NEC First Look: Robert Morris

This is the eighth installment of our NEC First Look series in which we take a early glance at all ten Northeast Conference men’s basketball teams for the 2015-16 college basketball season. Here are my first seven posts on CCSUBryantSt. Francis BrooklynSacred HeartSaint Francis U., Fairleigh Dickinson and Wagner.

Gone:

Lucky Jones (F) – All-NEC second teamer. Finished first on RMU in rebounds (5.9) & minutes per game (29.8). Third leading scorer at 14.3 ppg. Played in the NEC Championship game in all three of his four seasons, winning it all last season.

David Appolon (G) – 6.0 ppg scorer who started in nine of 21 games last season. Injury cut his senior season short. Shot 40.8% from the field.

Marcquise Reed (G) – NEC Rookie of the Year last season. Finished second on the team in scoring (15.1) and assists (2.1) and first in steals (1.9). Shot 49.1% from the field and 41.3% from three. Transferred after the season to Clemson.

Charles Oliver (G) – Left team after only two games last season. Played in 36 total games for RMU. Career 4.8 ppg scorer at both Rider and RMU. Transferred to Norfolk State.

Jafar Kinsey (G) – Played in 11 games last season. 1.2 ppg scorer. Left team mid-season. Transferred to Des Moines Area Community College (JUCO).

Jairus Lyles (G) – A transfer from VCU who never played for RMU. Left team mid-season. Transferred to UMBC, will play after first semester.

Additions:

Matty McConnell (G)
Isaiah Still (G)
Steven Whitley (G)
Jordan Lester (G)
Joe Hugley (F)
Billy Giles (F) – Junior College Transfer

Pluses:

From a team that won 20 games last season, an NEC championship and a First Four game in the NCAA Tournament, they return back four starters who started most of their games in conference play in returning seniors Rodney Pryor and Aaron Tate, junior Kavon Stewart and sophomore Elijah Minnie. They would have gone five for five if not for the transfer of Marcquise Reed but more on him in a bit. Not only do they return 80% of their starting lineup but they return back probably their most important piece in sixth-year head coach Andy Toole who for the second straight offseason was in consideration for other coaching jobs including an open one at his alma mater at the University of Pennsylvania but once again has returned to Moon Township to see he if his team can repeat. Toole signed a contract extension through to the 2019-20 season.

By keeping Toole and bring back a majority of their starters back, many experts feel the Colonials are in good shape to go back-to-back in the NEC this upcoming season.

RMU were tops last season in the NEC in three-point shooting percentage and offensive efficiency in NEC play. There were also good at forcing their opponents to turn the ball over with a 21.8% defensive turnover percentage (26th in the nation) as well as getting steals with a 12.8% steal percentage (9th in the nation).

Minuses: 

Although RMU has enjoyed immense success during Andy Toole’s tenure as head coach, there has been alarming constant which has been players (and some very good players at that) leaving the program either mid-season or immediately after the season. Two seasons ago, RMU finished the season with just eight scholarship players and last season, RMU lost three more scholarship players mid-season and then the rather surprising but not shocking news that reigning NEC Rookie of the Year Marcquise Reed would transfer from RMU. Also, Elijah Minnie considered transferring before deciding on returning back to RMU.

Reed, undoubtedly, is a major loss to the Colonials’ offensive attack. Reed was second on the team in scoring at 15.1 ppg but it was his amazing shooting ability that gained him all the attention. At the two-guard position, Reed shot 49.1% from the field and 41.3% from three on 80 attempts. He also was tied for first in the NEC in steals just shy of two per game. The loss of Reed has to put a bit of dent into the rosy outlook of RMU heading into next season. Will one of the incoming freshman who will take over Reed’s spot be able to perform to that magnitude pretty much immediately?! That is going to be rather tough to do.

Also, RMU last season was rather poor giving up offensive rebounds to teams. Opponents grabbed 35.9% of their misses last season which ranked RMU 336th in the nation.

Potential Starting 5:

Kavon Stewart (G) – Top assist-man at 4.6 apg. Started 32 of 34 games in his first season as the #1 point guard. Scored 4.6 ppg while shooting 40.6% from the field.

Rodney Pryor (G) – Led RMU in scoring at 15.6 ppg. Shot 48.1% from the field and 42.9% from three. Also averaged 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

Isaiah Still (G) – 6’6″ wing who I would pencil in as Reed’s replacement in the starting lineup. Averaged 19.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game as a high school senior last season.

Aaron Tate (F) – Started 30 of 33 games last season. Averaged 3.8 points and 4.4 rebounds last season while shooting 50% from the field.

Elijah Minnie (F) – 6.8 ppg scorer last season. Started 21 of 32 games last season including their last 11 of their last 12 games. Second on the team in rebounding at 4.8 rpg. 54.7% FG shooter and 44.2% 3PT shooter last season.

Early Outlook: 

Like I mention earlier, Robert Morris will be among many people’s pick to repeat as NEC champions this preseason. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them already penciled in to the NCAA tournament as the NEC representative in his first 2015-16 bracketology. Although I have time yet to figure out where I will pick them, I agree with the majority in that I do believe they will be at least in the top three team in the NEC in 2015-16.

The two players to really look out for the Colonials this upcoming season are senior guard Rodney Pryor and junior point guard Kavon Stewart. Pryor will likely be the early favorite to win the NEC Player of the Year coming off a great junior season in which he led the Colonials in scoring. The player to really watch out could be Kavon Stewart. This would be the season where his game should make a big leap and he could potentially be an All-NEC player by the end of the season. He reminds me somewhat of St. Francis Brooklyn’s Brent Jones who really took his game to another level in his junior season and I kind of expect the same to happen for Stewart this season.

Also, watch out for Elijah Minnie. Late last season, he really step up for the Colonials especially in the NEC final and in the NCAA tournament vs North Florida. He is going to be a major key to their success this season if he can keep his head on straight.

Robert Morris has released their entire 2015-16 schedule. Right out of the gate, RMU will play a rather interesting game as they start their season at Penn (Nov. 13) which is Toole’s alma mater and as well a candidate this offseason for their head coach position. They only play three home non-conference games against Bucknell (Nov. 18), Oakland (Dec. 5), and Lehigh (Dec. 17). They will face stiff competition on the road with games at Cincinnati (Nov. 15), Air Force (Nov. 22), Columbia (Dec. 14), Duquesne (Dec. 19) and Georgia (Dec. 29). RMU opens NEC play with four of the first six games at home sandwiched in between their Brooklyn road trip. They play four straight games on the road the last two weeks of January before playing five of their final eight games at home. NEC games to circle for them will probably be the Jan. 2nd NEC opener at home against Sacred Heart, the two games in Brooklyn (Jan. 7 @ LIU, Jan. 9 @ SFC), a likely big early test against the Mount (Jan. 14) and then the rematch on the road (Jan. 28). Their last two NEC home games are against the Brooklyn teams (Feb. 18 vs LIU, Feb. 20 vs SFC).

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