NEC Team Capsules: Robert Morris Colonials

Head Coach: Andy Toole, 3rd year (44-25)
Last Season: 26-11 (13-5 NEC), lost in the NEC finals to LIU, 90-73
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 2nd out of 12 teams
State of Program: Win-now mode
Key Players Lost: Lawrence Bridges (3.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 57.6% FG%)
Incoming Players: Karvel Anderson (G), Vaughn Morgan (PF), Stephan Hawkins (PF)
Previous Posts: Robert Morris Recruiting Recap, RMU Prepares for Life After Velton Jones

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Velton Jones (16.0 PPG, 2.8 APG, 4.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.7 A/TO)
G: Coron Williams (10.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 41.0% 3PT%, 82.0% FT%)
F: Lucky Jones (8.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
F: Vaughn Morgan (played junior college)
F: Mike McFadden (8.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 53.9% FG%)

Key Reserves: Russell Johnson (F), Karvel Anderson (G), Anthony Myers (PG), Stephan Hawkins (PF), Keith Armstrong (F)

Major Storylines:

  1. Getting Back to the Dance – Since Andy Toole has inherited this team, the Colonials have won 44 games and made two appearances in the NEC title game, in as many years. Not too shabby. It’s been one game, however, that has Robert Morris fans bitterly looking back at both seasons. Can the Colonials, who return their top 7 most efficient players and bring in 3 capable newcomers, finally get over the LIU hump? Winning the regular season title is the first step, since it would ensure home court advantage. This year it’s NCAA tournament or bust for Robert Morris.
  2. Strong Frontcourt Play – Overall, it’s one of the deepest rosters in the league, although that depth in the frontcourt will be tested early with the season-ending ACL tear of senior Lijah Thompson. Now, junior college transfer Vaughn Morgan slots into the starter role, and 6’9″ freshman Stephan Hawkins and sophomore Keith Armstrong will be leaned upon a little more. Along with Mike McFadden, can this group play well enough so Toole has the option to play big (with Morgan/Hawkins at power forward) or small (with Lucky Jones at power forward)? The emergence of the frontcourt newcomers could be critical in giving Toole some important lineup flexibility late in the season.
  3. Consistency Defending the Ball – One look at the defensive numbers indicate a stout Colonial defense. At 0.95 points allowed per possession last season, only Wagner was better in that regard. The problem is Robert Morris needs to defend more consistently. There were several periods last season where Toole’s squad would simply suffer from defensive lapses. The team can get away with the inconsistency against the bottom half of the league, but if they want to climb past LIU for the first time in three seasons, they’ll have to string it together for 40 minutes.

Lineup Analysis: As mentioned earlier, it’s been a fantastic run for a Colonials team ready to win now. Senior leader Velton Jones has one more season of eligibility and will look to return to the Big Dance for the second time in his career. The underrated Anthony Myers backs him up at the point, although both Jones and Myers can play on the floor together at certain points. Coron Williams and transfer Karvel Anderson will likely split duties at the “2”. Both are money behind the arch and will look to improve Robert Morris’ three-point shooting from a year ago. Sophomore Lucky Jones, coming off a freshman season where he finished in the top 15 in rebounding and steal rate, is primed for a breakout year, given his outside shot improves. Senior Russell Johnson will also play meaningful minutes at forward. The frontcourt is rather unproven, with Vaughn Morgan and Stephan Hawkins expected to replace Lawrence Bridge’s minutes. The 6’8″ Mike McFadden will anchor the “5”, and needs to improve his production. Overall, it’s a roster that’s still 9-10 deep, even without the services of Lijah Thompson. Most of the players should average 18-30 per game in an attempt to keep everyone fresh late in the season.

Coach’s Quotes:

“He’s getting better each day and I think for him that’s the most important thing. I think he has to change his mindset a little bit in how hard he needs to play and how detailed he has to be. Because of his athletic ability, he’s been able to get by on his athletic ability, yet you’re not going to get much more athletic than Jamal Olasewere. So you better figure out if you’re going to match up with him, you better figure out how to play the game as well. He’s getting better, with Lijah [Thompson] out the spotlight shines on him a little bit brighter.”
– Toole on the development of Vaughn Morgan

“It’s definitely a huge advantage to host the [NEC title game]. It’s a huge advantage to have experience in that tournament. I think sometimes that’s why we’ve been able to get to four straight championship games, but you still have to perform in that game. And LIU has performed well the last two years.”
– Toole, on how important home court advantage and experience is when competing in the NEC tournament

Predictions:

Ryan – It’s no secret I’m on the Robert Morris bandwagon heading into Toole’s third season. Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner project the Colonials as the NEC champions too. Ultimately, I feel the LIU two game suspension will be just enough to give Robert Morris the regular season title. If that happens, everything goes through Moon Township, and I love their chances if that’s the case.

John – Robert Morris has a great young coach, a veteran leader in Velton Jones and all the pieces you want in a mid-major program on the rise. So why are they picked second? The Colonials can’t finish. It’ll be close. RMU might even win the regular season, but it’s wait till next year one more time in terms of an NCAA berth.

