9:50 Friday night. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis. CBS.
First, some fun facts:
- Robert Morris’ mascot is the Colonials.
- That’s appropriate, as the university is named after Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was nicknamed the “Financier of the Revolution.”
- RMU is located in Moon Township, near Pittsburgh.
- It was founded as a school for accountants.
- Hank Fraley, an offensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns, is among the university’s notable alumni.
- This will be RMU’s sixth NCAA Tournament appearance. Their last trip to the Big Dance came in 1992. They lost in the round of 64 in each of the previous five appearances.
On to the stats:
Robert Morris compiled a 24-10 record this season. Their conference mark of 15-3 was good enough to win the regular season title of the Northeast Conference. Kenpom ranks the conference #29 out of the 31 Division 1 conferences. RMU also took home the conference tournament crown, earning their NCAA Tournament berth. The Colonials squeaked by Mount St. Mary’s 48-46 in a 57-possession game in the conference title game.
They’ve played three games against KenPom top-50 competition this season: losing by 8 to Miami of Florida, by 21 to Xavier, and by 20 to Pittsburgh (all on the road).
RMU is stronger on defense (#91 nationally in adjusted efficiency) than on offense (#170). Their defensive strength is creating turnovers. They rank 26th in the nation in defensive TO% at 23.5%. Senior guard Jeremy Chappell leads the Colonials with 2.5 steals/game. RMU’s statistical profile indicates they play mostly man-to-man, as do the new articles I’ve read over the last two days.
Their defensive weakness is that they foul quite a bit, ranking just 248th nationally in defensive free throw rate. The Colonials will face a serious size disadvantage against MSU; they have no players taller than 6’8″ and only one player listed as heavier than 215 pounds. MSU should be able to get the ball into post and get to the free throw line. Once again, Delvon Roe will be matched up with a smaller player; as the season has gone on, he’s shown an increased ability to get the better end of such a mismatch.
Offensively, Robert Morris excels at one thing: shooting the ball. Their shooting line is 51.0/39.7/70.7. The 3-point percentage is 16th best in the country. Three players are shooting better than 40.0% from beyond the arc: Chappell, junior guard Jimmy Langhurst, and sophomore guard Gary Wallace. Chappell leads the team in scoring with 16.9 points/game. Junior forward Rob Robinson is RMU’s main interior scoring threat, averaging 11.4 points/game on 52.7% two-point shooting.
Chappell is the Colonials’ best all-round player. He boasts a shooting line of 53.4/40.6/85.1 and also leads the team in rebounding (6.3 per game) and assists (3.2 per game). Expect him to see 25-30 minutes of Travis Walton defense.
RMU’s offensive weakness is turnovers–so we can expect a decent number of turnovers on both ends of the court. They rank just 280th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage at 22.5%. Tom Izzo is talking about picking up the tempo/pressure; keeping Robert Morris off balance on offense may be a good way to keep them from putting consistent defensive pressure on our perimeter players.
Kenpom predicts a 74-60 MSU win in a 67-possession game. Robert Morris’ 3-point shooting proficiency and ability to create turnovers are somewhat concerning. But, as I’ve argued previously, this year’s MSU team has really only struggled with turnovers against teams with talented and aggressive man-to-man defenders. I don’t expect RMU to be able to match UNC, Purdue, or Illinois in terms of defensive intensity. (On the other hand, we’ve post turnover percentages above 23.0% in 6 of our last 8 games, so maybe my theory isn’t as solid as it was a month ago.)
My instincts say this game will be a lot closer than we want it to be at halftime, but our size and athleticism will wear the Colonials down in the second half for a comfortable win and a match-up with USC or Boston College on Sunday.
P.S. You can check out Colonials Corner for a Robert Morris perspective on the game as the week goes on. Apparently, the Colonials were very close to being a #14 seed, for what it’s worth. Also of interest: RMU head coach Mike Rice is plugged into the Jud Heathcote coaching tree. Most recently, Rice was an assistant to Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh, before taking over as head coach at Robert Morris two years ago.