What Does Elijah Minnie’s Dismissal Mean for Robert Morris?

“The Colonials are the [New England] Patriots of the NEC. You have to assume they’ll be near the top of the standings every single year.”

A NEC coach told me this a few seasons ago, and I’ve rehashed that quote quite a bit both in print and on camera, probably because it’s a way to remind myself that I should never bet against Andy Toole no matter how tenuous the situation in Moon Township may seem.

Elijah Minnie (center) was dismissed from Robert Morris earlier this week. (Photo credit - Gregory Shamus, Getty Images North America)
Elijah Minnie (center) was dismissed from Robert Morris earlier this week. (Photo credit – Gregory Shamus, Getty Images North America)

Any program that experienced 18 player defections over the past three seasons would likely be teetering on the brink of disaster, but that’s been the utter genius of Toole. Amid the presumed chaos, his ability to recruit mid-major studs and get the best out his remaining players is a big reason why he possesses a phenomenal coaching resume. Two NEC regular season titles, three combined NIT and NCAA tournament victories, and a NCAA tournament berth, all in five short seasons. Who would be crazy enough to bet against that success?

Well after walking the fine line between conference dominance and roster instability, it seems like the dam has cracked in Toole’s sixth season. Robert Morris beat reporter Chris Mueller broke the news after the Colonials stunning home loss to a two-win Central Connecticut squad:

I can’t say I’m surprised. Despite immense talent, size, and a unique skill set, Minnie was disciplined multiple times over his short Robert Morris career. And Toole finally had enough, as he explained in the team’s postgame press conference last night. Here’s part of a Toole quote, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Megan Ryan:

“If you don’t want to be a part of the program, if you don’t want to be about what this program stands for, you can’t be here. It’s not about you. And you know what? In the short term, it probably shortens our bench a little bit. But I think we’ll be much better in the long term because of it.”

Those are biting words from the man in charge as he sits in the middle of a season that has spiraled out of control. At an unfathomable 6-18, the Colonials are on the cusp of missing the NEC postseason after finishing third or better in every NEC regular season since 2011. Is Minnie’s departure the nail in the coffin? Or can the Colonials’ season somehow be salvaged?

Coming into the season, Minnie appeared poised to become the first NEC player at 6’8 or taller to be selected to an all-conference team since the 2010 campaign (Wagner’s Mike Aaman was also another popular choice to break the 6’7 and shorter streak this season). The ceiling was extraordinarily high for Minnie, especially after an 11-game stretch last season from the start of February to the NCAA tournament victory over North Florida where he averaged 9.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 1.4 bpg. There’s no doubt he was a top 15 player with all-conference first team upside.

Yet for whatever the reason, Minnie’s game had regressed significantly from his freshman season. Let’s start with a quick look at his offensive profile:

  • Freshman: 111.7 ORtg, 62.3% EFG%, 8.0% offensive rebound rate
  • Sophomore: 93.8 ORtg, 50.7% EFG%, 5.8% offensive rebound rate

Without Lucky Jones and Marcquise Reed around to absorb possessions, Minnie was basically asked to become Rodney Pryor’s trusted sidekick, at least from a scoring sense. And the numbers suggest the uptick in Minnie’s possession rate (15.4% to 22.5%) essentially hijacked his offensive efficiency. Despite the notable drop in Minnie’s offensive rates though, Robert Morris was still much better at scoring the basketball when the 6’9 sophomore was on the floor during NEC play.

  • With Minnie on the floor (498 possessions): 95.0 points per 100 possessions
  • With Minnie off the floor (178 possessions): 82.6 points per 100 possessions

The Colonials were 12.4 points per 100 possessions better on the floor offensively, which makes sense. A supremely athletic, floor spacing power forward is a nightmare to defend in the NEC, and Minnie’s presence, no matter how mediocre it may have been, surely helped a team that’s one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation at 28.7%. But a quick look on the defensive side of the ball likely portrays why Toole was so frustrated with Minnie to begin with:

  • With Minnie on the floor: 99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions
  • With Minnie off the floor: 86.4 points allowed per 100 possessions

According to John Templon’s numbers, Robert Morris’ performance on the defensive end was much better when Minnie was firmly planted on the bench. With the Colonials worse off defensively with Minnie on the court, the sophomore’s overall value was a wash. Given his talent that’s simply unacceptable, especially to Toole.

Minnie’s effort has always been called into question, because of his inconsistency (both in his production and apparent energy level) at Robert Morris. Add it all up — Robert Morris’ defensive struggles, Minnie’s lower offensive rebound rate as a sophomore, and his increased reliance on the 3-point shot (34.6% 3PT attempts/FG attempts as a freshman to 48.5% 3PTA/FGA as a sophomore) — and you have the classic case of underachievement due to a perceived lack of effort.

There was likely off-the-court trouble as well — the violation of team rules suspension is a glimpse into that hard to decipher world — and given that Minnie openly searched for a transfer this past offseason, you have to wonder how invested the sophomore was in RMU basketball.

Without the volatile Minnie on the roster any longer, Robert Morris likely isn’t any worse off, given all the data in front of us. It’s too bad – by all accounts Minnie was a good kid who was always respectful to the media and I sincerely hope he figures it out at his next college destination. He’s simply too talented not to get a second chance, but with only two seasons of eligibility remaining, the clock’s ticking on Minnie to fully realize his immense potential.

From the Colonials’ standpoint, they sit in an eighth place tie with the Bryant Bulldogs at 4-7 and the schedule doesn’t get any easier to close out the season. Robert Morris’ final three games, in fact, are on the road against St. Francis Brooklyn, Sacred Heart and Wagner. I still think they’ll find a way to qualify for the postseason (again I’m not betting against Toole here), but this season appears to be a rebuilding campaign, which no one saw coming.

Stuff like this happens, and perhaps Robert Morris will be better because of it. Without Minnie and possibly Rodney Pryor around next season though (word is Pryor’s application for an extra season of eligibility is still pending), Toole’s 2016-17 recruiting class will be of the utmost importance. A solid base is there with Matty McConnell, Isaiah Still, Jordan Lester and Billy Giles, but more will be needed for Robert Morris to return back to its powerhouse status. I believe Toole will eventually recapture the glory, but it may take a little longer than expected.

Update (9:03 PM, 02/05/2016): Lauren Kirschman of the Beaver County Times Online spoke with Minnie for his side of the story regarding the dismissal here.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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