Thanks to the outstanding play of Jared Terrell, the Rhode Island Rams are the hottest team in the country.

Going into their game on Tuesday night against the Richmond Spiders, the Rhode Island Rams have the chance to extend their winning streak to 16, which would tie the Cincinnati Bearcats for the longest active run in college basketball. Senior Jared Terrell has been vital, and the Rams have climbed all the way to 16th in the latest poll from the Associated Press.

Their success isn’t unprecedented, but the rate at which they’re winning games is far higher than anything in recent seasons. Overall, the Rams are 20-3 (.870) and an unblemished 12-0 in conference play. According to ESPN, Dan Hurley’s squad has the fifth-highest RPI in the nation, trailing Clemson, Villanova, Xavier and Virginia. They’re also 3-3 against teams who boast an RPI inside of 50, with their most notable victory being against Seton Hall who’s 25th overall at the time of this writing.

Of Rhode Island’s losses, none of them would be considered upsets. Virginia smacked them by 15 towards the end of November, and a heart-breaking 88-81 loss to Nevada preceded that one. Their third loss came at the hands of Alabama, in which the Rams put forth a repugnant showing on offense.

At this rate, Rhode Island is building a resume that’ll make them a high seed once the tournament starts; Clark Kellogg (CBS Sports) believes that the Rams could be fourth in their bracket, and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects them to be fifth. Either way, it’s a tremendous improvement on last year, where they occupied the 11th slot in the Midwest.

Almost all of the Rams’ success is the byproduct of an elite defensive scheme implemented by Hurley and executed by his guards, who have made Rhode Island the 33rd-most efficient defense in the nation. Stanford Robinson and Jared Terrell are two of the most tenacious ballhawks in the conference, ranking third (2.5 steals) and seventh (1.5) in the Atlantic 10 in steals per game. The ability to clamp down on the perimeter is crucial because Rhode Island lacks size and isn’t particularly deep.

On a good night, Hurley will have an eight-man rotation. He has only five players who average more than 20 minutes a night: Terrell, Robinson, Jeff Dowtin, E.C. Matthews and Jarvis Garrett. Matthews is the tallest of the bunch at 6-5. Overall, Andre Berry and Cyril Langevine are the tallest rotation players at 6-8. Looking at the roster composition, it makes sense why no team has allowed fewer made threes (108) and why they hold opponents to 31.8 percent from deep but also give up a conversion rate 45.2 on shots overall. Once the tournament starts, it’ll be fascinating to watch how teams exploit Rhode Island’s lack of size.

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The Rams have the firepower to make up for a night where their defense just isn’t getting it done, and we’ve already seen them win a couple of shootouts this season. Most recently, they edged out UMass 85-83. Those victories are possible because of Jared Terrell, whose significant improvement doesn’t get much national recognition because of where he plays.

Coming out of Brewster Academy in 2014, Terrell was ranked 68th overall by RSCI, a composite recruiting service that derives its player rankings from various outlets like ESPN and 247Sports. Now a senior, Terrell is making the case to be the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Overall, he’s averaging 17.5 points a night for the Rams, and he’s doing so with a true shooting percentage of 59.1, which is up 5.2 points from his junior year. He just goes out and gets buckets. For Rhode Island, having a shot creator with Terrell’s capabilities is a life saver.

During their win streak, his numbers haven’t deviated much (17.9 points on 43.3 percent shooting from downtown), but no coach is going to get upset with consistency, especially when it happens during the most intense parts of the season. Before rattling off 15 straight, Terrell had issues maintaining this level of play. To open the campaign, he had just six points against UNC-Asheville. The next three games featured performances of 24, 25 and 32, which came against Seton Hall.

Following that stretch, Terrell’s outside shot eluded him, and the rest of his offense suffered. Since conference play started, he’s been a different player.

What aides Terrell’s proficient scoring is not having to worry about playing point guard. His body type suits that position, but his playstyle doesn’t. Thanks to the emergence of Jeff Dowtin, a sophomore from Maryland, Terrell can focus on what he does best. The DMV native brings an exceptional basketball IQ onto the court and helps the offense run as smoothly as possible. Dowtin’s 5.6 nightly dimes lead the team, and he’s one of just seven players to hand out at least five assists a game while committing fewer than two turnovers.

With their conference schedule winding down, the Rhode Island Rams play just two games against teams they haven’t yet faced, and that includes the contest against Richmond. They could run the table and repeat as the Conference Tournament champion before going off to the big dance. Whatever happens, though, Jared Terrell will be front and center. His scoring prowess — combined with Jeff Dowtin’s acumen — makes Rhode Island a lethal offense, and that only complements their relentless play on the other end.

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