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March 6, 2013

Game Day: NEC Quarterfinals

Always in search of some reassuring bit of news, Robert Morris fans might want to take the following number to heart when Northeast Conference quarterfinal play begins Wednesday night with St. Francis-Brooklyn looking to knock off the top-seeded Colonials.

0.

That's the number of times a No. 8 seed has beaten the top seed in the NEC Tournament. The Top 3 seeds are 21-0 in the last seven years. Even in the crazy, wild, wacky 2012-2013 version of the NEC, those are comforting numbers.

Game 32: St. Francis-Brooklyn
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WHEN: March 6, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Charles L. Sewall Center
TV/RADIO: WPIT 730 AM/WPITAM.com (RMU Radio)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: St. Francis-Brooklyn 210, Robert Morris 114
KENPOM RANKINGS: St. Francis-Brooklyn 218, Robert Morris 128
PROJECTED ST. FRANCIS-BROOKLYN STARTERS: F Akeem Johnson (6'6, 200, Sr.), F Jalen Cannon (6'6, 230, So.), G Alex Isailovic (6'4, 185, Jr.), G Ben Mockford (6'2, 175, Jr.), G Brent Jones (5'10, 170, So.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: C Mike McFadden (6'8, 220, Jr.), F Russell Johnson (6'6, 180, RSr.), F Lucky Jones (6'6, 205, So.), G Coron Williams 6'2, 170, RJr.), G Velton Jones (6'0, 170, RSr.)

Just don't tell the Colonials. They won't hear it. Home court advantage was a goal. But in reality, it's just a means to an end. Because if these Colonials have learned anything, it's that nothing is guaranteed.

"Our number one goal was to win the NEC regular season so we could have home court in the playoffs. But we did lose our first two home conference games," center Mike McFadden said. "Home court advantage gets you an advantage, but at the end of the day it's still two teams competing."

Wednesday night it'll be two teams that have met just once this season, a 71-61 win for St. Francis-Brooklyn in Brooklyn Heights. Robert Morris played that game without Velton Jones for all but two minutes. They'll have him Wednesday night. But even a healthy point guard is no guarantee of a 10-point swing.

"It's a different ball game," McFadden said of tournament play. "Hopefully this mental preparation helps us execute and stay with our game plans."

Part of those plans includes locking down on forward Jalen Cannon. The rest includes the basic tenants of Robert Morris basketball: Communicate and be detail-oriented while switching on defense, and share the ball well on offense to get high quality shots.

"One of the things St. Francis did a great job of was making it really difficult for us to get threes," head coach Andy Toole said. "We have to make sure that taking what the defense gives you is great, and if they're taking away that, then we have to be able to get into the paint whether it's through penetration or post touches and score."

The tournament might come down to experience, and not just the number of years in Division I. Toole pointed to the lessons of the last game against St. Francis-Brooklyn and said the resultant film sessions could have an impact for a team that he said was caught a little surprised by the Terriers' physicality.

"I think it's always difficult to prepare for a physical team, because as much as you try to simulate it in practice, you don't want to get to the point where you're risking injury or out of context of what you want to do," Toole said. "But I think having previous experience against them will be beneficial."

And then there are the actual years spent in the NEC working in Robert Morris' favor. Robert Morris has been in four straight NEC title games. Jones, Coron Williams, and Russell Johnson don't know anything about losing early. Being one of the last two teams standing in the NEC is what they've always known and what they've always expected.

"I hope it plays a big factor. We're one of the more experienced teams that's still in the tournament," Toole said. "But I don't know. Each and every situation that you get involved in is a little different."

Wednesday night, the only thing Robert Morris hopes is different from its last meeting with St. Francis is the result.

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

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