The first major transfer domino of the NEC offseason dropped on the eve of Good Friday when the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year decided to take his talents to a bigger stage.
Per Marcus Helton of DMVelite.com:
Robert Morris G Marcquise Reed has received release and plans to transfer. Capital Christian grad was NEC Freshman of the Year this season.
— Marcus Helton (@MarcusHelton) April 3, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsMarcquise Reed, as one NEC head coach recently put it, was a player “who came around in the NEC once every ten years.” He was that good with his fantastic blend of athleticism, shiftiness and shot making. He was the second NEC freshman in the past decade to average more than 15 ppg (Kyle Vinales averaged 17.9 ppg as a rookie for Central Connecticut during the 2011-12 campaign), but it was Reed’s efficiency that made him stand out among a terrific freshmen class inside the conference. He torched league opponents with shooting percentages of 50.0% 2PT/47.4% 3PT/85.1% FT, even though he shot the ball 216 times this season (10.3 shots/game).
He also brought tremendous value on the defensive side of the ball, adapting well in the 2-3 zone Robert Morris frequently implemented. His 4.1% steal rate (26th nationally among all Division I players) and manageable foul rate of 3.0 fouls committed per 40 minutes was evidence of that. Quite simply, Reed would have been a preseason All-NEC first teamer heading into his sophomore season and that isn’t easy to do.
Reed leaving the Northeast Conference in general isn’t good for a league trying to push itself off the hapless 16-seed line, but moving on from the one-bid conference likely made sense for the electric 6’3” guard. His size and skill set should translate well at a bigger program, perhaps for a program residing inside the Atlantic 10, Big East, or even bigger than that. In the Colonials’ four power conference games – Duke, Clemson, Georgetown and North Carolina — this season, Reed shined mightily versus the big boys, scoring 76 points (19 ppg) on 30 of 60 shooting (50%) while committing just six turnovers. Up-transferring makes the most sense for Reed and with three seasons of eligibility remaining, there should be a lot of quality programs vying for his services.
Now, Andy Toole must figure out to how to replace all of the possessions Reed has vacated. The shooting guard had the second highest possession rate during league play at 27.2%, so someone will need to step up alongside Rodney Pryor if the league’s best offense in terms of efficiency (108.6 points per 100 possession) wants to continue its positive momentum after losing two of their three most significant players in Reed and Lucky Jones. Here’s the Colonials’ returning lineup as currently constructed:
PG: Kavon Stewart
SF: Rodney Pryor
PF: Aaron Tate/Stephan Bennett
PF: Elijah Minnie
Other bench pieces: Lionel Gomis, Andre Frederick
There’s a gaping hole at shooting guard with Reed’s transfer, but otherwise this projects to be a very solid core for Toole to work with. Securing depth and finding a second and third scorer along next to Pryor will be his biggest challenges as he begins his sixth season (has it really been that long??) as Robert Morris’ head coach.
One such candidate to emerge as a NEC star is soon-to-be sophomore Elijah Minnie, whose play in the final weeks (10.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 50% 3PT in last seven games prior to Duke) helped spark a critical winning streak down the stretch. He may not have made the All-NEC Rookie Team, but there’s little doubt that Minnie finished as one of the NEC’s four best rookies. After Reed and Sacred Heart’s Cane Broome, one could argue that Minnie would project as the next best underclassman in a loaded class.
Unfortunately, there have been rumors that Minnie may follow Reed’s lead and transfer as well, although those reports are unconfirmed and just pure speculation at the moment. If the talented power forward does return to Moon Township, a Pryor/Minnie/Stewart threesome could compete among the NEC’s best for the 2015-16 season, especially since I consider Pryor (15.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 57.8% EFG%) as the best returning player of the conference.
Even without Minnie, though, Robert Morris would likely project as a top four club because, well, it’s very difficult to bet against Toole and his 75 career NEC victories (15 wins per season!) thanks to his coaching and recruiting abilities. Two incoming freshmen immediately will be looked at to fill in as off-the-ball guards: Matty McConnell will join Robert Morris after scoring 2,018 points in his high school career, while the talented Isaiah Still elected to play for the Colonials despite receiving multiple offers from programs of the CAA, MAAC and Patriot League.
Given what we know now, handicapping Robert Morris’ chances to defend their title without Reed does get a little more difficult. Calling them the undisputed preseason number one is no longer a given, but for me, the Colonials will remain in the two team top-tier along with Mount St. Mary’s, who graduates Kristijan Krajina and loses the mostly ineffective Chris Martin.
Until Robert Morris is no longer standing in the NEC title game, you have to assume they’ll be back once again. Losing Reed is a major blow, but as long as Toole doesn’t bolt for greener pastures this offseason, Robert Morris will continue to be an elite NEC program. And according to Pittsburgh Post Gazette writer Craig Meyer, Robert Morris is certainly doing their best to retain one of the hotter head coaches in mid-major basketball.
RMU has offered Andy Toole a 2-yr contract extension, but it hasn’t been finalized. Based on what he told ESPN, though, it’s as good as done — Craig Meyer (@CraigMeyerPG) April 3, 2015
Update (April 3, 10:30 PM): The rumors about Elijah Minnie leaving Robert Morris appear to be true, as a source recently disclosed Minnie’s intentions to Chris Cappella of Colonials Corner:
Source: RMU Freshman forward Elijah Minnie has requested his release from the program
— Chris Cappella (@C_Cappella) April 3, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsLater on, Minnie himself confirmed the tweet according to Cappella, although Toole, nor anyone in the Robert Morris compliance department, had been approached by Minnie as of tonight. If Minnie and Reed in fact don’t return, which appears very likely, Robert Morris will have five more scholarships remaining for the 2015-16 roster. Toole and his coaching staff have a tough offseason ahead looking for players to fill the back end of Robert Morris’ roster.
Update (April 8, 10:53 PM): Elijah Minnie is reportedly staying with Robert Morris after all. Per Mike Vukovcan:
— mike vukovcan (@mvukovcan) April 9, 2015