Robert Morris took a big step backward last season finishing 8-10 in the NEC and 10-22 overall. In particular, the Colonials regressed offensively, falling off by more than 10 points per 100 possessions.
“Obviously last year was a disappointing season on a lot of levels,” head coach Andy Toole said. “For individuals, collectively, for coaches, for players, for everybody kind of associated with some of the success that we had.”
Questions remain coming into 2016-17 about how Toole is going to construct an offense around a vast array of seemingly disparate parts, but the first and most important step is getting the entire roster to buy into a hard-nosed, team-first mentality.
RMU was plagued by two main problems on offense last season: poor three-point shooting and a lack of offensive rebounding. Toole had coached teams that couldn’t shoot in the past, but those teams dominated the glass. During the 2011-12 season the Colonials had an effective field goal percentage of 47.7%, but they made up for it by grabbing 40% of their misses, the eighth best mark in the country.
That edge has disappeared from the Robert Morris mystique over the past four seasons. The Colonials grabbed just 26% of their misses in 2015-16, 285th in the country. The Colonials also allowed opponents to grab nearly 35% of their own misses, 335th nationally.
“We have to get back to the blue-collar hard-working mentality that we had previously, because regardless of what defense you’re in you can still win 50-50 balls, you can still rebound the ball better, you can still be the first team on the floor. Things that used to be the trademark of our program,” Toole said.
Losing that edge definitely frustrated Toole, who spoke at NEC Social Media Day about how he was disappointed he wasn’t able to figure out a way to motivate his team to do the little things and come together as a cohesive group as the Colonials stumbled through an uncharacteristically difficult season.
It might’ve been easier if Aaron Tate had been able to play. The 6’5″ senior missed almost the entire 2015-16 season due to injury. While undersized, Tate has been an excellent rebounder throughout his college career, especially during NEC play. Toole will certainly welcome him back into the rotation with open arms.
But the question is who else will be able to work with Tate on the glass? Gone are Rodney Pryor and Elijah Minnie, the team’s two best rebounders (at least statistically) last season. Senior forward Billy Giles showed some promise on the glass, but he’ll have to do even more if RMU wants to pose problems for NEC programs on the backboards.
Someone is going to have to make big strides for the Colonials to surprise. Though Toole would actually prefer it to be a collective effort.
“Everybody has to step up,” Toole said about how RMU, which was picked sixth in the preseason, can improve on that ranking. “Everybody has to be a little bit better than they were.
Whoever does step up will find a coveted spot in Toole’s rotation. While Toole said at NEC media day that he would ideally like to play 10 or even 12 guys, that’s never been the case when the lights come on with him at the end of the bench. The Colonials have had eight or nine players finish with a minutes percentage greater than 20% in NEC play in every single season under Toole.
“Those guys also have to be able to go out and contribute,” Toole said about playing a deeper rotation. “You can’t put guys out on the floor just because they’re on your team. This isn’t a rec team. So if guys aren’t handling their responsibilities, or knowing where they’re supposed to be offensively and defensively, or executing properly, you can’t really get them on the court. In my mind I’d love to have 10 guys playing 15 minutes to 25 minutes and keeping guys fresh and keeping guys playing at a high, high level.”
The collective effort is the way forward for RMU, because the Colonials lack an elite offensive talent. The entire team will need to play incredibly hard every night, especially on the defensive end, in order to scrape out victories. Something that didn’t happen a season ago.
“Last year I think we got a little bit too full of ourselves and thought maybe we’re above some of those things and unfortunately that’s the difference between winning and losing,” Toole said.
This season the RMU head coach wants a rotation that can readily accept—and adapt—to whatever role he deems appropriate.
“We don’t have a guy who is a Karvel Anderson that is going to go out and get 20 on a regular basis,” Toole said. “We have a bunch of good players who that complement each other well, that bring different talents to the court, and we have to utilize them all. And we’ve got to thing about getting the best team shot every time down the floor and then turning around and getting the best team stop every time down the floor.”
And Toole hopes that is what helps Robert Morris find its way again.