When you have just one win on the season as the calendar rolls over to December, not a lot has gone right for your team. After tonight's loss to the Youngstown St. Penguins, head coach of the Robert Morris Colonials Andy Toole said, "Our guys can't grasp that each possession in the game is important. One or two plays can be the difference between a win and a loss."
That of course applies to both ends of the floor, but for this article, let's stick with the offensive end. For starters, Robert Morris is still one of the best two teams in the NEC, that hasn't changed. As the talent margin shrinks in conference play, some of their shortcomings won't be as glaring or come back to haunt them to the degree they are now.
But no team should rest on their laurels. To that end, there is one issue that could rear its ugly head again if its not corrected - closing games.
If you've watched the Colonials play this season, you know the above quote by Toole applies to a lot of possessions, but none more glaring than at the end of the two or three close games (within a possession or two at the end) they've been in. There's been a few variations, but all with the same result - a loss.
Junior point guard Kavon Stewart is one of the quickest players in the NEC. He can live at the rim in stretches and occasionally draw fouls. However, he is shooting just 31.6% at the rim and takes nearly half (47.5%) of his attempts there. Couple that with the fact that he is strictly a left-handed "finisher", and the numbers suggest he's not going to deliver on a consistent basis.
I a firm believer that getting to the free throw line is indeed creating offense. Granted, making every other free throw isn't necessarily beneficial. The point is Stewart can get to the charity stripe, but entering the game tonight he has attempted just four free throws in his last 105 minutes on the floor (all four came against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles). That's hardly something I'd hang my hat on.
RMU has also tried to ride the hot hand of senior guard Rodney Pryor. That's not a bad plan considering he's one of the best two or three players in the conference and is capable of heating up at a moments notice. The problem is the team gives him the ball and then the other four players stand around and hope Pryor scores; hence, the name of the article.
Short of the last play Robert Morris ran against the Penn Quakers, their offense has consisted of every player standing around waiting for their chance to hoist a contested shot, usually a three-pointer. There is little structure to what goes on, and I highly doubt that's what Toole is communicating in the huddles.
This brings me to something I've been saying all season: The Colonials don't have a creator of offense. Admittedly, this is a broad term, but it's not overly complex. Can someone "bring something into existence" when the offense is stagnant?
When it comes to Pryor, it's probably a jumper. If the defender closes too hard trying to play catch-up or is undisciplined, Pryor can put the ball on the floor and is a very good finisher at the rim. But, if his defender remains disciplined and can slide for a stride or two, Pryor is severely limited in his options. In fact, he's likely to travel with his left-to-right motion that he uses to set up his jumper.
Stewart's best chance of creating is by getting to the foul line. But the way he draws fouls is far more dependent on the referees interpretation than most.
Look, at an individual level, every player can create under the right circumstances. That doesn't mean they are creators, or even that they can create beyond a moment here and there. If someone could shoot but they don't, would you label them a shooter? If someone could defend, but doesn't, would you put them on the best player on the opposite team? Being a creator is something you do, not something you may do if a defender leaves his feet (Pryor) or a ref is feeling generous (Stewart).
In truth, none of that should actually matter. Activity without the ball, setting screens, and not settling for contested three-point jumpers would eliminate the need to have someone breakdown the defense by themselves when nothing else is happening. I brought that point up because the Robert Morris players are hoping their one-on-one abilities will win them close games. So far it hasn't.
Will this really matter come January? History suggests that it won't. As I just said, you don't need a genuine creator of offense to win games. The problem the Colonials have is that their late game offense is four guys watching as one guy dribbles or just takes a contested shot.