Can the dominance continue? Robert Morris Colonials Season Preview

This is part three of a four-part NEC preview. If you missed part one, previewing the “bottom five” teams in the NEC, click here. if you missed part two, previewing the “top five” teams of the NEC, click here. All rankings are reflected by the NEC preseason coaches poll. Tomorrow, Chris and Lee will give their predictions.

2. Robert Morris (20-15, 12-6)
Coach: Andy Toole, sixth season (110-66)
Postseason: NCAA tournament, defeated North Florida, lost to Duke.
KenPom: 200
Biggest Losses: Marcquise Reed (15.1 points-per-game, NEC ROY), Lucky Jones (14.3 points-per-game, 6.0 rebounds-per-game)

Schedule Breakdown: 

The non-conference schedule is once again littered with tough contests and should be great preparation for the NEC slate. Right off the bat the Colonials play the University of Penn at the Palestra, one of college basketball’s cathedrals.

There are a bunch of tough road games including contests at Cincinnati, at Air Force, at New Mexico State, at Columbia and at Georgia. RMU will also renew their rivalry with Duquesne on the 19th on December down in Pittsburgh. The home slate is once again thin, but includes some great mid-major match-ups including games against Patriot League powers Lehigh, and the home opener against Bucknell.

Once again each member of the NEC will play every team twice –once at home, and once on the road– giving the conference a true regular season schedule/champion. There will be two huge stretches that will go a long way in deciding just how high RMU will finish in the standings. The first starts January 21st when RMU starts a four game road trip with games at CCSU, Bryant, Mount, and SFPA. Can Robert Morris win two or three games in that stretch? After that, the Colonials will play five of six at home. This will give them a great opportunity at the start of February to get hot for March –and as we learned last year– that is the time of year you want to play your best ball.

For a full look at the schedule, click here.

The Skinny: 

CC: Well here we are, on the brink of another Robert Morris season. Doesn’t it feel great to be the champs? I love being the kings. This must be how all 14 year old Patriots fans feel. Lee, since the last time we chatted you got freaking married and I got a “real” job with real responsibilities. This is all we have now.

Just how far will Pryor and the Colonials go this year?
(Photo credit: RMU Athletics)

LK: Happy to be back man. What a ride last March was. Let’s do that again!

CC: Anyway, there’s a million and one things we could touch on. We’ll break down some of it here and more of it as we get closer to the season. Let’s start with what RMU lost. Marcquise Reed left for Clemson and Lucky Jones graduated and is balling overseas now. Here’s a question… who will this team miss more?

LK: I’m taking Reed. Lucky Jones brought a lot to the table, and is without doubt one of the top 10-15 Colonials of all time. But Reed could have been top three. Not to mention Andy Toole and his staff knew they were losing Jones, and recruited with that in mind. Reed would have been the best player in this conference as a sophomore and did so much for the team on both ends. Not discounting Jones, Reed was just THAT good. There is a reason he’s in the ACC now. Your thoughts?

CC: We’re going to be in agreement. Listen, I love Lucky Jones. He was a top-notch defender and the best rebounder in school history, but he wasn’t without his flaws. The ego thing was a problem. There’s just no way around it. Also, for as good of a shooter as he could be, he went through his super cold stretches.

On the other hand, Reed already proved he could carry a team offensively because he did it. Not to mention, I think RMU will really miss how sneaky he was defensively. He had one of the best steal percentages in the country last year. A lot of times, they led to easy buckets. I like easy buckets.

Now, RMU will have to work to replace those too. How are they going to do it? Let’s touch on some of the newcomers.

LK: Replacing their production starts with some of the guys returning but there is no doubt, plenty of talent coming in that will be asked to step up. Isaiah Still stands out to me. He has the look of a Lucky Jones clone. Tons of length, a guard like skill set, and should be a top notch defender if he applies himself on that side. Steven Whitley is another guy that I think can help RMU on both sides of the ball. The one thing I like most about this recruiting class is reliability. Each member seems like they can come in, compete for minutes and make an impact from day one. Who do you think makes the biggest impact?

CC: I do like Still. I was talking with an NEC guy earlier, and we were chatting about Still. He doesn’t have the immediate upside of a Lucky Jones, but that’s only natural. I do think he can mimic some of the positive things he did though, but without the ego and scoring streakiness. With that being said, Lucky was the third best scorer on last years team, got to the line a ton and could carry a team through stretches. So someone will have to step up in a similar role. More on that later.

