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November 22, 2011

Game Day: RMU at James Madison

Something will have to give when Robert Morris and James Madison take the court Tuesday night in Virginia. Their weak performance against Penn notwithstanding, Robert Morris has made its bones on being a stout defense, capable of shutting down top shooters and reducing field goal percentages drastically.

The one issue for Robert Morris has been scoring efficiently. They struggled at times against Penn to put together runs because they couldn't hit the bottom the basket.

James Madison has been the opposite. Averaging 83 points per game, scoring hasn't been an issue for the Dukes. Off to a 1-1 start, JMU put up 82 on Canisius to open the season and put up 83 against La Salle on Saturday.

The problem? Canisius scored 73 and La Salle scored 92. The only thing that did Canisius in was a paltry 2-of-16 performance from behind the arc. La Salle - who the Colonials see Friday - was much better, shooting 49 percent overall and a blistering 54.5 percent from trey.

Game 4: Jams Madison Dukes (CAA)
WHEN: Nov. 19, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: JMU Convocation Center, Harrisonburg, Va.
TV: None
HISTORY AGAINST JAMES MADISON: Series tied 1-1; last meeting (2/19/1979), RMU 50-48
REALTIMERPI.com RANKINGS: James Madison 142, Robert Morris 220
KENPOM RANKINGS: James Madison 145, Robert Morris 92
JAMES MADISON'S COACHING STAFF: Head coach - Matt Brady (4th year). Assistants - Rob O'Driscoll, Corey Stitzel, Louis Rowe
JAMES MADISON PROJECTED STARTERS: F Trevon Flores (6'10, 230, Jr.) 4 ppg/5.5 rpg; F Andrey Semenov (6'7, 205, RJr.) 11.5/5 rpg; F Julius Wells (6'5, 205, Sr.) 11 ppg/6.5 rpg; G A.J. Davis (6'6, 210, RJr.) 22 ppg/4.5 rpg; G Humpty Hitchens (5'9, 175, Sr.) 21.5 ppg/3 apg
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: F Lijah Thompson (6'7, 200, Jr.) 7.7 ppg/2 rpg; F Lawrence Bridges (6'5, 225, Sr.) 3 ppg/4.3 rpg; F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RJr.) 9 ppg/4 rpg; G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RSo.) 18 ppg/3 rpg; G Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RJr.) 15 ppg/6.3 apg

So here's Robert Morris again with a chance to use its best asset against another team's strength and a chance to exploit another team's weakness to fix their own maladies.

But can they take advantage? It lies with the freshmen and Lawrence Bridges. Once again, the Colonials will be undersized. James Madison starts a tall lineup and doesn't get much shorter, although Karon Abraham clone Humpty Hitchens is a waterbug of a scorer.

But as Andrew Toole has preached in the past, size isn't the only thing when it comes to rebounding or blocking shots. Desire and positioning have a major factor, and the Colonials have shown this year that they can out-rebounded bigger teams (Rider) by beating teams to the ball and using their bodies intelligently.

Intelligent positioning will be the name of the game, both offensively and defensively. James Madison has had problems closing out on defense, meaning this is a huge opportunity for Coron Williams and Russell Johnson. Barring a drastic improvement by JMU, shots will be there outside. Whether the Colonials can penetrate and score inside will be a great question, but there should be opportunities on the outside. Williams will have to get hot early, and if Johnson can join him, the Colonials will be significantly better off.

The same holds true defensively. Hitchens will shoot from anywhere, and several other Dukes won't shy away from launching distant jumpers and threes. Robert Morris cannot have the closeout issues that it had against Penn, and they cannot have the lack of attention to detail that they had in controlling ball movement.

Though the Dukes don't swing the ball as much as Penn, they do move it around the perimeter, they do drive and kick, and they do pose problems with size and athleticism match-ups. Robert Morris will need to be on point defensively, and that includes Bridges being able to come out on close outs significantly better than he did Saturday.

It also means Brandon Herman, Keith Armstrong, and Lucky Jones need to contribute much more than they did Saturday. Five points won't cut it, but most importantly, they have to be active and sound defensively. Jones and Armstrong's length will be especially valuable, and if Herman can find his shot a little bit, he can be a reliable bench scorer.

This schedule was never designed to be easy for Robert Morris. But if the Colonials figure things out, the wins are there for the taking. James Madison isn't an obvious win, but there are enough holes in the Dukes' game that Robert Morris can come away with a victory. But it's in their hands, and whether they come out with the focus and defensive intensity necessary to pull that off.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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