Each March, as the NCAA tournament roars back into our lives, everyone becomes consumed with finding upsets, picking sleepers, and generally obsessing about their brackets. However, for the chiller fans out there who just love high-stakes basketball but don’t particularly have a rooting interest in a college, March Madness can be a fun exercise in random bandwagoning. And boy do we have a team to root for this year that will leave feeling good about yourself without sounding like a front-runner: the Rhode Island Rams.
The smallest state in the United States has two teams in the NCAA tournament, but forget the capital city’s Providence Friars; it’s the Rams you want to look at. Rhode Island won the hyper-competitive Atlantic 10 regular season title, and came within a single point of the conference tournament crown (Davidson, who beat the Rams 58-57, likely needed the win more, as they wouldn’t have made the Big Dance without it). No matter for Rhode Island, however, who stride into the NCAA tourney as a 7-seed in the Midwest region, facing surprising inclusion Oklahoma in the first round.
A victory there, where they should be favored, will likely leave them with a marquee matchup in the round of 32: Duke. Michigan State and possibly Kansas wait in later rounds, so it’s safe to say that Rhode Island didn’t get the optimal bracket position to go on a sleeper run. No matter. Here are three reasons why you should root for Rhode Island.
1. The Hurley Coaching Family
Bob Hurley Sr. is a legendary basketball coach. The former St. Anthony High School coach won a whopping 28 state titles in New Jersey, racking up over 1000 wins along the way to a 39-year-career that made him one of the most successful high school coaches of all time. Following in dad’s footsteps are his sons Bobby, who coaches at Arizona State, and Dan, who is the current boss at Rhode Island. While Bobby’s Sun Devils also made the tournament, they did so by the skin of their teeth, nabbing a play-in slot against Syracuse. Dan, on the other hand, guided the Rams into the dance with ease.
So, if you’re like Bob Sr. and are conflicted on who to root for, why not go for the young Hurley’s side? They dominated probably the best mid-major conference. They play a fun, upbeat style. And, perhaps most importantly, they’re well-coached by Dan Hurley, which is a necessity for March, when the pressure ramps up and a substitution here or an inbounds play there can change the course of the entire tournament. In fact…
2. Jared Terrell: Star Guard and New Dad
Another reason to love Rhode Island? Jared Terrell. The senior guard is exactly the type of player that you want in your corner come March. He shot 41 percent from three this year, and it’s been proven that having one player who can sharpshoot a team to victory is a key upset factor in the tournament. It’s not surprising that Rhode Island lost to Davidson in the final of the A-10 tournament when you look at it that way; Terrell had a poor game by his high standards, scoring only five points in 25 minutes. If he can stay on the court for closer to 30 minutes and drop 20-plus points, it will help stretch defenses.
Terrell is an alpha dog type of scorer, and one who’s not afraid of chucking his team back into a game; in his third career game, he shook off a 2-for-11 start to nail two key three-pointers on the way to a victory over ranked Nebraska back in the 2014-2015 season. If that’s not enough of an incentive, Terrell is also a brand-new father: Jared Jr. was born back in September, and it’s hard to see this career-best season as anything but a father’s gift to his newborn. With any luck, Terrell and the Rams could storm through the Midwest on the way to an unlikely Final Four run, similar to Wichita State in 2013. The only problem? It’s the worst four-letter word in college basketball: Duke.
3. March Madness Is More Fun When Duke Loses Early
Every time Duke gets close to becoming remotely likeable, Grayson Allen does Grayson Allen things and everyone remembers why they don’t like Duke. Aside from being great often, Duke generally exhudes an air of arrogance and wet-blanket tendencies that makes them impossible to love. In contrast with that, Rhode Island’s fun and loud style should make them an easy bandwagon target for what looks like the best Round of 32 matchup in the whole tournament.
Talking about Dan Hurley’s outlandish style and how that influences the Rams on the court, Terrell expressed it best: “All of the yelling and screaming and all of the antics and the acting — yeah, it looks crazy, but there’s a method behind his madness,” he said to the Providence Journal. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to get the best out of his players.” When compared to Coach K’s decades-long antagonism of college basketball fans, the youngest Hurley looks like a saint. If that’s not a reason to jump on the hype train and ride the Rams all the way to, at least, an Elite Eight showdown with Kansas, nothing is.