I’ll start the Matty McConnell chatter. I don’t think he can just step in and replace Reed. I do think he will be the starting two guard who can double as a ball handler in more scoring-oriented and spacing lineups. I don’t think 11 points per game is an unreasonable expectation. I expect both Still and McConnell will be impact players from the get-go. They were also two of the first commits from the class.

LK: I agree. Very deep class. My next question…what does Andy Toole have at forward/center, especially early in the season? Aaron Tate is out a few weeks. That’s a worry, and Gomis/Bennett have left the team. Who’s getting those minutes alongside Elijah Minnie? Will Robert Morris be able to get by without Tate if he misses significant time?

CC: Finally, the Stephan Bennett and Leo Gomis talk! Yes! Full disclosure, I was a little surprised by the Hawk news and not surprised at all by the Gomis new. We joked about this a ton before the season, but the over/under on him quitting had to of been like December 3. That was a disaster from the get go. I also wrote about Hawk a little more extensively here, for anyone interested.

This is where things worry me. RMU proved last year that size doesn’t mean a whole lot but the bigs do have to be tough. Tate, the team’s toughest player, will miss a few weeks. Still is already banged up too. That leaves Andre Frederick, Billy Giles and Joe Hugley to take a lot of frontcourt minutes early.

Giles’ athleticism and the way he should be able to run the court excites me. Andre Fredrick’s pure mass and timing excites me. Can they be engaged defensively 24/7? No idea. I fear the worst, especially because the two best teams not named Robert Morris (Mount St. Mary’s, Bryant) are going to destroy teams with their forwards.

One last thing before I turn it over to you: Elijah Minnie is set to become one of the 10 best players in the league this year. I wrote about finding that secondary scorer earlier. Pryor will get his, the Kavon Stewart/McConnell combo will get theirs. I think Minnie transforms himself into the guy who will space the floor, hit open three’s and become more aggressive going to the rim. He can be every bit as good as Greg Graves and Dan Garvin.

LK: I’m with you. Minnie has the talent to be one of the best forwards in the league. If he can apply himself, expand his game on the post, and become a leader, he’s first team all NEC caliber (and his ceiling is higher than anyone in the league!). He’s got to stay on the court and out of the doghouse too this year. As he noted in his interview during RMU’s version of midnight madness, he’ll be expected to play a major leadership role. That’s a lot of responsibility for a guy who had a lot of brain farts (for lack of a better term) last season.

So we’ve established that RMU has decent depth (albeit inexperienced), a few holes that need filled, some talented bigs. Now let me ask you this…Is Rodney Pryor ready to become the best player in this league? Last year he had a lot of help around him. He’ll have assistance this year, but not as much on the offensive end.

CC: These things never turn out the way we expected. Last year at this time, Lucky Jones was the best player in the league. He wasn’t even the second best player on his team. With that being said, yes, I expect him to be the best player. The guy just gets buckets. He doesn’t even really go through extended shooting slumps either. Just as steady as they come.

In my opinion, RMU has the best player, coach, point guard and third best forward. We can talk more about the point guard debate during tomorrow’s preview, but I’ll take Stewart over anyone. Even if he *isn’t* the best point guard, he’s near the top. I’m surprised RMU, the defending champs mind you, weren’t the preseason number one. I hope Toole drills in the “NOBODY BELIEVES IN YOU” line day after day.

LK: I’m with you. Rodney is the complete player on the offensive end, and has the size to really dominate on a night in, night out basis. Even though he’s lost a few of his running mates, I think he’ll lead this team in scoring and should win them a lot of games.

Can the dominance continue?

In closing, it should be another great year of Colonial hoops. No excuse for this team not to compete for another regular season title and NCAA tournament berth. A reminder to all. RMU is 110 and 66 overall and 66-23 in NEC play under Andy Toole. He still hasn’t lost to Duquesne (5-0) and has wins over Kentucky, St. John’s and now an NCAA tournament win over North Florida. Over the last eight years RMU has the ninth most wins in mid-major hoops. In that time frame they have three NCAA tournament appearances, five regular season titles (four outright), and have appeared in the NEC title game SIX (!!!!) of the eight seasons. That’s dominance. The golden era of Colonial basketball should –hopefully– continue for another season. The pieces are in place, and Toole is still at the helm. Hopefully there is no end in site.

CC: If that cant get you fired up I don’t know what will!!!!

Last thing from me: RMU isn’t the deepest team. This has several negatives, like we’re three injuries away from the “can Conrad Stephens contribute” conversation. The good news is that we can literally put a whole lineup of walk-ons on the floor. VICTORY FORMATIONNNNNNN.

Someone hit us with some nicknames for that group on twitter: @C_Cappella and @Kunkel5.

Tomorrow: NEC predictions.


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