Robert Morris (0-2) vs. Bucknell (1-1)
When: Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.
Where: Charles L. Sewall Center
KenPom: RMU 200, Bucknell 169
KenPom Line: Robert Morris -3
Link: NECfrontrow.com, ESPN 970 AM
Storyline: Robert Morris gets back to familiar confines when they take on Bucknell. RMU will look to overcome the loss of Matty McConnell and get win #1 this year against a very good Patriot League team that will stretch the defense.
Getting to know the Bison: Bucknell is looking to build off a strong 2014-15 campaign where they finished 19-15 and lost to Temple in the NIT. They should be able to do so with a very good offense and improved defense.
Bucknell plays like every IM team wishes they could. Their guards have good size and everyone on the team can snipe from three. No one does that better than small forward Chris Hass. The senior made 77 three’s last season while shooting an outstanding 38.5 percent. A lot of RMU’s defensive effort will concern where Hass is at all times on the floor.
Hass doesn’t do it by himself. Four other players are averaging double figure scoring numbers. 6-foot-9 sophomore center Nana Foulland shot 54.7 percent from the field and was arguably one of the three best big men in the Patriot League as a freshman last season. When the Bison do miss from downtown, Foulland cleans things up.
Foulland’s Achilles heel, like many big men, is free throw shooting. RMU will have to be careful to not get in foul trouble early, but committing a few smart fouls throughout the game to send him to the line isn’t the worst outcome. He shot just just 56.8 percent from the charity stripe last year. This could be crucial in a late game situation. RMU has to know who to foul (Foulland, point guard Stephen Brown) and who not to (everyone else).
First year coach Nathan Davis knows he has an incredibly talented offensive team, but he’s going to look to improve things on the defensive end. Bucknell doesn’t have an awful defensive team; they gave up 1.06 points-per-possession last season, which is just moderately bad. The growth of Foulland developing into a shot blocker is naturally going to help that. Still, the Bison did give up 90 points to Wake Forest on Sunday. There are points to be had.
Some other names to know: point guards Kimbal Mackenzie and Stephen Brown are averaging about 20 minutes per game in the early season and can dishing it, both averaging five assists a contest. Mackenzie is more likely to play off the ball in two point guard sets.
Shooting guard Ryan Frazier is averaging 11.0 ppg in the early going. he shot 37 percent from three last year. Zach Thomas is a stretch four who averages about 2-3 three point attempts per game.
Outlook: This seems like a nightmare matchup for the Colonials. Bucknell is the exact type of team to take advantage of every miscommunication the Colonials have in their 2-3 zone. Foulland is a monster on the boards who could get the bigs in foul trouble. RMU already isn’t getting a lot from their bench right now, which is also going to have to change. If anyone gets in foul trouble, Jordan Lester, Steven Whitley, Isaiah Still, Andre Frederick and Billy Giles will have to do more than just be bodies out there. Only Still has shown he can be a contributor in the early going.
With no McConnell, I’m especially interested in what Whitley can bring to the table. He played 14 pretty unproductive minutes against Cincinnati on Sunday. He’s going to have to play a bigger role now. Will he respond? Will the big men be able to handle Foulland when Tate needs a breather?
This will be a tough one. Bucknell is no Cincinnati, but they’re one of the four best teams in a good conference.
Prediction: Bucknell 80, Robert Morris 64