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October 31, 2012

Projecting RMU's non-conference schedule

Everyone who follows Robert Morris knows the key to winning in the Northeast Conference: Consistency.

There are few secrets when it comes to trying to top LIU-Brooklyn or Wagner, or surviving a trip to Quinnipiac, or escaping out of the hornet's nest at Mount St. Mary's. Head down, push forward, and limit the mistakes. That's all a team can do.

But what about the non-conference schedule? This year, especially, there are a lot of unknowns surrounding Robert Morris' tune-up for NEC play. So, ColonialsCorner took a look at the opponents and tried to project the odds of Robert Morris coming out on top, as well as looking at what some of the games mean for preparing for the NEC.

It's a little tricky, as three games are unknown; Robert Morris knows it'll play either Fordham or Pitt in the second game of the first Preseason NIT regional at the Petersen Events Center. But the Colonials have no idea who they will play in the next regional, either in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden or (more likely) at home against two other opponents to be determined.

So we focused on what we do know, and we split the NIT into two blocks: The game against Lehigh, which is definite, and the rest of the potentials.

Breaking Down RMU's Non-Conference Schedule
Opponent: at Rider (Nov. 9)
Last Year: 14-19 (10-8 MAAC)
The Scoop: Robert Morris cruised to an easy win against Rider last year at the Sewall Center. This is the completion of a home-and-home series, and Rider got an overhaul in the offseason. Former St. John's guard Nurideen Lindsey joined the team and will be eligible, and he'll try to help replace the departure of 3 of Rider's top 4 scorers. Junior forward Daniel Stewart is the top returning big man while Anthony Myles is the top returning guard.
Odds of RMU Win: 75 percent. Lindsey is obviously a big threat, and Stewart could be poised for a breakout year after averaging 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore. But Rider has seven new players, including six freshmen, on the roster. That's going to be a disjointed group to start the season, and one with holes to fill.
Opponent: NIT vs. Lehigh (Nov. 12)
Last Year: 27-8 (11-3 Patriot)
The Scoop: Lehigh splashed onto everyone's radar last year with their stunning upset of Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Star guard C.J. McCollum was already known to hoops fans, but he became a household name because of that game. He flirted with the NBA, but he's back for a senior year. So are three other starters, making Lehigh an uber-dangerous team. McCollum does the bulk of the scoring, but big man Gabe Knutson also averaged double figures, while point guard Mackey McKnight gives Lehigh another ballhandler.
Odds of RMU Win: 25-30 percent. This might be RMU's toughest test all year. McCollum is unlike anything the Colonials have seen, outside of the game last year vs. Memphis. Lehigh can be beaten, but it'll take focus and cohesion that might be tough for RMU to develop in just the second game of the season.
Opponent: NIT vs. Pitt/Fordham (Nov. 13), NIT vs. TBD (Nov. 19/20 or 21/23)
Last Year: N/A
The Scoop: The likely path has Robert Morris playing 10-19 Fordham in the consolation game of the first regional. Odds are good the Colonials would be able to come out with a split if that's the case. If RMU has to face Pitt, it'd keep the rivalry game going while giving the Colonials a chance to head to MSG. That's a pretty big carrot. Beyond that, the other first round regional hosts are Michigan, Kansas State, and Virginia. Far more likely is Robert Morris getting a chance to play two of IUPUI, Bowling Green, Lamar, North Texas, Alabama-Huntsville, Fairfield, Delaware and Penn at the Sewall Center.
Odds of RMU Win: 15 percent chance of going to MSG, 70% chance of going 3-1 in the overall tournament. If Robert Morris goes 1-1 and hosts two games, that has to be a win for the school, because they'd be on par or favorites to win the rest of the games. Lamar, Penn, and Delaware would be their best tests, though only Alabama-Huntsville (a non-DI) would be easy.
Opponent: at Xavier (Nov. 17)
Last Year: 23-13 (10-6 A-10)
The Scoop: Xavier has been gutted. All five starters are gone. Over 50 points per game went out the door. Only five guys are back who played significant minutes. The highlights are former Monmouth forward Travis Taylor and incoming freshman Semaj Christion, but it's going to be a tough year for Xavier. There's promise, but it's very murky how it all fits together.
Odds of RMU Win: 40 percent. Better than they were, but Robert Morris will have to prove it can work together against a talented but raw team. Chris Mack is an excellent coach, and you can bet every practice is littered with "us against the world" preachings.
Opponent: at Savannah State (Nov. 26)
Last Year: 21-12 (14-2 MEAC)
The Scoop: Five of their top six players return, and it's a very balanced team. Savannah State lost in the MEAC tournament to eventual Cinderella Norfolk State, but Savannah State is a team that can run with a lot of mid-majors thanks to a group that had four guys average right around ten points per game. It's an experienced staff and an experienced group. This should be the start of a home-and-home series.
