Baron wants URI to be in at-large discussion

March, 2, 2009
Don't start comparing Notre Dame, Georgetown or any other team in the Big East that is struggling to get above .500 in conference play to Rhode Island.

At least don't do it within earshot of URI coach Jim Baron. He doesn't want to hear it. Nothing against the Irish, Hoyas or anyone else that fits the criterion in a similar league, but Baron has simplified the NCAA tournament selection process: just win.

Rhode Island has of late, so much so that the Rams are quietly putting together a sleeper candidacy for a possible at-large berth.

"We're 11-4 in this league and I see them talking about teams that are 6-8 in other leagues?" Baron said. "Wins are wins."

Rhode Island has won six straight, including knocking off Dayton in overtime Wednesday. The Rams (22-8) are 11-4 in the A-10, a game behind Xavier in the loss column and a game ahead in the win column over Dayton. The Rams beat potential bubble team Penn State in Philadelphia in November, got clipped by Duke in Durham by three points and had a series of other close losses like losing by one at Providence and by four to Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City. Xavier beat URI at home by only two. The Rams also lost to Villanova in Philadelphia by 13.

Why should the Rams be a potential at-large team?

"Because we have proven it," said Baron, whose Rams were at No. 54 in the RPI on Monday but have a strength of schedule rating of 132.

"Just ask Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] how we did it," Baron said. "We've proven it, and we're finishing up as strong as anybody. There are teams that are fumbling. You see in the Big East how these teams are beating each other up. All I know is you've got to win games, and that's what we didn't do last year. We fumbled it and fell short."

The Rams were ranked a year ago, getting up to No. 22 when they were 14-1. But they slumped in the A-10, losing five straight games at one point, and finished the season 7-9 in the league, 21-10 overall before the league tournament.

URI won at Duquesne on Sunday and finishes the regular season against UMass on Saturday.

Baron was quick to point out the bad rap the A-10 is getting this season despite some quality wins, such as UMass beating Kansas in Kansas City, Temple knocking off Tennessee, Dayton over Marquette in suburban Chicago and of course the nonconference wins by Xavier, which include Memphis in Puerto Rico and at LSU.

"We were picked ninth, and now we're second. We're taking care of business," Baron said. "Everybody has to fight for their own cause and everyone is jockeying for position, but we've won 22 games and doing it against the teams we've been playing should put us in a solid position. But we're not there yet."

Baron defended the schedule by saying that he played more "BCS" teams this season. He also added that the Rams won at Northeastern and beat VCU at home to beat two of the best teams in the CAA.

"We don't have a bad loss," Baron said. "I thought the main equation to get in is winning games."

Ahh, if it were only that simple for the selection committee. URI might have to be even more outstanding, and that might mean beating UMass and winning at least two games in the A-10 tournament. If that occurs, and the Rams are 25-9 when they appear on the selection committee board, they might have a strong case.

• Iona's community is mourning the loss of 97-year-old trainer Joseph "J.B." Buono, who died Saturday. Buono was an institution at the school and was still taping up ankles until the past few weeks.

The stories on this World War II hero were endless. Buono was drafted into the Army in 1940 and was in six major battles in his five years of service. Buono earned a combat infantry badge, a Good Conduct Medal, a pre-Pearl Harbor insignia, the Purple Heart and a Presidential Citation, and he was one of only eight soldiers out of 18 who survived a battle at Colmar, France.

"He was an amazing man," said former Iona coach Jeff Ruland, who is an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers. "He was like a father to me. I was 19, 20, 21 years old, and we would hang out. Back then, he was in his 60s. It was amazing. He was one funny dude."

Ruland said Buono's war record was the source for numerous stories during Ruland's tenure as a player, assistant and head coach. He said Buono always had the attention of the team.

"He just touched so many lives," Ruland said.

Ruland said there were countless times when he would use his famous "J.B. Juice" on players to get them ready for a game.

"To this day, no one knew what was in there," said former Iona coach Tim Welsh, who works as an analyst for the ESPN family of networks. "It was in this plastic bottle, with no label. It worked on ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders, and it got the players to play. They believed in it working. I'm not sure if it was all psychological or not."

Welsh said you had to "pull teeth," to get Buono to send a player for an X-ray. "He would just say, 'Let me rub him down and he'll be fine. Timmy, I got him.' And sure enough, I'd be able to put him in the lineup. The kids all believed in that juice."

Welsh said Buono was as much an institution at Iona as any other member of the campus. He said that Buono would say to Jim Valvano, when he went to NC State, to Pat Kennedy, when he went to Florida State, to Welsh, when he went to Providence, that they had no business leaving Iona.

"He really believed Iona was the best place in the world and there was no reason to ever leave," Welsh said. "He was the best."

• Kansas coach Bill Self made another strong case for national coach of the year with the Jayhawks' pounding of Missouri on Sunday. He's my front-runner with a week left in the season.

• Great win for Oregon over Oregon State on Sunday night as the Ducks finally lived up to their potential by playing at a quicker pace than their opponent. Oregon dictated the tempo in the second half, coming back from 10 points down to earn its second straight victory after losing its first 14 games in the Pac-10. Now, it is a rivalry game, but something must be askew if fans storm the court when a 2-14 Pac-10 team beats a 7-9 team in the same conference. That made no sense.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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