CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Charlotte 49ers begin a critical four-game stretch Saturday that could pave their way to a spot in the A-10 Tournament.
Charlotte (11-11; 3-6) welcomes the last-place Rhode Island Rams (5-20; 2-8) into Halton Arena for a 2 p.m. Homecoming tip. Quite frankly, not much has gone right for Jim Baron's Rams in 2011-12, a team that's just 2-10 in true road games.
Baron mixed his starting rotation early and often as the Rams stumbled to a 3-18 record over the season's first 21 games. URI saw 13 different players crack the starting five over that stretch. Rhody picked up wins over a scrappy James Madison team, Boston College of the ACC, and most recently got a glimmer of hope for the conference tournament with a pair of impressive victories over A-10 foes Dayton and UMass.
But the Rams fell back into old form recently and come into Saturday's game having lost their last two by a combined score of 157-122 to Temple and Xavier, respectively.
Rhode Island marks the first of a four-game stretch for Charlotte against opponents that rank ninth or worse in the conference standings (Rhode Island, Dayton, Richmond, George Washington), slightly opening the door for a trip to the conference tournament.
A win Saturday would also mean consecutive victories for the Niners for the first time since Jan. 7.
Things to watch for:
• 2011-12 has been tough sledding for Rhody, but they've seen a bright spot in 5-foot-11-inch freshman guard Mike Powell. The Chicago native pours in 8.8 points per game to go along with 3.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds per contest. Powell had a pair of 21-point nights against UCF and Boston College and has been one of just a few constants in Baron's lineup, starting 22 of 25 games.
• Rhode Island got a huge lift in late December when Billy Baron, Jim's son, became available after transferring from Virginia. The 6-2, 195-pounder gives Rhody some size in the backcourt and is their most prolific deep threat at 35 percent. In 14 games played, Baron has failed to reach double figures just four times and has scored 20+ on four occasions.
• The New Year has been very good to DeMario Mayfield. Through Charlotte's first 12 games, Mayfield was, to say the least, in a funk at the foul line (25-58, 43 percent). In the 10 games since, he's 28-42 at the stripe, including 80 percent over the last three contests. He's also hit double-figure scoring in seven of the last eight games.
• Keep an eye on freshman Terrence Williams. The local shooting guard doesn't score much (2.4 ppg) but has seen increased minutes in recent games for Alan Major. At 6-4, Williams gives the 49ers more size on the perimeter and has also shown the ability to hit the boards hard, pulling down eight rebounds in Charlotte's win over Fordham last Saturday.