Odds of RMU Win: 55 percent. The NEC is a higher rated league and on a neutral court it might be more of a 60 percent chance. But this is a road trip for RMU, and though it happens right after Thanksgiving, it's still a road trip to a good team. RMU's overall talent and a slightly tougher league makes them the slight favorite, but it's not by much.
Opponent: Ohio (Dec. 1)
Last Year: 29-8 (11-5 MAC)
The Scoop: RMU fans should be very familiar with Ohio. This completes a 4-game series, with Ohio having hosted the last two games. The Colonials have had a lot of success in this series against Ohio, but they've all been as tight as last year's late win. There is not a single freshman on the Ohio roster, though they do have a new coaching staff. That's the only question mark: How does former TCU coach Jim Christian use the likes of D.J. Cooper and Walter Offutt differently?
Odds of RMU Win: Toss up. RMU should get the edge because of the home factor, but these games have come down to a single possession no matter who the host is. RMU's done a good job on Cooper, but the Colonials can't expect to get away with a 31 turnover game like they did in the 70-67 win last year
Opponent: at Campbell (Dec. 4)
Last Year: 17-15 (11-7 Big South)
The Scoop: Campbell is a team similar to Robert Morris last year in terms of roster makeup. Just one senior dots a group of mostly sophomores and juniors, and a freshman class of four. Campbell does lose three of their top five scorers, but they also bring in transfers who have stops at Kent State, VCU, and Iowa State.
Odds of RMU Win: 60 percent. Campbell made some noise last year with upset wins over BCS schools, including Iowa, but they faded down the stretch. They won't have a distinct size advantage but they have some athleticism. They're a slightly above average team that does a lot of things well but nothing spectacularly.
Opponent: at Hampton (Dec. 8)
Last Year: 12-21 (6-10 MAAC)
The Scoop: A return game after Hampton lost at Robert Morris last year. The Colonials shut Hampton down on offense, allowing just 54 points. Hampton loses four of five starters, with just forward David Bruce coming back. Five freshmen are on the squad along with two redshirt freshmen. It's a young team with only a handful of players with more than a couple games of experience.
Odds of RMU Win: 75 percent. You never know on the road, but Robert Morris should be able to duplicate their performance from last year where they pulled away down the stretch.
Opponent: Duquesne (Dec. 15)
Last Year: 16-15 (7-9 A-10)
The Scoop: Can RMU make it three in a row? The Colonials have won the last two games, including a late rally at the Palumbo Center last year. Naturally the big news is the overhaul of the roster and new coach Jim Ferry. Ferry's familiar to RMU, and we'll see how much he tries to make Duquesne like his LIU teams. Sean Johnson and Andre Marhold are the only returning starters, though the buzz is around freshman guard Derrick Colter after a strong summer league showing.
Odds of RMU Win: 65 percent. A rivalry game makes it interesting, especially with a familiar adversary in the opposing coaching box. But Robert Morris has the home advantage, not to mention the experience. Ferry might try to push it, but Duquesne will likely spend the entire season finding themselves.
Opponent: at Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 18)
Last Year: 16-16 (10-6 Sun Belt)
The Scoop: Robert Morris won last year's matchup by holding the Cajuns' big guys down and dominating in the paint. In the offseason, Louisiana-Lafayette had multiple roster changes, bringing in five freshmen. Leading scorer Josh Brown is back, as is forward Bryant Mbamalu. But they're the most productive returnees. A couple transfers, including former Mississippi State recruit Shawn Long, could give the Cajuns a boost.
Odds of RMU Win: 60 percent. It's a road trip, but if last year was any indication, Louisiana-Lafayette could get disorganized in a hurry. Some of the new recruits are interesting, but there's no reason RMU can't take advantage down low again.
Opponent: at Arkansas (Dec. 20)
Last Year: 18-14 (6-10 SEC)
The Scoop: Mike Anderson began making the team in his image, as he adopted the famed "40 Minutes of Hell" approach formed by mentor Nolan Richardson. There were mixed results, as the Razorbacks upset a few nationally ranked teams in and out of conference play but otherwise played a soft non-conference schedule. They pushed the ball defensively, nearly doubling their steals compared to their opponents, but didn't necessarily out perform their opponents in the offensive categories. Forward Marshawn Powell is back after a knee injury derailed his season. He joins three of the other top four scorers in returning
Odds of RMU Win: 30-35 percent. Arkansas only lost a little bit of depth, and this is the second year Richardson has the program. Odds are they improve, but there's still enough of a chance there for RMU to surprise Arkansas. The Colonials aren't completely foreign to the uptempo pace, but no one does it like Arkansas. If they stay out of mistakes, you never know.

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

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