RMU is working on greatest defensive season in the Toole era

By @C_Cappella

After holding St. Francis Brooklyn to 58 total points and less than one point-per-possession Saturday afternoon, Robert Morris cracked the top-100 in defensive efficiency rankings.

The Colonials allow 100.9 points per 100 possessions, four points below the Division I average. RMU has never finished a season ranked in the top 100 in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.

The number breakdowns are a bit surprising. Robert Morris doesn’t have a rim protector and they’re not a very good defensive rebounding team. They also foul quite a lot, which gives teams an opportunity for easy points.

Yet time and time again, teams continue to struggle against RMU’s defense. Folks (myself included) like to romanticize about defenses of the past. There was a time, once upon ago, where refs didn’t call hand-checking fouls every 22 seconds. You could knock a player to the floor – hard – and not have to worry about a flagrant two being called.

Robert Morris had tough, athletic, hard-nosed defenders and it showed in their defensive statistics.

In 2013, when hand-checks did start getting called, RMU really failed to adjust. Then came the 2-3 zone. It was effective, but not in that gritty, hard-nosed way.

And here we are in 2017. RMU is back in their man defense with a bunch of young, athletic hybrids flying all around the floor. This isn’t your daddy’s Robert Morris defense – it’s even better.

RMU’s defense really starts and ends with the athleticism. The team ranks 15th in the country in turnover percentage, with opponents turning the ball over in nearly one-fourth of all possessions. To go along with the, the Colonials ranks 50th in steal percentage.

This makes sense to me. Look at the guys that spend the majority of the time on the floor: Kavon Stewart, Matty McConnell, Dachon Burke, Isaiah Still and Clive Allen. All of these guys are extremely smart and athletic defenders. Burke ranks 14th in the country in steal percentage. Allen, who is listed at 6-foot, ranks nationally in block percentage.

So, that’s a good place to start when it comes to the defense, but it’s not the end all, be all. The game has changed. Teams continue to play faster (and thus, shoot and score more) than ever before. One of the biggest trends is 3-point shooting. Across all levels of basketball, teams are shooting 3-pointers now more than ever. Take a look at this website that tracks teams’ 3-point attempts per season.

Robert Morris ranks fourth in the country in 3-point percentage against. Teams are shooting a paltry 28.4 percent against RMU this season. That’s like the 2015-’16 Robert Morris team trying to shoot 3-pointers against itself for 17 games. That sounds like a nightmare.

It’s not like RMU is doing this against bad opponents either. Lehigh is the 16th-best 3-point shooting team in the country, knocking down 40 percent of their looks from deep this season. Against RMU, they went 5-15. Kansas State is another team. They shot 29 percent from three (5-17) against RMU, eight points below their season average.

RMU’s lack of size is really the team’s Achilles heel. Opposing big men have real chances to punish RMU down low. LIU put that on full display with Jerome Frink and Nura Zanna.

Overall, though, RMU is really, really good in forcing turnovers and defending the 3-point line. That’s a really effective way to play defense. It’s also needed, because RMU’s offensive numbers are as bad as the defensive numbers are good.

It’s tedious game, basketball.


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