"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, August 30, 2019

Robert Morris Preview

Robert Morris Colonials
November 20, fiserv.forum

Coach: Andrew Toole (168-140)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 234.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 262.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 229

Projected Starters: PG Jon Williams (6'1" Jr), SG Josh Williams (6'2" RS Sr), SF DJ Russell (6'7" Jr), PF Charles Bain (6'8" Jr), C Yannis Mendy (6'8" Sr)

After a rough non-con start, the Colonials turned things around in conference play. They started 7-1 en route to an 11-7 NEC season and an invitation to the CIT, where they fell in the second round to Presbyterian. The Williams brothers backcourt was a large key to their success, as elder brother Josh led the team in scoring and younger brother Jon led them in assists. The Colonials return two other starters in Bain and Mendy. This is an experienced team with a mixture of returning talent and an infusion of quality JUCOs that should challenge for the NEC title this year.

Josh Williams averaged 14.5 ppg last year and is the star of the team. He also owns a three-point record that would make Markus Howard envious. He connected on a NCAA-record 15 three-point field goals in a game last year, albeit against D3 Mount Aloysius. Along with his brother Jon, the Colonials have an experienced back court, both of whom can shoot and distribute. Up front, Russell is the man to watch. He was rated one of the top-50 JUCO transfers in the country and said Coach Toole "is expecting me to get a double-double every night and if I don't do that, something is wrong." In addition to Bain and Mendy, the Colonials have another JUCO forward in AJ Bramah that will be expected to contribute immediately.

It's hard not to feel a bit for Andrew Toole. In his first 5 years, his team played in 4 postseason tournaments, including two NIT invites and one NCAA berth. He won at least one game in each of those trips, most notably on the road at Kentucky and St. John's in the NIT. But that success came with a cost: transfers. Toole's 2015 NCAA team included Marcquise Reed, who would later lead Clemson to a Sweet 16, and Rodney Pryor, who would later lead Georgetown in scoring and rebounding. Dachon Burke won NEC rookie of the year before picking Nebraska over Marquette when he left RMU, and just this summer another NEC rookie of the year winner, Koby Thomas, left the program.

Toole has planted his flag as a pressure-oriented defensive coach. His teams are going to generally play a high-pressure man defense designed to turn opponents over. The downside is this can turn into a feast-or-famine approach and if they aren't generating turnovers, they aren't stopping opponents from scoring. In addition, they lost their two best ballhawks in Malik Petteway and Matty McConnell, so it will come down to the Williams brothers or the new arrivals to show they can keep the pressure on. Offensively, Toole's best teams thrived at making threes and scoring quickly in transition. Transfers out have led to an offensive dropoff over the past four years. This year's RMU side brings back more minutes than any team since the 2012-13 team that beat Kentucky at Rupp including 6 of their top 8 players from last year. Expect this Colonial team to go back to relying on threes and to hit the offensive glass hard.

Toole was 110-65 in his first five seasons at Robert Morris before the transfer talent drain led to three straight losing seasons. Last year the Colonials had their first winning record for both conference play and overall since the 2015 NCAA bid. Look for a return to that level of play this year. They have the top-of-the-roster quality and overall depth to be one of the best teams in their league. Is it enough to pull off an upset in Milwaukee? Not likely, but this will likely be a top-half of Quadrant 4 game.

Marquette Connection: It isn't often that Robert Morris is recruiting against the likes of Marquette, but this year is an exception. On June 20 of this year, Marquette offered 2020 big man Zed Key. Robert Morris offered him on June 15...of last year. This is the conundrum of small school recruiting. Andy Toole was in on Key early, but as Key became better known, it became less likely RMU would land him. Now that Key holds offers from schools like Marquette, Florida, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgia, Notre Dame, Illinois, and St. John's, it seems unlikely he'll be a Colonial.

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