NEC Team Primer: #3 Robert Morris Colonials

Head Coach: Andy Toole, 4th Season (68-36, 39-15 NEC)
Last Season: 24-11, 14-4 (NEC), Lost Second Round of NIT to Providence, 77-68
RPI/KenPom: 121/144
NEC Preseason Poll: 2nd out of 10 teams (tied with Bryant)
State of Program: NEC Contender
Starters Returning: 2
Key Loss(es): Velton Jones (10.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.7 rpg), Coron Williams (9.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 41.6% 3pt%), Russell Johnson (10.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Lijah Thompson (didn’t play last season due to injury)
Incoming Players: Britton Lee (G), Kavon Stewart (G), Desjuan Newton (G), Jeremiah Worthem (F), Charles Oliver (G), Aaron Tate (F)

RMULogoProjected Starting Lineup:
PG: Anthony Myers-Pate (5.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.8 apg)
G: Karvel Anderson (12.5 ppg, 43.9% 3pt%)
F: Lucky Jones (11.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
F: Aaron Tate (So., Played at Dodge City Community College)
C: Mike McFadden (8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 56.5% FG%)

Key Reserves: Kavon Stewart (G), Desjuan Newton (G), Jeremiah Worthem (F), Stephan Hawkins (F)

Major Storylines:

  • The Apprenticeship Ends – Anthony Myers-Pate has spent the past three seasons learning behind one the all-time greats in NEC history, Velton Jones. Now Myers-Pate has the unenviable task of replacing Jones in the RMU lineup. The senior’s passing skills are going to be up to snuff. Myers-Pate has shown the ability to make plays with his passing ability, but he’ll need to cut down on the turnovers a bit now that he’s in a full-time role.
  • Tradition and Respect – It needs to be noted that Robert Morris lost a lot from last year’s team that won the NEC regular season title with a 14-4 record. The Colonials will be without Velton Jones and Russell Johnson this season, two players that were the biggest cogs in the offense last season. They’ll also be without sharpshooting Coron Williams, who transferred to Wake Forest for his final season. Still, Andy Toole and his program have built up a ton of respect after being at or near the top of the NEC for the past six seasons. It’s because of that past history and Toole’s outstanding coaching that people are overlooking this team’s flaws and planning to see RMU near the top of the standings once again.
  • My Old Kentucky Home – Robert Morris pulled off one of the upsets of the season by defeating Kentucky 59-57 at home in the NIT last season. It was probably the biggest win of any NEC team last season and landed the Colonials in the national spotlight. It also showed off the team’s commitment to defense – or at least a slow pace in a 54-possession game – and a lack of intimidation. (It might also have shown why major conference teams never go play true road games during non-conference.) The rematch occurs on Nov. 17 at Rupp Arena. The atmosphere is going to be completely different and Kentucky will have that much more talent, but it’ll provide the Colonials an early measuring stick and more exposure for the NEC.

The Skinny:
The Colonials’ success or failure never hangs on just one player. No player played more than 68.0% of the team’s minutes last season. Andy Toole wants to rest players and juggles his lineups so that he can get the best available defensive match ups during a game. What will be incredibly important is RMU’s commitment to defense. The Colonials allowed 0.99 points per possession during conference play last season. It was the best mark in the high-scoring NEC. The one weakness of the Colonials defensive identity was that they fouled way too much (51.3 defensive free throw rate, the worst in the NEC). It might take this team some time to adjust to the new rules and continue to be the defensive force.

In the backcourt the Colonials will start two known commodities. Karvel Anderson showed during his first season in the NEC that he’s one of the conference’s best shooters and he should be able to continue stretching defenses with his deadly accurate three-point shooting. He’ll be teamed up with Anthony Myers-Pate, who definitely doesn’t need to replace all of Velton Jones’ production, but certainly does need to be a steady hand at the wheel and a stout defensive presence in a league with a ton of talented point guards. RMU also has added some backcourt depth in its talented recruiting class. Kavon Stewart scored 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench in the Colonials’ scrimmage against California (Pa.). Desjuan Newton will also provide a more experienced, albeit not at the Division I level, scoring guard. Newton averaged 17.4 ppg at Central Arizona College last season.

The front court has two familiar names. Lucky Jones and Mike McFadden can be all-conference performers. Jones should have the inside track for an all-conference slot thanks to his inside-outside scoring ability and tough work on the defensive end. McFadden will need to help lock down the paint against this season. The third spot in the front court is up for grabs. Aaron Tate started the exhibition game, but played only nine minutes. Another freshman, Jeremiah Worthem, comes to RMU with a good deal of hype and grabbed 10 rebounds in 19 minutes in the exhibition. Worthem also hit the two free throws that gave the Colonials a late lead. The 6’6″ Worthem had offers from a number of schools before choosing to go to Western PA. Someone is going to step up and take those minutes in the rotation. Also, while David Appolon is listed as a guard, he could play the wing at times, considering he’s 6’4″.

Overall, RMU has all the talent it needs to compete for an NEC title. The Colonials had the inside track last season, but blew it at home in the semifinals against Mount St. Mary’s. Can they return to the NEC title game again and this time get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2009-10 season? Certainly.

Coach’s Quotes:

“I don’t know yet. What I’ll say is that we had a really good summer in terms of our team chemistry in terms of our guys, including our new guys, coming in and working.” – Andy Toole on how the Colonials replace Velton Jones

“What we’ve done over the past six years at Robert Morris, the last three as head coach, I hope people understand that we try and play the right way. We try and play and compete as hard as we possibly can. I think it’s a tribute sometimes to the guys that were here previously that people still continue to pick us high and there’s responsibility that falls on the shoulders of this year’s group and our new guys to continue on the tradition. To try and leave it better than they found and to continue to try and push our program forward each and every time they get a chance to step out on the floor. It’s something that we have to explain because a lot of our guys come to the program because of the success, but they don’t necessarily understand the effort that it takes and so it’s something that we talk to them about frequently.” – Toole on expectations and the legacy at Robert Morris

“We don’t teach our guys to foul. It’s something that we talk about all the time about defending with your feet and your chest and position defense and things. I think the intent is hopefully to make the offense have more freedom of movement, but I also think that as a defender you have to be really engaged. You have to be anticipating. You have to be in the correct position. You have to be technically sound in order to defend and I think in a lot of ways that’s the way the game should be.” – Toole on the new defensive rules and fouls in general

Predictions:

Ryan – Off the record, one NEC coach said it best when explaining why Robert Morris was picked second in the preseason poll, despite losing a lot production: “Robert Morris is like the Patriots of the NEC. Until they aren’t in a position of contention, you just have to assume they’ll be there at season’s end.” I agree, but I think it could be rough sailing in the early going. They have to adjust to the new defensive rules and Toole must tinker with his rotation and team chemistry. They’ll be a legit factor come NEC time, but I think losing Velton, Coron, Russell, and Lijah will be too much to overcome. (16 wins, 9-7 NEC)

John – Lucky Jones is one of the best players in the NEC whether Andy Toole plays him enough for him to earn NEC First Team honors or not. Considering the talent around him and the youngsters Toole brought in to supplement the lineup this team should be right back in the thick of the NEC race again. It might not end in a championship, but the defense will keep this team in every game. (18 wins, 10-6 NEC)

Other NEC Team Primers:
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#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers

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#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs
#4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils