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December 14, 2013

Game Day: Robert Morris at Duquesne

If there was any doubt that Andrew Toole is willing to bring out whatever tools he can find to help Robert Morris win games, it was erased Saturday when Toole eschewed his standard, aggressive man-to-man defense for a 2-3 zone against Toledo.

But for those looking for Toole to completely abandon his defensive principles in the name of securing a 'W' for his club, there are a few tools that will remain in his toolbox.

That includes what some would consider to be a natural reaction. If your team can't play defense, why not ratchet up the offense? Teams have done that in the past, even running a system like Paul Westhead used to take teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Game 11: Duquesne
WHEN: December 14, 2:00 p.m.
WHERE: Palumbo Center
TV/RADIO: Video - Atlantic10.com, 970 ESPN AM (Radio)
YAHOO! SPORTS RPI RANKINGS: Robert Morris 256, Duquesne 260
KENPOM RANKINGS: Robert Morris 199, Duquesne 212
PROJECTED DUQUESNE STARTERS: F Dominique McKoy (6'8, 215, Jr.), Ovie Soko (6'8, 225, Sr.), Jeremiah Jones (6'3, 190, So.), Tra'Vaughn White (5'10, 190, Jr.), Derrick Colter (5'11, 180, So.)
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.)

"That'd be way, way, way deep in the toolbox," Toole said. "Even some of the stuff that we did against Toledo, I was tossing and turning over. You still have to guard people at some point."

It's that concept that has Toole continuing to stress defensive execution to his 3-7 Colonials. As Robert Morris prepares for its annual rivalry game against Duquesne on Saturday, Toole is open to using multiple forms of defense as long as it works in some capacity.

"We're scoring more points than we've ever scored since I've been here and we have our worst record," Toole said. "Whatever we do, I think we need to keep some variety in there. I think with some variety you can put some people on their heels a little bit offensively."

Toole is starting to admit that some of the rule changes have impacted his team more than he might have anticipated, especially with his newcomers.

"Part of me wishes at some point in time, with some of the rule changes they made, they'd put into effect two years down the road so you can go out and try to get as many shooters as humanly possible," Toole said. "When you recruit to a certain style and then that style is forced to be altered by rule changes, it makes it difficult."

Toole said he believes he still has aggressive defensive players, but that some of their aggressiveness has been taken away by rule changes. That's led to Robert Morris adapting on the fly and re-emphasize strong positioning and sound technique. It's a crucial element of the game that will be prevalent on Saturday, as Duquesne gets to the line early and often - a remnant of Jim Ferry's philosophy at LIU Brooklyn.

"His philosophy was always make more free throws than your opponent shoots," Toole said. "Now it's even more effective."

Senior Ovie Soko has clearly bought into Ferry's philosophy, as he's been the most aggressive player on the floor. Soko averages a double-double per game, and he'll provide yet another difficult test for a Robert Morris team still trying to find some footing on defense.

"Ovie Soko is a handful. He's made threes, he's super aggressive putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim. He's great on the backboards," Toole said. "It's going to take more than one guy to slow him down."

Even with another tough test in the midst of the losing streak, Toole stressed it's not all doom and gloom for Robert Morris. He believes the Colonials still have the pieces and the talent to be a good team.

"I think there were some positives that we can draw on. Toledo is a very good team and we did some good things," Toole said. "We need to continue to do those good things more, and then some of the areas where we had breakdowns, we have to eliminate them if we're going to beat a good team."

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

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