Big offseason awaits Robert Morris

Flashback to November 10th, 2016. “This season, I want to see 2006. Young guys competing. Forming an identity. Wins would be nice, but a foundation needs to be laid first and foremost. We’ve talked about it a lot in past articles and conversations. RMU got away from who they really were; grit, toughness etc. I want to see more of that. A true commitment to the program.”

In our season preview, I talked about laying the foundation for another long run of success. I talked about the 2006 team that was young, but featured future RMU stars. The team went 10-8 in the NEC, won their first game in the NEC tournament before losing to the number one seed FDU.

Sound familiar? RMU went 9-9 in the NEC, tied for 5th. Won a game in the NEC tournament, and lost a tough one to the number one seed Mount St. Mary’s. While the ending is disappointing, the foundation was laid.

In that season preview, my exact thoughts on the season expectations were as followed: “I’ll go back to 2006. .500 ball, but a true young core and identity developed. I think this team can and should contend for the four seed and a home game in the NEC tournament. Anything more would surprise me, and anything less than 6-8 in the standings would shock me.”

Spot on! (Any chance I get to pat my back, I’m taking it!)

In short, RMU found their identity –a tough nosed defensive team–and developed a great young core to build around moving forward. I would call this season a success.

Roster evaluation: When is the last time RMU actually returned most of their core? Seems like forever ago. They’ll lose seniors Kavon Stewart, Aaron Tate, Billy Giles and Conrad Stephens. Stewart and Tate–two senior starters– stand out. Okay everyone. Get ready. Here we go…… The hope now, no key members…errr it hurts to say it….transfers! That scary T word that has killed RMU the last three seasons. If RMU keeps their core, there is a ton of returning talent.

Isaiah Still (second team All NEC), Matty McConnell, and Dachon Burke all should be back. That is three starters. Braden Burke, Lorenzen Wright Jr.Roberto MantovaniClive Allen, return as key members off the bench. David Cole and Jordan Lester are also back as they will look to work into the rotation. Of that group, only Wright and Mantovani will be seniors.

With four open roster spots, RMU has already secured two freshmen commits. Point guard Jonathan Williams and swingman Koby Thomas could both make an impact from day one. For more on where RMU’s recruiting is at, click here. A transfer like Malik Maitland would be a nice addition. The team will need to fill the void left by Stewart. Allen should get first crack, but look for RMU to bring in a JUCO of some sort if they can’t land an impact transfer. We’ve seen it over the years, but Toole has done well on the JUCO circuit.

Program Evaluation: After each season, I like to step back, and see where the program is as a whole. A lot has happened over the past year. Let’s start with some of the little things on the court. RMU made their 14th straight NEC tournament, longest active streak in the league. The next longest is seven (Wagner).

The Colonials made their 9th appearance in the NEC Tournament semifinals in the past 10 seasons. That is all good news. They went 9-9 after finishing with a losing record in NEC play last season, however they finished under .500 overall for the second straight season after going 10 years in a row over .500.

Some athletic department notes that certainly have an effect on the program. RMU signed a deal with Under Armor, announced the construction of the new UPMC Events Center, and announced that RMU will play their home games next season at PPG Paints Arena. This was obviously the big news.

The university announced a one year extension for Andy Toole, signing him through 2021. This is the third extension Toole has signed in the past four seasons. (Speaking of Toole. I’m sure we’ll hear his name pop up for some mid-major openings, but history says RMU should be confident he stays. He really seems committed to building a program here in Moon Township, so until we see him at a press conference at some other university, I would try not to worry much about him leaving.)

As we move to the future, Colonial fans should certainly be excited about the returning roster, incoming class, and of course, new Event Center. I would expect a weird schedule in 17/18 with a lot of road games, and those details will start to drop as summer approaches. For now, we will look for any recruiting updates. Enjoy March Madness.

–Lee Kunkel


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