The offseason is here (at least for some of us… at writing UMBC was in the process of shocking Virginia), and after an up and down season, the Colonials will look to reload and get back to the top of the NEC, and back into March Madness.
The season started with promise, but after a 6-1 start in NEC play, inexperience, injuries, and inconsistency caught up to the young Colonials. After a first-round upset over hated Mount St. Mary’s –which I would argue made the whole season a smashing success, ending a few seniors career who caused RMU a bunch of pain over the years– RMU lost to #1 Wagner in the semifinal, ending the season at 16-17, 9-9 in the NEC.
There were major highlights (Dachon Burke took a huge leap forward, finishing 2nd team all NEC, and Koby Thomas won freshman of the year) and some tough bumps (Malik Petteway missed the second half of the season due to a very frustrating injury), the young team played like freshmen for long stretches, and RMU lost seven of their final nine games.
So, now what? Well, on paper, Robert Morris should return a majority of their roster. That would seem like a first in forever. That terrible T word will be monitored, and for a program that has been absolutely gutted by transfers (ughhh there it is!), there is good reason to worry. So let’s look at the roster.
We know two seniors will not be back –F Ronnie Gombe, and F Xavier Williams— as both grad transfers will move on. It is expected that Teavon Ashmeade, and Leondre Washington will move on as well, both leaving the program. They left the team mid-to-end of this past season.
Now the good: (h/t to ColonialInsider from the CC message boards for the roster chart, with position and year-to-be listed).
G Josh Williams (RJr.), G Jon Williams (So.), F David Cole (RSo.), F Malik Petteway (Sr.), F Koby Thomas (So.), G Dachon Burke (Jr.), F Charles Bain (So.), G Matty McConnell (Sr.), F Chris Coalman (So.)
Verbal commitments – F Atem Bior (Jr.)
Walk-ons – Seth Rouse (Sr.), Nick Castelveter (So.)
Current Depth Chart
PG – Jon Williams (So.)
SG – Matty McConnell (Sr.), Josh Williams (RJr.)
SF – Dachon Burke (Jr.), Atem Bior (Jr.)
PF – Koby Thomas (So.), Charles Bain (So.), Chris Coalman (So.)
C – David Cole (RSo.), Malik Petteway (Sr.)
So let’s talk about the current roster. One, a lot depends on the future of Burke and Thomas. One won freshman of the year, the other (just a year older) took the league by storm, finished second team all-conference, and had a real shot at Player of Year before the team’s struggles –little of which was on his shoulders– kicked in. If you’re looking for a (gulp) transfer timeline, most underclassmen looking to find a new home will transfer right around the Final 4. For reference, Isaiah Still announced he was transferring on March 28th last year. There seems to be cautious optimism that no major bombs will be dropped.
Two: The rest of the roster is in excellent shape. As long as there aren’t a ton of unexpected minor moves (one or two wouldn’t be killer but they can start to add up), RMU should be in great shape. This year’s freshmen class got a ton of experience and should be much better for it. Thomas will be a threat to finish on one of the all-league teams, and Williams/Bain/Coleman/Cole would be a fantastic supporting cast. All had flashes and now have played a full season of division one basketball. They know what to expect, and what they need to work on. As we saw with Burke, that offseason from year one to year two is huge. It’s no longer a blank canvas. They know what it will take to make a jump.
A few notes on some upperclassmen. One, I still don’t think there is a great sense of when or if Malik Petteway will be back. He has been dealing with some medical issues, and Coach Toole has said they just are not sure. It would be nice if he could get a medical hardship year, as he played in only 13 games (of a possible 33 total). He really came on strong pre-injury, and the forward/center position is easily the thinnest on the roster. RMU could use him back.
Josh Williams (brother to freshman PG Jon Williams), who sat the season out due to NCAA transfer rules (University of Akron) could be special. I’ve heard great things about him, and that he regularly looked like one of the best players on the team in practice. He will bring much-needed scoring and shooting to the lineup.
Matty McConnell will be a fourth-year senior. McConnell has consistently got better and could be in for a huge senior campaign. I think he could really benefit from having more shooting and guys who can attack the basket around him. He is a streaky shooter, but I think he’ll see a major uptick in the quality of his looks next season.
Overall, the guards and wings, as I sit here now, are loaded, and primed for a big season. Will see if the core sticks together, but I’m optimistic.
The forwards will be something to track. Bain and Coleman are more built to play on the wing or as a stretch four. RMU had to utilize them at center this season. That wasn’t the plan, but Xaivier Williams missed the entire season, Petteway got hurt, Gombe and Cole struggled, and Bain at the five was a thing. They’ll both benefit if they can move back to their natural positions. Cole should be back. His improvement will be important. As noted above, we’ll see about Petteway. Expect Toole to search long and hard for some seasoned big fellas via JuCo or as a grad-transfer this Spring.
Before we move onto recruiting, something that may dictate who stays, goes, and commits this spring.
First off, the timeline. There is hope within the athletic department that RMU will be able to play basketball there in January 2019, presumably all of the NEC schedule. “The steel should be up by end of March. Going to be a tight push to get games in next January, but we are still trying to get as many in as possible. Don’t want to throw bad money after good,” a source said. He noted that “the timeline will be clearer in August after the courts are installed.”
That same source noted that RMU may play a few non-conference games at PPG again but much of the schedule/location is still in the infant stage. If RMU does play a few games –or a lot of games– before UPMC opens, I hope they decide to play a good amount on campus at the REC center, where the women played this season. Certainly, something to track.
I think it’s fair to assume RMU does indeed open its Events Center during the 2019 portion of next seasons schedule. UMBC, yes the same UMBC mentioned above that took down UVA, opened a brand new arena on February 3rd –during conference play– a similar situation that RMU will face.
As for the schedule itself. At this point, we know how Toole goes about it, and I expect a similar look. It’ll include various tough road games against some big boys, a few great mid-major matchups, and I’m sure a good amount of reward miles earned. It’s clear RMU won’t have a home during the nonconference. Maybe they look to schedule a few big matchups at PPG (Duquesne game will surely be there) along with some smaller schools, where they could play on campus. We’ll see.
As of now, Robert Morris has what looks to be no less than four open scholarships. Two graduating seniors, and two assumed players moving on. Right now, they have one verbal commit, 6-7 wing Atem Bior. He is a JuCo transfer, so he’ll be eligible right away with two years of eligibility. Bior is having a nice season, averaging 13 points-per-game while shooting 48 percent from the field.
(VerbalCommits.com lists Greg Shead, a JuCo PG, as a commit, but I do not believe he’ll play, as he left his JuCo team midseason. We’ll see.)
I think the rest of the class will really depend on what happens with the rest of the roster, and any possible impact transfers that could come in.
There is depth, especially if everyone returns. Out of the four departures, only Washington was getting consistent minutes. Factor in the possible return of Petteway and Josh Williams addition and RMU has plenty of depth.
They certainly could afford to bring in a transfer who would have to sit a season, instead of looking for someone to make an impact from day one, if that transfer is a good fit both talent and role wise.
Two personal notes: Both Chris and I had a bunch of things happen with our real jobs these past few weeks/months (Both good). For those that don’t know, Chris will be covering his beloved New York Mets this season. We look forward to covering the team a lot more next season, and getting back to the NCAA tournament.