Preview: RMU at Bucknell

Game 3: Robert Morris (0-2) at Bucknell (1-1)
When: Wednesday November 16th, 7pm
Where: Sojka Pavilion, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
KenPom: RMU 311, Bucknell 189
KenPom line: Bucknell -11
Link: Stream: Patriot League Network, Radio: WPGB HD
Storyline: Robert Morris looks to build on a good second performance in search of their first win of the season as they stay on the road and take on one of the better mid-major programs in college basketball. Bucknell took last year’s meeting 81-76 at the Sewall Center.

Familiar Opponent: Bucknell comes into this game 1-1 with a win over Manhattan at home, and a loss at Wake Forest. The Bison were picked third in the Patriot League standings. Like years past, they have a very solid offense but aren’t the most athletic team in the world…

The Bison through only two games have done a great job protecting the ball and producing turnovers. Win the turnover battle, and you’re usually in good shape. Bucknell played a trapping aggressive D in Manhattan and a team that overwhelmed them athletically in Wake. It’s pretty impressive that they only turned it over 17 percent of the time, though again we’re talking about a very small sample size. We’ll see if RMU’s new man-to-man defense can get to them.

6-7 junior forward Zach Thomas is off to a great start, leading the team at 19 points-per-game. Bucknell may be a midmajor, but they have some serious size. Joining Thomas is 6-9 Nana Foulland, 6-8 Nate Sestina, and 6-8 Bruce Moore.

The snowball effect: Sunday night RMU played really well. It was a nice bounce back after a horrific opener vs Penn the previous Friday. Isaiah Still dropped a career high 26, Dachon Burke looked awesome on both ends, and the role players all stepped up. “The effort was there. The locker room was disappointed after the game. That’s good. We competed on both ends of the floor,” Andy Toole noted postgame. I know DePaul isn’t a Big East powerhouse, but they are still a Big East program on the rise.

At the end of the day though, RMU was 0-2 and staring a very brutal start right in the face. I know, as an NEC program conference play matters much more than non-conference play….but this is a young team and a brutal start could hurt confidence. KenPom currently projects a 1-12 record. The next two games are on the road vs a very good Richmond team and Kansas State (a Big 12 opponent). A mini upset here would go a long way in the morale department.

The Youth Movement: In our season preview, I noted how big the 2006 RMU season was, and how it started an unprecedented run in NEC play. It was the foundation for an amazing run. I also noted I hoped to see something like that this year. Despite the 0-2 start, there have been some pleasant surprises. Isaiah Still looks awesome through two games. He “struggled” in the opener, and still had 15 points and 6 boards. He bounced back nicely vs Depaul scoring 26 points (a career high) and 4-8 from three and 10-17 from the floor. He attacked all game and did so while playing excellent defense on Eli Cain, a guy who could make an all Big East team. Toole was impressed, saying “Isaiah is a guy that can score so many different ways. He’s a tough matchup and made great decisions tonight.”

The sophomore wasn’t the only one to play well. Freshman Dachon Burke had a huge slam showing off some of the premiere athleticism that was so highly touted during his recruitment. He finished with six points and four boards while playing very good defense. There will be a big learning curve, but you can see the potential.

Clive Allen also showed off some nice moves and looks like he has a very nice jumper, though it appears to take awhile to get off. I have a hunch we’ll be seeing more Allen and less Jordan Lester as the season moves along. Nothing against Lester, but Allen has all the makings of a solid 1-2 guard. He can handle the PG role with Kavon Stewart off the court, and shoot it well while attacking the basket with Stewart on the floor. I’ll leave it as a hunch and not prediction until I see a little more Allen.

Braden Burke started his second game and struggled a bit with the athleticism of the DePaul frontline, but has looked solid early. I think we’ll continue to see more of these three as the season moves along.

Keys to the Game:

Defense: Thus far, the biggest takeaway from our small sample size…..the man-to-man D! The 2-3 zone was used for two season, but it appears Toole is back to the RMU staple. In your face man-to-man D. Through two games it’s a little too in your face. RMU is committing a lot of fouls, and it’s hindering them on both ends.

Still had to play much of Sunday’s game in foul trouble (and did well given the fact he was on three and then four fouls for much of the second half?. Depaul was in the bonus before the 14:00 minute mark in the second half. Yikes!

I like the man D and think RMU has the versatility and athletes to lockdown opponents, but they must cut down on the fouls.

Offense: Take away Isaiah Still, and RMU went 3-12 from three point range (25 percent). That won’t get it done. Matty McConnell continues to struggle going 1-4 and Lorenzen Wright Jr. hasn’t found his stroke yet (1-6 for the season). Those two are the other “shooters” on the team. If they can knock down a few more shots, it would really open things up for the other guards to penetrate and Braden Burke to work inside. They’ll need to put up some points if they want to hang with Bucknell.

–Lee Kunkel
–@Kunkel5

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