Thoughts on RMU’s schedule, recruiting class

I hope the Robert Morris men’s basketball team has a good deal on miles.

The Colonials released their non-conference schedule last week. It seems like a rather random assortment of games spread across the country, but it will provide some nice challenges for a team that’s basically starting over with its roster (more on that later).

RMU will play their first seven on the road, opening the year Nov. 10 at Ohio State followed by four of the next five games in the Grand Canyon Classic.

Following the Nov. 10 game, RMU will play at Grand Canyon University (Phoenix, AZ.), at San Diego, returns to Pittsburgh to play at Duquesne, then travels to Arkansas to play Norfolk State and Little Rock. I sincerely hope the guys enjoy flying.

Robert Morris won’t play its first home game until Dec. 6 versus Rider and will only play three home games in non-conference action.

Some thoughts on the schedule:

-Two buy games: They are at Ohio State and at N.C. State. These are cakewalks compared to some buy games of past seasons: Virginia, Kansas St., Kentucky, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Georgetown.

That’s not to say Ohio State and NC State will be easy games. Obviously they won’t be. But RMU has shown a knack for playing these types of teams tough. I think back to past years against Alabama (64-56 L), Arkansas (79-74 L) and Clemson (64-57 L). All of those teams finished the season ranked 80th or higher in KenPom’s standings. They’re high-major schools without the top, top-level talent.

What’s funny is in past seasons,there was an air of confidence heading into games against mid-level Power 5 schools. They were pushing those teams to the limit. That doesn’t seem very likely – at least on Nov. 10. There’s too much turnover. There are only TWO players on the entire roster that played on last year’s team. Redshirt freshman David Cole will also be back. He, obviously, did not play as a redshirt. Maybe by N.C. State (Dec. 19) the team will have a better idea of who they are and how they play.

Solid mix of mid-majors, but nothing too challenging: Grand Canyon, in just their fourth year as a Division I program, went 22-9. It will be their first year eligible for the NCAA Tournament, and I’m sure their beautiful arena will be packed with fans ready to tip off the season. They’ll be a team trying to replace point guard DeWayne Russell, who led the WAC in scoring and assists.

Robert Morris is more on-par with the likes of Norfolk State, who finished non-conference play 3-11 before running through the atrocious MEAC, and Siena, a solid MAAC school. Rider (Dec. 6) will be replacing their entire frontcourt. Canisius (Dec. 22) will be the third MAAC school on RMU’s schedule. Youngstown State (Nov. 29) is a decent program that’s had RMU’s number. I’m certainly not comfortable projecting a win/loss record yet, but there are some winnable games.

One last note: I’m still in favor of the Colonials trying to schedule a non-Division I game in the coming years. I think it could do wonders for the team’s confidence early in the season. They wouldn’t be alone on this. According to NYC Buckets, FDU, LIU-Brooklyn, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (PA) and St. Francis (Brooklyn) all play at least one non-Division I game. NEC schools are consistently getting pounded in non-conference play by schools from bigger programs. I don’t think it would hurt to return the favor. Of course, there’s an obvious risk/reward factor. What if they lose? What’s the cost to getting these teams to play? How do you schedule around non-conference tournaments? I’m sure it was even more difficult for Robert Morris this year, as they attempted to build their schedule around the Penguins’ use of PPG Paints Arena.

Recruiting class announced…

…and it’s quite a bundle. Five freshmen, two JUCOs, two grad transfers and a transfer from Akron that will have to sit out a season due to NCAA eligibility rules.

More, from an RMU media release:

Joining RMU for 2017-18 are freshman guards Jon Williams and Leondre Washington, freshman forwards Charles Bain, Chris Coalmon and Koby Thomas, junior guard Taevon Ashmeade, junior forward Malik Petteway and graduate transfers Ronnie Gombe and Xavier Williams. In addition, junior guard Josh Williams has transferred to Robert Morris from Akron and will sit out the 2017-18 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules.

“As a coaching staff we feel we’ve added a strong mix of student-athletes that will compete on a daily basis,” Head Coach Andrew Toole said. “A lot of these individuals will have the opportunity to earn playing time in our rotation. I’m excited about the group collectively, and individually they each bring unique skill sets to the table.”

Well, there’s no doubt about guys getting the chance to earn playing time. Guards Matty McConnell and Dachon Burke are the only two players who strapped up in games last season. Both were starters and project to start this season… where? That’s to be determined. There are a lot of lineup possibilities with this unit.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the recruiting class:

Xavier Williams: 6-foot-9 grad transfer from Tennessee State. Missed most of last season with an injury.

Ronnie Gombe: 6-foot-8 grad transfer from Canisius. Also missed most of last season with an injury.

Malik Petteway: 6-foot-8 junior, JUCO transfer from Northwest Florida State College. His JUCO team finished third in the NJCAA Tournament. According to his bio, has the ability to stretch the floor. Shot nearly 60 percent from the floor 67.3 percent from the line last season.

Taevon Ashmeade: 6-foot-4 junior guard, JUCO transfer from Chipola College. His length can cause fits on both ends. High motor guy. (YouTube link here).

Koby Thomas: 6-foot-6 small forward from Imhotep Charter, one of the top basketball schools in Philadelphia. Possibly the crown jewel of the class. Robert Morris got in on the ground floor with recruiting. Extremely athletic, but could struggle with offensive consistency. Here’s a brief scouting report from City of Basketball Love and more on Thomas from PennLive.

Chris Coalmon: 6-foot-6 small forward from Strong Long Island. Another long, athletic body who can run the floor. Had interest from multiple NEC schools and Illinois State. Here is Newsday’s profile on his recruiting.

Charles Bain: 6-foot-8 forward from St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. According to his bio, he’s “adept at knocking down 3-pointers.”

 Leondre Washington: 6-foot freshman point guard who averaged 21.2 points 7.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.8 steals as a senior at Teaneck (New Jersey). Figures to make an instant impact as a freshman. Read more on ZagsBlog and about his background here.

Jon Williams: 6-foot freshman guard from St. Vincent-St. Mary’s (you might have heard of them) who is considered a pass-first point guard and floor general.

Josh Williams: 6-foot-2 Akron transfer, and Jon’s brother. Can play on and off the ball. Will have to sit out this season. You can read more about the Williams brothers with this fine piece written by Omar Sankofa II via the Post-Gazette.

Overall, a super intriguing class. Obviously, there are a lot of minutes up for grabs, especially in the frontcourt. It will be interesting to see how things play out. I look at someone like Petteway, who saw big minutes from a top JUCO team, to emerge early in the frontcourt rotation. Thomas and Coalmon, from afar, seem like similar players. Washington and Jon Williams are both exciting prospects. In my opinion, Washington will enter the season as an NEC Rookie of the Year candidate. I believe very strongly in the potential he brings offensively.

It’s going to take a lot – and I mean a lot – of tinkering early in the season to see what works. This is a team that struggled to score last season, then lost their leading scorer. This class is super big, long and athletic – but very few of them seem to be natural scorers. That’s why a stretch-4 like Bain could get some early chances.

Robert Morris got back to their identity of a gritty, defensive-minded team last season. It was rarely pretty, but it was easy to appreciate the effort. This should be a team that continues to fit to that mold.

That’s all for now. We’ll chat again soon.




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