RMU’s defense was never really a problem last year.
I start with this because I specifically remember a lot of last year’s early season discussion circling around the defense. :RMU should go back to a man defense.” I must have had that tweeted at me 200 times a week through January.
So let’s just start with that understanding and go from there.
Last season, Robert Morris gave up 102.7 points per 100 possessions according to KenPom. The Division I average was 102.0, so Robert Morris was essentially, in 35 games, an average defensive team.
Of course, numbers will ever tell the whole story. In non-conference play, RMU played some incredible offensive teams. Lafayette, North Carolina, Georgetown and Toledo were ALL in the top-50 in offensive efficiency last season. Duquesne was 72, another top offensive team. Facing those types of offenses will fudge with your numbers.
Robert Morris had the third-most efficient offense in conference play last season, giving up 98.8 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom. That’s pretty damn good.
The thing about RMU’s defense is you can’t just pinpoint it on one scheme or person. No, Robert Morris doesn’t have an Amdy Fall in the middle or an outstanding guard who will lock you up on the perimeter. Instead, they swarm to points with a ton of energy in their 2-3 zone.
Last year’s team had such an advantage with Lucky Jones. Like a solid cornerback in football, Jones could almost take away half the court. Teams would specifically run plays away from him. Having a player like that was/is a blessing and a curse; it’s nice to have that type of defensive presence, but you always want to see your best defensive player engaged and making plays.
Jones (and for that matter David Appolon, a terrific defensive guard) are obviously no longer around, but that doesn’t mean RMU should be slackers on that end.
Good defense translates no matter the scheme. Playing with energy, discipline and communication is universal, but a good 2-3 defense has to fight through screens, communicate as offenses run through different zones and makes high post entry difficult. Length is a welcomed aspect of things too.
Robert Morris won’t be short on length. The whole team, even point guard Kavon Stewart, is long as hell. Length can make up for a lot things, specifically if you have a wing on the bottom of the zone who might not be the quickest, they can still contest shots in the corner and baseline.
Last year, Rodney Pryor, who stands around 6 foot 4, played primarily at the top of the zone. I’m interested to see if that’s the case this year, especially with such an influx of inexperienced players jumping into things.
It can’t be ignored that Marcquise Reed isn’t going to be around. Reed had the 27th best steal percentage in the country. With teams so actively trying to move the ball and get the zone defense out of position, there will be more opportunities to deflect passes and get steals. Reed did it better than almost anyone, and that’ll be hard to replicate.
Two newcomers that figure to play a large role this season are guards Matty McConnell and Isaiah Still. I would imagine, just based on size, McConnell will be at the top of the zone. Still has more of a Lucky Jones reputation as an incredibly athletic, long wing player. The news coming out the Stills camp is encouraging; in my opinion he can be an impact defensive player right away.
Both will have to be committed on the defensive end. As the old adage goes, defense gets and keeps you on the floor. That couldn’t be more true at Robert Morris.
Having a “big” man anchoring the zone is nice but not needed. The middle needs toughness, not size. It’s the reason Aaron Tate started at center, not Stephan Bennett.
With the status of both Bennett and Tate in doubt, the Andre Frederick era might start at least a year earlier than imagined. Frederick has flashed potential, twice recording four blocks in a single game, but was wildly inconsistent. For every great play he had, there were ten more where he was caught sleeping on the defensive end.
Frederick is a massive human, so the potential as a shot blocker and rebounder is there, but I have my concerns. I’m interested in the athletic frame freshman Billy Giles can bring. Joe Hugley should also see some minutes.
When it comes down it, this should be a solid defensive team. I’ve stated my feelings for Kavon Stewart and what a blur he can be offensively. That goes both ways. He can terrorize defensively. Between Stewart, Pryor and Minnie, those are three impact defensive players.
Every team is going to have bad games. Hell, Youngstown State’s Bobby Hain looked like Patrick Ewing in a December game at Robert Morris. Communication will probably be an issue early, but it shouldn’t be enough to make the Colonials a well oiled machine when it matters most.