Previous NEC Team Capsules:
October 24: St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
October 25: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
October 26: Bryant Bulldogs
October 29: Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers
October 30: Central Connecticut Blue Devils
October 31: Monmouth Hawks
November 1: Sacred Heart Pioneers
November 2: St. Francis (NY) Terriers
November 5: Quinnipiac Bobcats
November 6: Wagner Seahawks

Top 10 Recruits of the Northeast Conference – The rich get richer

With many of the top NEC programs returning most of their talent, playing time will be scarce for a majority of the recruits coming in.  Nevertheless, we here at Big Apple Buckets painstakingly created our consensus list of the top 10 NEC recruits.  Ranking them wasn’t easy – information on most newcomers is limited at best and there are easily 20 players that could have an immediate impact on their team.

We apologize in advance if your favorite recruit missed the list.  This is the time of year when every fan-base believes their newcomers will push their team to great heights.  Just remember, all of those Youtube clips of your favorite team’s recruits are highlight videos.  Everyone looks good on those.  They edit out the bad plays for a reason.

(Cut to the confused Monmouth fan asking, “Wait, you mean to tell me Tyrone O’Garro won’t finish every play this year with an alley-oop jam??”)

Later this week, we’ll submit our NEC recruiting class rankings for all 12 teams.  For now though, we give you our 2012-13 Top 10 preseason newcomers of the NEC!

10) Ronnie Drinnon, PF, St. Francis (PA) – With Scott Eatherton heading to Northeastern, Drinnon will see significant minutes in a brutally thin Red Flash frontcourt.  There will be struggles early on, but Drinnon’s high basketball IQ and nose for the basketball should serve him well in his freshman season.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that Drinnon practiced with the team a semester early.

9) James Ford, SG, Quinnipiac – Ford does one thing that none of Quinnipiac’s other newcomers can do as well – shoot lights out from beyond the arc.  With the Bobcats’ need for a shooter to stretch the defense, Ford should occupy a niche role as he improves in other facets during his rookie season.

8) Eric Fanning, SG, Wagner – We have difficulty placing Fanning any higher on this list, due to Bashir Mason’s crowded backcourt.  Nevertheless, Fanning should have the opportunity in limited minutes to display a wide array of scoring abilities, which allowed him to score over 1,000 points at two different stops in high school.  His athleticism and length at 6-foot-4 should also help on the defensive end.

7) Tariq Carey, SG, Quinnipiac – Tom Moore made it a priority in the offseason to bolster his backcourt, and Carey may have been his best acquistion.  The moderately recruited combo guard has a chance to make up part of James Johnson’s production on both ends of the floor, given his ability to attack the basket, get to the charity stripe, and defend with tenacity.

6) Matthew Hunter, F, Central Connecticut – After two very productive seasons at junior college, Hunter persevered to earn a Division I scholarship after a difficult upbringing.  The “stat filler” – as Howie Dickenman likes to call him – should help Kyle Vinales make up 56% of the scoring CCSU lost due to last year’s graduating class.  After all, Hunter was offered by three DI schools for a reason.

5) Shivaughn Wiggins, PG, Mount St. Mary’s – Wiggins is the type of player Jamion Christian covets – a celebral athlete that makes excellent decisions with the basketball in transition and the half-court set.  This season, he’ll most likely share time with Josh Castellanos, but make no mistake, Wiggins is the player with more potential.

4) Vaughn Morgan, PF, Robert Morris – An athletic freak who reeks havoc in the paint, Morgan will contribute to a deep Robert Morris team that returns their top seven players in terms of efficiency.  Morgan should see the majority of Lawrence Bridge’s minutes if he can grasp the mental aspect of the game and let his athleticism shine.

3) D.J. Griggs, SG, LIU-Brooklyn – The Blackbirds lost a potential NEC star in Waller-Prince, but Griggs is certainly a nice consolation prize.  LIU has a thin bench, so the opportunity is there for the Texas native to grab the final spot of LIU’s backcourt rotation with Jason Brickman, C.J. Garner, and Brandon Thompson.  As a high schooler Griggs was a high-scorer, averaging 22.6 points per game and scoring 2,590 points, so he should provide a spark off the bench for the Blackbirds.

2) Karvel Anderson, SG, Robert Morris – A prolific, yet efficient scorer at every level he’s played at, Anderson should serve as a nice offensive weapon off Andy Toole’s bench.  His insertion into the Colonial’s rotation will take pressure off of Coron Williams – who struggles at times creating his own shot – and will give Robert Morris the reliable deep threat they dearly missed last season.

1) Dwaun Anderson, SG, Wagner – This was the easiest pick by far.  It’s not very often when Tom Izzo has recruited and signed a future NEC player.  Anderson’s athleticism will make him an impact player immediately, especially when he’s allowed to create in transition or off the dribble in half-court sets.  We’d be shocked if he wasn’t a finalist for NEC Rookie of the Year at season’s end.

