There’s less than a month remaining until Robert Morris tips off at Ohio State on Nov. 10, but there’s still a lot of big decisions to be made.
First of all, welcome back! I know Lee and I both have busy schedules, but I would expect a significant uptick in posts as we inch our way toward the regular season. Some suggested reading:
Chris Mueller of DK Sports will have you ready to run through a brick wall with his piece on Andy Toole and his efforts to install a tough, positive culture at Robert Morris.
Omar Sankofa II of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about Toole piecing together a puzzle of 11 new plays.
Both articles are well worth your time and touch on something I’ve wanted to write about for a little bit now.
Take this line, from Mueller’s article:
“He really emphasized it,” [Matty] McConnell, a product of Chartiers Valley High School, recalled. “Like, this is your team now. He basically handed me the keys. (He told me to) take this team and build a foundation with them and get them on the right track to do the right things every day.”
According to Sankofa, freshmen guards Jon Williams and Leondre Washington are both dealing with nagging injuries, but should be good to go by the season opener. Whether they’re ready or not, the Colonials will be extremely young. The graduation of Kavon Stewart and transfer of Clive Allen leaves open a hole at point guard.
I’m pretty high on both Williams and Washington. I think both guys could work their way into the all-NEC freshmen team conversation. But at the same time, they’re both that – freshmen. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, similar to the way Allen performed last season.
The only two returning players from last season’s team are Matty McConnell and Dachon Burke, both guards. That’s a positive. On the negative side of the scope, both guys are not going to average 40 minutes per game. There’s going to be a lot of inexperience handling the ball and controlling the flow of the offense – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but unknown quantities are uncomfortable.
As time goes on, I think McConnell could prove out to be the answer to Robert Morris’ point guard options.
McConnell – entering his junior season – reminds me a bit of Julian Norfleet, a 2014 graduate of Mount St. Mary’s. They have similar measurable and play a similar game. Norfleet was Mount St. Mary’s primary ball handler on a team that included B.K. (he went as Byron in 2014) Ashe and Sam Prescott. That Mount team wasn’t very big, but they played up-tempo. Norfleet shot 56-of-162 (34.6 percent) from 3-point range his senior season, nearly identical to McConnell’s totals (51-of-161, 31.7 percent).
McConnell would obviously have to improve in a lot of areas. He finished conference play with 30 assists to 28 turnovers (including NEC tournament games). Not all turnovers are created equal. They could range from errant passes to moving screens. That’s still a ratio that would have to improve, but it’s not bad.
His turnover and assist rates were both top-20 in NEC play as a freshman. Although he took a step back as a sophomore, there’s proof that he can do it. Consistently? Well, I don’t think anyone is too sure about that. But now a junior, the game should be slowing down for him.
We can throw out all of the over-used clichés when it comes to McConnell. He’s a coach’s son… He’s smart and tough…. He moves the ball well… These are all true. I also think he could provide a calming presence for this offense.
RMU’s half court offense, traditionally, is a lot of dribble handoffs and high ball screens. The point guard definitely runs the show, but Toole stresses moving the ball to move the floor. Every point guard is important but once the Colonials settle into offense, it’s not generally dominated by one person.
If we take the blueprint from last year’s team – and assess the perceived strengths of the recruiting class – this figures to be an offense that’s going to run. McConnell is smart enough to know when to push and is experienced enough to find the open guy.
It’s going to take a while for this team to figure out what works best. There’s not another player outside of Williams that projects as a pass-first guard. McConnell could be the guy best suited to run the offense.