Preview: RMU in search of first win

Robert Morris (0-4) at New Mexico State (3-1)
When: Tuesday November 24th, 9:30pm
Where: Pan American Center, Las Cruces, New Mexico
KenPom: RMU 220, NMST 145
KenPom Line: NMST -8
Link: ESPN Radio 970 AM (iHeart radio App), ESPN3
Storyline: Robert Morris will look for their first win of the season in unfamiliar territory as they travel to New Mexico to take on the Aggies, game two of the four game Air Force Classic.

Getting to know New Mexico State: As we know, the Colonials have had their fair share of success in the NEC the past eight seasons. Being one of the best teams in a one bid league has led the Colonials to contention for an NCAA tournament bid every season in recent memory. New Mexico State has enjoyed similar success in the WAC. They have made the NCAA tournament four straight seasons.

Once again, the Aggies are in position to win the WAC and are expected to contend for another NCAA bid. 6-9 sophomore Pascal Siakam will be a handful for RMU. He leads the team in scoring at 24.5 points-per-game and will be a tough cover for the undermanned RMU frontline. Guard Ian Baker is also having a nice season, scoring 14.5 per-game while shooting 44 percent from three.

Colonial Keys: As the record would indicate, things have not gone RMU’s way this season. They fell behind big against Penn and Bucknell and couldn’t quite dig out of the hole. Cincinnati beat them up, and they ran out of gas in the high altitude at Air Force. There has been some good —Rodney Pryor has been excellent, and Isiah Still gets better every game– and some bad, as injuries, youth and lackadaisical play have cost them.

On offense, they need to find someone to help Pryor out. The senior is averaging 21 points-per-game and shooting 47 percent from the field. He’s carried RMU offensively and at times is their only option. 

Who can step up?

With Aaron Tate and Matty McConnell still banged up (neither played vs Air Force) other options must emerge. Elijah Minnie and Kavon Stewart are two guys that need to pick their play up. Those two are only averaging 15 points combined. It is a small sample size, but RMU is only scoring 98 points-per-100 possessions. That’s 261st in the country. Cutting down the turnovers would help. Robert Morris is giving up the ball on 24 percent (!!!!!!) of their possessions right now. That is TERRIBLE. 335th in the country bad. Gotta take care of the ball.
Defensively, RMU has looked pretty good at times, and pretty bad at other times (great analyst, I know). Seriously though, you can tell this unit will be pretty good on that end once they gel and the new guys get some time under their belt. There are still some breakdowns that have cost them, but when they get back in transition, they have been tough to break down outside of the Cincinnati game. This won’t come together over night, but by late-December, early January I think this unit will be very good on that side of the ball.

Keys to Victory: This will be a very difficult game to win. On paper, New Mexico State will probably end up being the second best team RMU plays all season behind Cincinnati. Throw in the fact the game is a quick turnaround from Sunday’s game at Air Force (playing at high altitude no less) and you have one big uphill battle. 

New Mexico State possess great size, especially for a mid-major. They are similar to a more skilled version of last years St. Francis Brooklyn team. They are also incredibly tough to beat in their home building, though they have dropped one game there against a very good New Mexico team.

First off, RMU will have to shoot the ball well from three. Can Minnie step out and hit shots to open up the paint? Can RMU effectively take care of the ball and get good shots? Lastly, RMU will have to get back in transition and limit the easy buckets for the Aggies. With the massive size advantage, you would expect them to get their share of offensive rebounds (they are one of the better rebounding teams in the country), so it will be key to make them work for every bucket.
The good news is there are some very winnable games after this one. A good performance would go a long way. Last season RMU was 2-6 at one point, and finished 4-8 in the nonconferece play. If they can get healthy, they can still easily best those marks.

–Lee Kunkel
–@Kunkel5


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