URI basketball

Final Fours are finished, but the basketball beat goes on.

In Boston, it’s a downbeat. Point guard Kyrie Irving, one of the NBA’s most dynamic players, is out for the balance of the season due to an infection in his already surgically repaired left knee. On Saturay he had two screws removed from his kneecap that were inserted in 2015 after he fractured the kneecap in the NBA Finals. Two weeks ago he had had a tension wire removed to alleviate pain in his knee. 

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Rhode Island and Connecticut are two bordering New England states whose residents have usually gotten along. But RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay wonders has noticed that relations have gotten chippy lately.

In the end, it’s almost always about money, isn’t it? A bigger paycheck, extra cash for the kids college fund, the retirement account, the vacation to Disney World.

Univerity of Rhode Island

University of Rhode Island basketball coach Dan Hurley, who has resurrected the URI men’s program and taken the Rams to two consecutive NCAA tournaments, is leaving to coach at the University of Connecticut for a salary reported to be about $3 million a year.

How fortunate are we Rhode Islanders to have had two teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament?

Most fortunate, I’d say, considering the other five New England states have a grand total of zero teams in the tournament.

The hoop gods, also known as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee, blessed the University of Rhode Island and Providence College Sunday with berths in the lucrative NCAA tournament, also known as March Madness.

Rhode Island’s best sports performers of 2017 will receive their proper recognition during the 72nd Annual Words Unlimited Sports Awards Banquet Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Cranston Country Club. Words Unlimited is the state’s organization of sports writers, broadcaster and publicists.

Here are the honorees:

TEAM OF THE YEAR

The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team won the Atlantic 10 tournament, made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 19 years, beat Creighton in the first round, lost to Oregon in the second round and finished 25-10. 

The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team continues to shine. In what has become a special season, the Dan Hurley-coached Rams are drawing national attention, always a plus in the run up to the NCAA tournament and March Madness.

URI is ranked 18th nationally in the Associated Press weekly poll and 19th in the USA Today Coaches poll. That puts Rhody on top of such perennial college basketball royalty as North Carolina (22nd in AP) and Kentucky (24th in AP).

They could have won. They could have beaten third-seeded Oregon and earned a trip to the Sweet 16. Victory was so close they could certainly see it, feel it, taste it.

But in the end, victory Sunday night was not to be for the University of Rhode Island Rams. Oregon was a three-point basket better than URI and left Sacramento with a 75-72 triumph in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks (31-5) moved on while the Rams (25-10) came home to reflect on their best season in 18 years.

They can do it. They can win. The University of Rhode Island can beat Oregon Sunday night at Sacramento.

Sure, Oregon (30-5) is seeded No. 3 in the Midwest Regional and URI No. 11. Sure, the Ducks have Dillon Brooks, the Pac-12 player of the year, and Jordan Bell, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year. And they have a former blue chip recruit in sophomore shooting guard Tyler Dorsey, who scored 24 points in Oregon’s 93-77 rout of Iona in the first round Friday.

If you are a college basketball fan in Rhode Island, it doesn’t get much better than the thrills URI provided its long-suffering fans on Sunday. The fourth-seeded Rams stymied a late rally by second-seeded Virginia Commonwealth and won the Atlantic-10 Championship, 70-63, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

As balloons descended from the rafters, Rhody players pulled championship T-shirts over their uniforms, hugged each other and hugged the impressive championship trophy. The real prize, though, was the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

COURTESY URI

The Providence College and University of Rhode Island men’s basketball teams have given fans much to cheer about this season. RIPR Political Analyst Scott MacKay reminds us that these two gems of Rhode Island higher education are celebrating more important milestones this year.  

This is how it was supposed to be, back in November when the Rhode Island Rams were ranked nationally and considered a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament. This is how it was supposed to be come the second weekend in March, the Rams playing for the Atlantic-10 Conference Championship.

I really, really hope the University of Rhode Island beats Davidson in the Atlantic 10 semifinals Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh and then defeats Virginia Commonwealth or Richmond on Sunday for the championship.

There, I’ve said it. After close to 40 years of no cheering in the press box while I was a newspaper guy, I can take sides now that I am a blogger.

Two teams from Rhode Island in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? With a little luck, and another victory or two in conference tournaments this week, it could happen.

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