Rhode Island Not Likely To Be Rattled Playing In The Pete

NEW YORK - MARCH 30: Stevie Mejia #1 of the Rhode Island Rams dribbles the ball against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2010 in New York, New York. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Pitt's first opponent of the basketball season isn't a member of a BCS conference, but has plenty of experience playing against big-time teams.

Last season's Rhode Island team won 26 games and played against plenty of good competition in non-conference games. The A-10 isn't a terrible conference and Rhode Island still found plenty of opportunties to beef up its non-con schedule. 

The Rams not only played regular season games against Providence, Boston College (on the road), and Oklahoma State, it actually won all three contests. They then took on Virginia Tech (on the road), Nevada, and Northwestern in the NIT and won all of those games as well.

Need further proof that Rhode Island can offer Pitt a test? The Rams had North Carolina on the ropes in the NIT semifinals with a five-point lead late in the second half before the Tarheels came back to tie it and eventually win by one in overtime.

Is this year's Pitt team better than any of those teams Rhode Island faced last year? Yes. That doesn't mean that if Pitt has an off night, Rhode Island can't hang with them for a while.

Rams Director of Basketball Operations Dan Szramowski was a basketball manager at Pitt in the early part of the decade and knows what his current team will face:

"The place will be packed," Szramowski said. "It will ll remind the guys who were here last year of when we went down to Virginia Tech for the NIT."

The Runnin' Rams - who have played big games in big venues over the last three seasons - appear just as confident as ever heading into their season-opener.

"Especially for the guys who were here back when we played at Duke," Szramowski added, "they know the atmosphere they are walking into. They know the caliber of the team that we are about to play and they really know what it takes to get it done."

The players sound ready to give it a shot, too:

"We are playing another good, solid basketball team and we all know what we have to do," senior co-captain Delroy James said. "You cannot be worried about it - you just have to go out there and play your type of game. Everybody wants to come out and prove that they are better than they were last year, so it is a big basketball game for both of us."

"If we are scared to play, we should not even go down there," senior Will Martell said. "It will be a really tough challenge for us, this first game, but I think we are all up for it."

"It is going to be a good atmosphere to play in," senior forward Ben Eaves said. "People say it is early, well they are early in their season too. Everybody is in the same boat. Every team has new faces, guys who have left and moved on, and guys who are trying to step up to the plate this year. It should be an exciting game."

For an opening game, Rhode Island is a pretty good test and Jamie Dixon knows there aren't too many teams out there willing to face this type of challenge in their first game:

“Go look at the first week and you’ll probably not see two teams this good playing against each other in the first week of the season,” Dixon said. “Nobody of our caliber is playing a team of their caliber.”

I expect Pitt to win this game, but it will be interesting to see what happens if Rhode Island can keep it close in the first half.

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