The Robert Morris Colonials find themselves at 2-5; the worst start under Andy Toole in his five seasons at the helm. It isn't the teams overall record that bothers him. Make no mistake, Toole wants to win every game, and every scrimmage, and every bus ride...you get the point. To Toole, the five losses, at least the ones against other mid-majors, can be largely attributed to his team’s lack of attention to detail and spotty effort, and that's frustrating.
In two home games, the only highlight Toole has talked about during his post-game press conference was when senior guard/forward Lucky Jones dove out of bounds for a loose ball as his team trailed the Lafayette Leopards by over 20 points late in the second half. One positive play in 40 minutes of basketball in your own gym isn't any encouraging sign.
It isn't an encouraging sign that Jones has mentioned more than a few times that the 18 and 19-year-olds on the team don't understand what it takes to win Division I basketball games. Even more discouraging is the fact that Toole spent a portion of his most recent post-game press conference expressing that none of his players are competing to win games.
You'd expect a team that currently has only five returning players from last season to struggle to find their footing while incorporating seven new faces. It would be understandable for a team going through that kind of transition to have defensive miscues - there's been plenty - and their fair share of turnovers on the offensive end. The fact that a majority of those issues, based on Toole's comments, are related to the amount of effort his team is putting forth, that's discouraging.
One might look at that and feel as though the team will turn it around once they start trying more often than not. Others might point out that you simply can't flip a switch, especially given all the new faces. Personally, I can't think of too many teams that were both good but didn't compete hard. Robert Morris doesn't have the same kind of talent that the power conference teams possess, and even those teams have to try. It's hard to imagine a team coached by Toole to not eventually right the ship. But, if no one is willing to pick up a pail, then the ship will sink regardless.
While the lack of effort on the part of RMU players is perhaps the team’s most glaring issue, it isn't the only one. Jones hasn't emerged as the preseason 1st-Team All-NEC player that many believed he would be. He's come off the bench the last two games, and it's not a stretch to think that Toole is sending some kind of message, not just to Jones, but the entire team.
Sophomore point guard Kavon Stewart hasn't shown the ability to drive to his right, finish with his right hand, and is hesitant to take open three-pointers. At one point against the Youngstown St. Penguins, Stewart received a screen to his left side on the right wing. Senior point guard DJ Cole jumped under the screen anticipating Stewart going left before the screen was even set. Had Stewart drove right, he would have gotten to the rim relatively easily. Instead, he tried going left and was met by Cole just a foot or so inside the three-point line.
Those things might pale in comparison to the defensive issues the team has exhibited thus far. The Colonials have been gashed time and time again by players in the high post that can also pass. Robert Morris plays an aggressive 2-3 zone, but the lack of on-ball pressure suggests otherwise. Watch the game against the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds from February 20th and you'll see how important on-ball pressure is for this zone. Jason Brickman carved up the zone in the first half, but was more limited in the second half mostly because he couldn't sit back and survey the defense.
Players have been consistently screened at the top of the zone, something that seldom happened last season. There are miscues when a player dribbles into the seam of the defense on the wing; a player is either able to get dribble penetration or an uncontested pass into the high post or elbow area. Couple that with the fact that they also aren't trying hard, and you have a recipe for disaster on that end of the floor.
While the media members were waiting for the players to arrive to the post-game press conference on Tuesday, we had a fun debate about the usefulness of advanced metrics. You don't need stats to support the fact that RMU simply isn't a very good team right now. Here's the one I found most relevant on Tuesday: junior forward Bobby Hain had 14 rebounds, and at least four or five of them hit the floor at least once before he grabbed it.
The Colonials will more than likely be fine come NEC play. It's hard for me to imagine that Jones won't revert back to the player we've seen over the last few seasons. Stewart is a blur on the court and at some point, he'll put it together. Then again, it isn't the talent or coaching that some are questioning right now, it's the effort. If that doesn't change, a return to the conference championship game seems less likely.