ASoB: The Colonials shoot the three really well. Are you a team that lives and dies by the three, or is it just one of several weapons?
RP: You’re correct in your assumption that Robert Morris lives and dies by the three. The Colonials have two guys in Karvel Anderson and Coron Williams that are very streaky, and usually effective long-range bombers. It would behove Calipari’s players to guard near the perimeter, because if you give Robert Morris open looks you’re asking for trouble. Even their frontcourt guys in Lucky Jones and Russell Johnson are able to stroke it from downtown.
It wasn’t always like this for Andy Toole’s squad, but injuries and defections down low have made them much more reliant on the outside jumper. Velton Jones, their little bulldog of a point guard who hails from Philly, and others are excellent at penetrating/creating off the dribble and then kicking out. In fact, when Robert Morris shoots better than 35% from behind the arc, they are 17-3 this season. Less than 35% from three yields a mediocre record of 6-7. Take away their outside weapons and they’ll surely struggle to manufacture points.
ASoB: Your defensive fingerprint is mostly man. Do you play zone? Because man-to-man against Kentucky when you are undersized is a dicey proposition. How do you expect to defend the Wildcats?
RP: They’ll guard you mostly with man, but Toole is such an innovative coach it wouldn’t surprise me to see a change in defensive philosophy throughout the game. How they attack Kentucky’s size will be one of the most fascinating questions of the game, especially given that their frontcourt stands at 6’5", 6’6", and 6’8", respectively.
One thing I think we can all expect is lots of doubling down low. Toole will force Kentucky to make outside jumpers. With some quick and crafty, yet undersized, defenders at his disposal, this strategy has a fighter’s chance of working, especially if guys like Goodwin and Mays are struggling to make shots out of the gate. Expect Robert Morris to pack it in down low.
ASoB: Kentucky has met the Colonials once before, back in 1993. How do you feel about meeting us again in the NIT, and especially with Kentucky having to come to your campus and play in your 3,000 seat gymnasium?
RP: To be frank, this is like the Super Bowl for Robert Morris. There was a joke going around Twitter saying that the Colonials were "lucky" to lose to Mount St. Mary’s in their league’s postseason semifinal, rather than win the tourney and earn the automatic bid for the NCAA. The game sold out in hours (that never ever happens) and fans are beyond excited. I’d fully expect a raucous crowd, and if Kentucky lets the Colonials hang around into the second half, it’s only going to get louder.
It’s funny, our little conference known as the NEC is sending LIU Brooklyn to the NCAAs for the third straight season, and yet it’s Robert Morris - who has disappointingly missed the tourney the last three years - getting the national attention because the Rupp Arena couldn’t find enough employees to work the popcorn machine on Tuesday night. And now, you have Toole going on ESPNU telling us that he feels like Rocky getting a shot to fight Apollo Creed in Rocky I. Yeah, I think Robert Morris is more than a little amped…
ASoB: What is your biggest strength as a team? Your biggest weakness? How do hope to leverage your strength, and minimize your weakness?
RP: All told, Robert Morris is a team that can beat you a number of ways. Back in the day (I feel like Grandpa sitting on the porch), the Colonials would grind out victories with their intense, in-your-face defense. In their glory days under Mike Rice (who is now the head man at Rutgers) playing the Colonials with like going to the dentist. Nowadays with the NEC playing absolutely little to no defense most of the time - Robert Morris LED the conference in KenPom defensive efficiency at 98.7 points allowed per 100 possessions - the Colonials have gotten by with the outside jumper.
Basically, they can shoot the three, but have a number of players led by Velton Jones who can get to the free line at a healthy rate. They’ll come at you with 8-9 players - depth is one of their strengths - and possess a number of competent ball handlers that are good at protecting the basketball. I’d say if the officials are the whistle blowing type tonight, advantage Robert Morris, since they also excel at the charity stripe. Therefore, I’d expect the Colonials to attack with penetration as a way to create some offense against the bigger and more athletic Wildcats.
ASoB: What do you think will happen?
RP: Like you, I’d be foolish to offer a prediction since I was confident Robert Morris would be preparing for a NCAA tournament game right about now. Moreover, trying to figure out how Toole combats Kentucky’s size makes things even more complicated. But for now, I’ll say Robert Morris hangs around only to lose by 10-13 points. An upset is absolutely possible, however, since the Colonials are 12-3 in their friendly confines.
Thanks so much to Ryan for the Q&A. You can find my answers to his questions at Big Apple Buckets.