In theory, a team’s starting lineup is the least important of every game, because every minute progresses of importance until the game reaches its end point.
Of course, finding a starting group of five is also important. You can’t throw anyone out there – getting off to a fast start is good for confidence among other things.
But with a team like RMU, the lineup that closes games has proven to be of mega-importance. Just look at Robert Morris’ last four games:
-Four point win over Duquesne.
-Six point loss to Lehigh.
-One point loss to Youngstown State
-One point win over Towson.
First, let’s ignore the fact that this team is clearly trying to give me, and everyone else, a heart attack. Second, three of these four games came down to literally the game’s final possession.
I think it’s fair to say that this Robert Morris team looks a little too young and isn’t good enough offensively to blow the tires off of anyone. In fact, in the Duquesne game, RMU had a chance to stomp on Duquesne’s neck early in the second half of Tuesday’s win.
RMU was up 42-33 with 18 minutes left in the game. Matty McConnell had a few chances to really extend that lead with two wide open looks from three, but missed them both. Instead of being up 50-35, Robert Morris gave up a few buckets. Three minutes later, the game was tied at 44.
For what it’s worth, being in close games is a good thing for this team. This group is so young. It certainly doesn’t hurt to build a winning attitude by getting tough this way.
One thing that’s piqued my interest is the guy’s on the floor during those crunch-time minutes. There have been a few consistent:
-Kavon Stewart, Isaiah Still and Aaron Tate are always on the floor.
-Billy Giles usually joins this group.
I like that for a few reasons. That’s the most experienced group on the team. All of those guys have played on the team last year. There isn’t really an excuse for mental lapses.
Tate and Giles have also done a wonderful job cleaning up the offensive glass. If there is a miss, I like my chances of Tate or Giles coming down with the board. The bigs also do a good job defensively. In the Duquesne game, Giles forced an errant three point attempt with solid positioning. His length altered the shot.
In games prior, McConnell was the fifth guy out there. Against Duquesne, Toole played his hot hand in Clive Allen. I like what both of these guys bring to the table late – they rebound, can handle the ball and play sound defense. Even though he’s a guard, Allen is leading the team in blocked shots.
I also like what Dachon Burke brings to the table in crunch time. He’s proven to be a good finisher around the rim. His 45.5 shooting percentage at the rim is better than Kavon Stewart and Isaiah Still – granted, we’re not talking about nearly the same usage rate.
I have to admit I have no idea if this next part is true, but I feel like the team is better off defensively with Burke. There are no numbers to support this argument.
With that being said, I’m curious to see if there are times where maybe Toole goes with four guards (Stewart, Allen, Still, Burke) and one center (Tate/Giles) as the games near a conclusion. It’s a lot of size to give up, but it might be the team’s best defensive grouping against a team that likes to play a perimeter-based game.
All in all, things are going pretty decent. The Youngstown State loss hurt, because that’s one that RMU (quite literally) handed to the Penguins. People will tell you that over the course of a season, the win/loss record for teams playing in so many close games comes down to luck. To an extent, that’s true, but it’s up to the coaches and players to make their own luck by putting the right guys on the floor.
I liked the crunch time lineup that had Allen as the team’s second guard. He’s been more polished offensively. The more close games this team plays in now, the better things will be come conference play.