It’s probably not a stretch to say this is the worst basketball played by Robert Morris under Andy Toole. It’s not just the 2-11 record, because any mid-major school that frontloads non-conference play with tough school can go 2-11. It’s the manner the losses have accumulated.
That’s not to say this isn’t new territory. Last year, RMU started the season 4-8 and lost to North Carolina by 44, Georgetown by 16 and Buffalo by 15. That’s not unlike this season, where the Colonials lost to Cincinnati by 62, Oakland by 16 and Georgia by 12.
The difference, of course, is Robert Morris was unable to win some of those “winnable” games. Looking at the schedule in the preseason, which is useless but still fun to do, you probably could have made the case that Penn, Tennessee Tech, Mississippi Valley State, Youngstown State, Lehigh and Duquesne were all games to win.
RMU won just two of those.
There are a few overarching concerns when looking at this year’s team compared to last. Last year’s team had two very established scorers at this point in the year with Marcquise Reed and Rodney Pryor. When Lucky Jones was feeling it, he was a very good third-wheel.
That team had an identity in those three guys, and they balanced each other well. Reed was an attacker who got to the rim at well. Pryor was better from three and could create for himself with a mid-range jump shot. Jones was somewhere in-between, plus added a component of rebounding and defense that the current version of Robert Morris could really use. Those three, plus great play from Aaron Tate and some help from the likes of Kavon Stewart and Elijah Minnie made them a well-rounded team.
The buzz words from last year’s team were “energy”, “effort” and “competitiveness”; as in, that team didn’t have it. There wasn’t really ever a doubt in the talent level, it was just a matter of if the team could gel and give a shit about winning games. Obviously, those things eventually happened.
I think it’s fair to at least question the overall talent level on this Robert Morris team. That happens when two of the team’s three most talented players left (Reed to Clemson, Jones to graduation) and Tate hasn’t played due to an injury.
This has left a lot, and I mean a lot, of inexperienced players to take those minutes. No one would expect anyone to come in and just do what those guys did, but the point remains that it leaves a gaping hole.
Heading into conference play, Robert Morris won’t be successful until they find another knock down three point shooter and rim attacker. The obvious place to start is with Matty McConnell and Isaiah Still, who have those qualities but haven’t put it together consistently.
When it comes to McConnell, it would be nice to see him be more aggressive and search for his shot a little more. He’s not afraid to take some ridiculously long threes, but they usually come strictly from spot-up attempts. It’s important for any guard to attack the rim to keep defenders honest. McConnell has done very little of that this year, attempting 48 three’s to just 11 two-point shots.
That’s not this team’s only problem of course, but I still expect for some of the other things to sort themselves out in conference play. For example, RMU isn’t ranked in the top 200 in defensive efficiency. they’re ranked 292 in offensive efficiency. Playing lesser opponents may help that. Last year’s team was average to below-average in a lot of efficiency categories, but then finished near the top of everything in NEC play.
There’s a different feel from last year’s team to this year’s. If there are chemistry and competitive issues on this team, it’s at least not out there publicly. Andy Toole was not shy about blasting last year’s team for lack of effort. That hasn’t been the case this season. There’s been patience.
Even so, when it mattered most, last year’s team was able to buckle down and get stops. They took advantage of big moments with a tremendous amount of energy. Can this year’s team do the same?
It’s time for conference play. There are no more excuses. It’s time for the younger players to grow up and mature into their roles. Everyone has to play at a higher level to get back to the promise land. Despite starting at 2-11, the only thing that matters is peaking at the right time.
Last year’s team did that. Who knows if this year’s team is good enough.