I think if you asked the Robert Morris players what their favorite game of the year is, today’s game against Duquesne might come to mind.
The Colonials have a 7 p.m. tip against the Dukes tonight. The game will be played at PPG Paints arena.
This game is always a fun one. It’s not uncommon for both teams that have players who played against each other in high school. The guys usually get to know each other by playing with and against each other in the Pittsburgh Pro-AM summer league. There’s a lot of familiarity between the programs, even with the coaches. Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry won back-to-back NEC titles in 2010 and 2011 at LIU. Both wins came against Andy Toole and Robert Morris.
So let’s jump into it. Duquesne is 4-5 on the year. They’ve had a truly weird season. They have losses to Penn State and UMBC but a win against Pittsburgh.
The Dukes are led in scoring by senior small forward Emile Blackman, who is averaging 11.3 points per game. Point guard Tarin Smith (11.1 ppg) and freshman shooting guard Mike Lewis (10.2 ppg) also get their fair share of scoring looks, but neither are particularly good three point shooters.
Sometimes it’s best to not over think things. Duquesne is exactly what their record says they are — slightly below average but full of young talent. They don’t do anything really well, which is how you lose games to UMBC, but they also don’t do anything really bad, which is how you can pull an upset against Pitt.
After going 17-17 last season, the seat for Ferry is probably getting hotter. This is his fifth season now. In his tenure, the Dukes have never finished in the top-half of the Atlantic 10 conference.
One thing Ferry-coached teams have always done is run. Duquesne had the 14th shortest average possession length in the country last season. They’re not quite at that same tempo this season, but it’s still fast. Duquesne wants to run.
Robert Morris faced a team just like this in Youngstown State last week. RMU did a pretty decent job forcing turnovers against that up-tempo style. Duquesne has a tendency to get sloppy with the basketball. Let’s see if Robert Morris can take advantage.
One of the most intriguing storylines, in my opinion, focuses on the rebounding. Robert Morris relies heavily on their offensive rebounding to score points. The Colonials get an offensive rebound on almost 35 percent of their offensive possessions.
Crashing the offensive glass against a team that wants to run can be risky. If you have three guys going for an offensive rebound, and they don’t get it, Duquesne could get numbers in transition. If RMU can assert themselves on the board, I think they’ll be in good business. If not, Duquesne might run them off the floor.
RMU has found themselves in a ton of close games. I don’t remember a season with so many games coming down to the final possessions in non-conference play. Against Towson, RMU was able to squeak out a win. Against Youngstown State and Lehigh, things didn’t go so well.
There are only four games left in non-conference season. This is – by far – the most winnable game remaining. RMU needs to find a way to walk out with a win if it comes down to the wire.
And for me personally, this is a pride game. We have two teams here who play in the same area and in some cases fight for similar players on the recruiting trail. Last year’s 72-65 loss to Duquesne was the first time RMU lost to the Dukes since 2010. It’s time to start another streak.