoot from behind the arc so it will be important for perimeter players to secure rebounds. Long offensive rebounds equate to extra opportunities to score the ball. Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, and Elliot Williams are all strong rebounding guards who will need to out hustle the Rams.

Last season, Rhode Island averaged 80.5 points per game and shot 47 percent from the field including 38 percent from behind the 3-point arc. They were the 82nd best team in the nation according to Pomeroy Basketball Ratings. Duke's first two opponents this season were ranked 294 (Presbyterian) and 141 (Georgia Southern).[/private]