Other newcomers we considered:
E.J. Reed, G, LIU-Brooklyn
De’Aires Tate, PF, Sacred Heart
Jalen Wesson Palm, PG, Monmouth
Aleksandar Isailovic, G, St. Francis (NY)
Sekou Harris, PG, Fairleigh Dickinson

Robert Morris reloads for another shot at the Big Dance

Robert Morris Colonials: 26-11 (13-5 NEC), Lost in NEC Finals to LIU-Brooklyn, 90-73

Players Lost:
G Brandon Herman (transfer) – 1.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.7 apg
F Lawrence Bridges – 3.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.0 apg
SG Karon Abraham (dismissed from team) – Did not play

Incoming Players:
Karvel Anderson, 6’2″ G – Glen Oaks CC (MI)
Vaughn Morgan, 6’6″ F – Southwestern Christian College (TX)
Stephan Hawkins, 6’9″ PF – Bowman Academy (IN)
Jervon Pressley, 6’7″ PF – Towson University (MD)

For the fourth straight March, the Robert Morris Colonials found themselves in the NEC Championship game with an opportunity to clinch an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.  For the 2nd consecutive time, however, they fell victim to the offensively gifted LIU Blackbirds – this time by succumbing to a tempo more suited for Julian Boyd, Jason Brickman and company.

The defeat exposed some weaknesses of Robert Morris, most notably their inconsistent outside shooting and somewhat thin frontcourt.  It was a difficult setback, but head coach Andy Toole and his staff regrouped to sign a splendid recruiting class addressing their most glaring needs.

The first recruit of note is 6-foot-2 combo guard Karvel Anderson.  Anderson is a gifted scorer who comes from a difficult background, yet despite his troubles, he persevered to finally earn a Division I scholarship.  This past season at Glen Oaks, Anderson averaged more than 24 ppg, even though he played with a pin in his surgically repaired wrist all season.  His natural ability to score, however, wasn’t the most impressive thing about his game.

“One of the things I really like about Karvel is his efficiency,” Toole explained. “The thing that jumps out at you is his scoring average, but what I really liked was the fact he shot 46% from the floor and 43% from three.”

Anderson should play significant minutes right away, mainly as a “2” who can stretch the defense with his range.

“We needed to bring in another outside shooter, someone else that could really knock it down from the parameter to complement Coron (Williams),” Toole said.  “We hope that Karvel pushes Coron and we hope they compete for minutes, because competition obviously gets the best out of everybody.”

With their need for a long-range shooter filled, Robert Morris turned their attention to acquiring some frontcourt depth.  Junior college transfer Vaughn Morgan and true freshman Stephan Hawkins were signed, and each player has the potential to contribute right away.

The 6-foot-6 Morgan is an exceptional athlete who plays above the rim with his freakish leaping ability (seriously watch that clip and tell me if anyone else in the NEC can do that).  Because of his physical gifts, Morgan should reek havoc around the basket at both ends of the floor.  He can also knock down the mid-range jumper, something the now graduated Lawrence Bridges couldn’t do.  His athleticism is remarkable at the NEC level, but Toole is cautiously optimistic when talking about Morgan’s upside.

“Vaughn is extremely gifted athletically.  The learning curve with him will be all of the concepts and some of the teaching points that we’re going to deal with.  The sooner he picks those things up, the easier it will be for him to let his athleticism shine through.”

When asked if Morgan is the best athlete he’s ever signed at Robert Morris, Toole added, “From a jumping perspective, yeah.  It’s not even close.  He’ll have some highlights this year, I’m pretty positive of that.”

The other newcomer competing for time at the “4” will be Hawkins, who held his own at the Pittsburgh Summer Pro-Am while banging bodies with stronger and more experienced big men.  According to Toole, Hawkins makes up for his lack of strength with excellent instincts, great length, and a nice 12-to-15 foot jumper to keep defenders honest.  He positions himself well around the basket and should serve as yet another valuable piece to the Colonials deep rotation.

The last piece of the recruiting puzzle is Towson transfer Jervon Pressley.  Pressley is ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but a year off will benefit the North Carolina native.  He struggled in a difficult situation at Towson, so Pressley will help his cause by practicing with a seasoned and physical frontcourt for a full season.  It was only a year ago that Pressley was graded as an 87 by ESPN Recruiting.  To put that number in perspective, only Dwaun Anderson, the super recruit heading to Wagner, ranked higher among all 2012 NEC signed recruits.

Coming off a 26 win season, the Colonials return their top 7 players in terms of efficiency rating.  Add 3 potential impact newcomers for 2012, another year of development for Lucky Jones, Mike McFadden, and Anthony Myers, and you have the makings of a very deep and talented team.  The other teams of the elite tier certainly won’t back down, but Robert Morris has as good a chance as any to capture their 3rd NEC championship in the past 5 years.  With senior Velton Jones leading the charge, you can bet he and his Colonials won’t go down easy.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride.