Assist Leaders: Jon Williams (4.1); McConnell (3.3); Josh Williams (2.3)
3P Leaders: Josh Williams (42.5%); Bain (38.2%); Jon Williams (34.4%)
Something I've learned in my first season of blogging? Underrate teams coached by Andy Toole at your own risk.
The Colonials lost their best player, Dachon Burke who transferred to Nebraska, off a team that finished 9-9 in the league. So it made sense that perhaps they would take a stop back. Wrong!
Robert Morris currently sits atop the league at 4-1, which includes two road wins over St. Francis Brooklyn and Bryant. Their lone loss, at LIU-Brooklyn, came last Saturday.
The Colonials have, by far the league's best defense, holding teams to just 0.94 PPP in league play (Wagner is 2nd at 0.99 PPP), and they do what Andy Toole teams like to do; turn you over with their pressure defense.
Offensively, it's been a struggle; in league play they have the 2nd worst offensive efficiency (0.99 PPP) and their adjusted offensive efficiency of 93.2 points/100 possessions ranks 332nd out of 353 D1 teams.
Josh Williams, who spent his first two seasons at Akron, decided to join his brother Jon at Robert Morris and has thrived. The sharp-shooter made national headlines for making 15 three-pointers in a win over Mount Aloysius, and has been really good all season from distance; 39.1% against D1 opponents, though just 32% in NEC play. He's not really a true scorer; he's making just 34% of his two-pointers, but don't leave him open outside.
During conference play, Malik Petteway has been arguably RMU's best player. The 6'8" 240 lb. center is shooting 48% from the field, which is fine, but has been one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the league, Petteway has combined with Yannis Mendy, another 6'8" 240 lb. behemoth, to form a really good tandem down low. Mendy leads the league in offensive rebounding rate, and while he's not the rim protector Petteway is, he's shooting 59% from the field.
One other player worth highlighting is Matty McConnell, who is simply a pain in the neck to play against. While McConnell doesn't do anything great (he's shooting 30.3% from three and has a 94.8 O-Rating), he does a little bit of everything; he'll knock down open shots, he'll make plays for others, and he'll do all the dirty things necessary. He's a winning player.
Things to Watch
RMU's Pressure Defense
Pressure defense is a staple of Andy Toole coached teams, as they consistently look to force turnovers. In five NEC games, RMU leads the league with a 26% forced turnover rate, and in their last three games opponents have turned it over 24.9% (St. Francis Brooklyn), 26.1% (LIU-Brooklyn) and 29.5% (Bryant). Note: D1 average is 19%.
But here's the thing; after all the talk about turnover rates in November and December, this has suddenly not been a problem for Central Connecticut. Their 15.5% turnover rate is a league low (Mount St. Mary's is 2nd at 18.6%), and they turned it over just 8 times in the loss to St. Francis University.
What has changed? Primarily, it's increased minutes for Tyson Batiste, who has really done a great job of taking care of the basketball and being a leader on the floor. They've also made better decisions with the basketball.
If Central can beat the pressure, there will be opportunities for high percentage shots; RMU is allowing a 52.4% eFG% in league play, 4th worst, including 54.6% on two-pointers.
Contain Dribble Penetration
Robert Morris has guards who have the ability to get into the teeth of the defense and make a play (namely Jon Williams and Matty McConnell).
We've seen CCSU get beat time-and-time again by penetration and kick-outs to open shooters. While RMU doesn't take a ton of three-pointers (they are 9th in frequency of 3-pointers taken), they do lead the league in 3P% (35.4%).
The key will be forcing them to take 2-point jumpers; they have a tendency to settle for the mid-range, which helps
explain why they're shooting just 49% on their twos.
Essentially, this is what it comes down to with this team.
In CCSU's two NEC wins, their eFG% was 62.3% and 54.2%, respectively. In their losses? 40.2%, 35.2%, 44.3%.
In the first two losses it was due to an inability to make three-pointers. Against SFU, they couldn't convert in the paint.
No offense to the Colonials fans out there, but this may be the most surprising 4-1 start in NEC history. Is it a mirage? Well, on one hand they've won the games, which counts for quite a bit. On the other hand, two of their wins came by 3-points, and they're also one of the few teams to play both Mount St. Mary's and Bryant, teams projected to be at the bottom of the standings. In fact, there are just 4 teams with records below .500, and RMU has wins over three of them (CCSU is the fourth).
This is a huge game for the Blue Devils. They are in danger of dropping out of the race completely with a loss here, with a major uphill battle for a chance to host a playoff game.