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December 7, 2013

Game Day: Toledo at Robert Morris

Andrew Toole's made no secret how displeased he's been with his team's defensive performance through nine games.

"It's really disgusting to me," Toole said after Wednesday's loss to Youngstown State.

The problem's been identified. Robert Morris hasn't been strong enough defensively and it hasn't rebounded well enough to end possessions after missed shots. The focus isn't on figuring out the problem, but how to fix it and to do it relatively quickly.

Game 10: Toledo
WHEN: December 7, 4:00 p.m.
WHERE: Sewall Center
TV/RADIO: Video - NECFrontRow, 970 ESPN AM (Radio)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Toledo 49, Robert Morris 261
KENPOM RANKINGS: Toledo 80, Robert Morris 194
PROJECTED TOLEDO STARTERS: C Nathan Boothe (6'9, 240, So.), F J.D. Weatherspoon (6'6, 215, Jr.), G Justin Drummond (6'4, 200, Jr.), G Rian Pearson (6'4, 195, Sr.), G Julius Brown (5'10, 170, Jr.)
PROJECTED ROBERT MORRIS STARTERS: C Mike McFadden (6'8, 220, Sr.), F Jeremiah Worthem (6'6, 215, Fr.), F Lucky Jones (6'5, 195, Jr.), G Karvel Anderson (6'2, 190, Sr.), G Anthony Myers-Pate (5'11, 170, Sr.)

The focus for the coaching staff might actually be trying to adjust the players' focus.

"We're the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the Northeast Conference. We're the 10th defensive rebounding team in the Northeast Conference," Toole said. "That just shows you were the effort is and where guys' focus is."

The love of offense isn't a new one for Robert Morris or any other college team. In the modern AAU culture, buckets are often how players feel they'll get noticed and feel like they're contributing. Nearly every player on a Division I roster was a major offensive contributor to his high school team or junior college team. Robert Morris likes spreading the offense around, likes getting contributions from the bench, but the offense hasn't been the issue. Stopping the opposing offense has been.

Shifting the focus and getting guys to buy in could be a bit of a process. Toole said the team met after Cleveland State loss, and first 45 minutes were guys talking about their shots and the offense.

"I feel like I'm in a bizzaro world where everyone worries about the number of shots they get and the number of minutes they play," Toole said, "and they don't understand that if we could find a group of guys who would really buy into defending, they would get more minutes."

Robert Morris' home game against Toledo Saturday is a chance for the Colonials to regroup, but the Rockets bring a familiar challenge. Toledo's undefeated and nearly ever player on the floor is an offensive threat. Robert Morris has tried to run-and-gun with teams, only to fail. They may have no choice but to play defense. If they don't, they may not see the floor.

"Sometimes when you call people out, they have to be willing to accept the message," Toole said. "We're calling a lot of guys out about the same thing. Make a new mistake."

Robert Morris has had an unmistakable identity for the past six seasons. Toole doesn't want to lose that identity, but admitted his current team hasn't shown many of the same characteristics.

"We went from being a team that was known for its toughness and ability to work to I don't know what we are right now," Toole said. "Certainly not tough would be the way to describe us."

In Toole's mind, if Robert Morris wants to have success, using Saturday's game to find a positive identity would be a good place to start.

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

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