It’s been over a week since the CCRI men’s basketball team played a real game, but the Knights aren’t expecting any rust when they do take the court again.
They’re used to playing the waiting game. This time, there’s just a little bit more on the line.
CCRI left on Monday morning for the NJCAA Division II National Men’s Basketball Tournament, which will be played at Illinois’s Danville Area Community College. CCRI’s first game in the tournament is today, a full 10 days since the Knights beat Lackawanna Community College for the Northeast District title on March 10.
Prior to that, CCRI had beaten Orange County CC on March 4 to win the Region XXI title.
And even before that, the Knights had nearly two weeks off from the end of the regular season until their match-up with Orange County.
But as the No. 3 seed in a tournament that will determine the national champion, and with a number of college coaches and scouts in attendance, CCRI is understandably more excited to get this layoff over with and get back to playing basketball.
“They’re anxious,” CCRI head coach Rick Harris said. “They want to play. Over the last three weeks, it’s been this way. When the season ended, we had a two-week delay before we played Orange County. Then we had another week before the district championship. And now we’ve been off a little over a week. But we’re used to that.”
Thankfully, CCRI’s wait is almost over. It takes the court today, at 3 p.m., against Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley.
The Knights are one of 16 teams in the field, and are considered one of the favorites on the heels of a 28-4 season. MCC-Penn Valley went 16-16 during the year, but emerged as the District 12 champions.
Harris has never seen the Scouts play in person, but he watched their most recent game on tape this past week. He came away impressed, and knows that his team will have to be ready for anything.
“They’re similar to Lackawanna,” Harris said. “They’re an athletic team, they try to get to the rim. They play multiple defenses. But in the last game, they started in a zone, then they went in man and that’s where they made their run. They’re an aggressive team – they do a lot of double-teams. Nothing we haven’t seen all year.”
MCC-Penn Valley is led offensively by Cameron Randell and Keala Jones. Randell averages 17.9 points per game, while Jones scores 16.7 points per game. Eheji Ehovuon is also a big-time contributor, as he averages 10.6 rebounds per game.
The Knights, though, aren’t short on weapons of their own.
It all starts with their backcourt of Desmond Williams and former Cranston West star Bryan Yarce. Williams leads the team with 19.5 points per game, and Yarce leads the team with 7.1 assists per game.
Together, they make up one of the top backcourts around, and any success that CCRI has on the national scene will go through them.
“Our backcourt is one of the best in New England, at any level,” Harris said. “We’ve got Desmond Williams and Bryan Yarce. When you’ve got a great backcourt – as you’re seeing in the NCAA Tournament – the teams with great backcourts are the ones that are going the farthest.”
The Knights also have five players who are 6-foot-5 or taller, giving them good depth on the interior.
Pacing that group is Roger Livramento, and he’s grabbed 10.7 rebounds per game.
“We think we have a real chance, no question,” Harris said. “Five guys that are 6-foot-5 or bigger. And all 11 guys for us contribute. We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game each and every game that we play.”
Every team that qualifies for the tournament plays at least two games, but teams that lose their first game cannot win the national title.
And while CCRI is certainly hoping to make some noise, it knows it won’t come easy.
Prior to this tournament starting, the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams nationally lost in their region tournaments.
A season ago, No. 9 seeded Lincoln College won the title for the second consecutive year over higher-seeded Mott Community College, from Michigan.
Essentially, there are no guarantees.
“When you get into a tournament, one game deal, anything can happen,” Harris said.
Mott is back in the tournament this season as the No. 1 overall seed after a 31-1 season, but the earliest it could meet CCRI would be on Saturday, the final day of the tournament, either in the finals or in one of the consolation games.
To get to the finals, CCRI will have to win three games in four days. If it get can get by MCC-Penn Valley, it will play on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. against the winner of Tuesday’s game between Erie Community College and Baltimore City Community College.
With a win in that game, CCRI would play again on Friday with a berth in the national title game on the line.
If the Knights were to lose to MCC-Penn Valley today, they would play on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. and then be finished for the tournament.
But they’ll do everything they can to stay in the title hunt for as long as they can.
“We’re not in awe, we’re not giddy over it,” Harris said. “We’re looking forward to it. We know there’s going to be some great teams out there and we’re just hoping to play our best basketball when we’re out there.”