Perimeter defense a concern after Robert Morris torched by Drexel

By @C_Cappella

When Purdue hits you up for 84 points and 12 3-pointers, you shrug your shoulders because Purdue is one of the 25 best teams in the country and one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country.

When Drexel – a solid CAA team that came into this contest shooting 35 percent from deep as a team – beats you and shoots 8 of 19 from downtown, it raises some eyebrows.

Robert Morris lost to Drexel Saturday, 82-69, in a contest that exposed some of RMU’s flaws.

“We didn’t have the connectivity that we’ve had in recent games on offense, and we didn’t have the effort on the defensive side that we’ve had, too,” head coach Andy Toole said. “We had to be able to finish possessions out, and we weren’t able to do that on either end of the floor.”

The Colonials jumped out to a 9-1 run to open the game and didn’t allow Drexel to score a bucket from the field until nearly four minutes into the contest with a fierce man-to-man defense we’ve become accustomed to.

That, obviously, did not last. Saturday’s loss came down to the details. Especially on the defensive end.

Drexel is tough, with wins over Boston and La Salle and close losses to NJIT, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan. I was impressed with their guard play – the trio of Camren Wynter, Trevor John and Troy Harper shot six of 11 from downtown.

But it wasn’t just the 3-point shooting. Yes, all of those players are capable of hitting tough shots, but Robert Morris didn’t really force tough shots.

My biggest takeaway from this game was RMU’s perimeter defense. A lot was made this offseason about the loss of Dachon Burke. Saturday was the first time it really felt like the team missed him. Burke was an excellent offensive player but an even better defender. Burke and Matty McConnell paired together made – at least in my opinion – the best defensive backcourt in the NEC. This is a Robert Morris team that must win with its defense. It’s not sexy, but it’s the truth. Even against comparable talent, RMU is an average offensive team.

McConnell was his usual self – a complete pain in the ass on defense, denying every dribble handoff attempt, switching, communicating, etc. But the rest of his backcourt mates didn’t live up to their end of the bargain.

Which is OK. Burke’s and McConnell’s don’t grow on trees. It was one subpar defensive game, which is going to happen as teams jack more 3s, play with a faster tempo and take advantage of rules that restrict contact from defenders.

What was concerning was just how easy Drexel made it look. Wynter, John and Harper consistently blew by RMU defenders to find the open man. If that type of performance continues, RMU is in serious trouble.

Perhaps it just wasn’t RMU’s day. The Colonials switched to a 2-3 zone defense to open the second half. Drexel answered by knocking down their first four attempts from beyond the arc, which really broke the game open. RMU’s 2-3 zone has had its moments. Saturday was not one of them.

I think what most concerns me, though, was that I can see this being a problem moving forward. Take a look at RMU’s roster. Jon Williams, Dante Treacy and Sayveon McEwen are listed at 6-foot-1, 6-foot-0 and 6-foot-0, respectively. That’s what they’re listed at. Josh Williams is a solid 6-foot-2 but hasn’t shown the foot speed to be an elite defender. That’s the team’s backcourt.

Could Koby Thomas become the team’s next elite defender? In theory he has everything you would want – size, athleticism and competitiveness. The problem is Robert Morris is typically playing extremely small lineups, with Charles Bain and Malik Petteway rarely sharing the court at the same time. That leaves Thomas to handle the small and power forwards.

Of course, running small has its benefits, especially on the offensive end. It’s just that in this particular matchup, it didn’t work. If this continues, then we’ve got a real problem on our hands. I don’t think it will – I just thought Saturday’s loss was a red flag and something to keep an eye on.

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