Unfortunately, so much of my life has centered around being a New York sports fan. And not the good side of New York sports. We’re talking years of ineptitude from the Mets, a decade of filth from the Jets and a lifetime of delusion from the Knicks.
I start a post about the Robert Morris basketball team this way to try and let you know I can see a season falling apart from a mile away, and this Robert Morris season is on the verge of unraveling this upcoming weekend at Wright State.
The Colonials, now losers of their last four, are on the verge of a rare losing season under 11th year coach Andy Toole, the winningest coach in the history of the program.
The program has had losing seasons before. In fact, since a 2015 conference title in the NEC, the Colonials have had losing seasons in three of their last five seasons. But in two of those seasons – 2017 and 2018 – Robert Morris finished the season hot, climbing to .500 conference records and won road quarterfinal contests in the conference tournament.
It was 2016 when the Colonials posted their worst mark under Toole, a 10-22 marathon season that featured the lone time Robert Morris was bumped from the conference tournament in the first round under the current head coach. Ironically, that season also followed a conference title.
The parallels between that team and this team are few and far between. The 2016 team was a mix of great talent but little depth and absolutely zero ability to put the ball in the basket.
I would argue that this year’s team has more talent, led by AJ Bramah, who is playing at a level unmatched by any player in the Toole era. Throw in Dante Treacy, last year’s NEC tournament MVP, Jon Williams, Bucknell transfer Khaliel Spear and three talented freshmen making up the backcourt rotation, and you have a team that could theoretically compete at a high level, even in the Horizon League.
But the pieces just aren’t fitting together. The biggest difference between 2016 and now is, obviously, COVID-19 and the protocols that come with it. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but three COVID shutdowns has severely hurt the team’s chances of forming cohesion, developing an identity, finding consistency and allowing for progression from talented but inexperienced players that naturally takes course during a typical season.
We’re now days away from February and the Colonials sit at 3-7 overall on the season. Last year, RMU completed its tenth game on December 4. The team is almost two months behind schedule. That shouldn’t be misconstrued as an excuse. It’s just the reality of RMU’s situation. Ten games going into February is hardly enough time to play consistent basketball
Last season, RMU opened the season 2-8 with wins against Howard (one of the worst programs in the country) and Geneva, a non-Division I program. It was hardly a start to feel good about.
RMU finished the season 18-6, compiling a 20-win season for the fifth time in 10 years.
This year’s team isn’t going to get that opportunity to straighten out its season. It has to happen right here, right now at Wright State, arguably the most talented team in the conference. It’ll take a high level of play for a full 40 minutes to accomplish such a task, something RMU has struggled with across the season, but especially on its four-game losing streak.
Consider this: Robert Morris has outscored all but one opponent (Bowling Green) in the final 10 minutes of games this season. In the second game against Northern Kentucky last Saturday, the Colonials held a 26-16 advantage in the first 10 minutes and, generally, are keeping games competitive and avoiding large deficits.
It’s the details that seem to escape the Colonials in the middle 20 of contests. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, Robert Morris has been outscored by an average of eight points during its four-game losing streak.
“We battled, but we have to be more detailed and make the plays,” Toole said following Friday’s five-point loss at Northern Kentucky.
“We struggle with some of the details,” Toole added following Saturday’s overtime loss. “When we don’t stay locked in on the details, bad things happen for us.”
Details, details, details. It’s a maddening season given the talent of the roster – but again, is it fair to judge a team that’s played 10 games in two months of action? It probably isn’t, but judgement is coming either way, fair or not. The expectations for this team were high thanks to a conference title last season and the return of Bramah, Treacy and Williams.
And again, fair or not fair, there are simply more eyes on you when you enter a new conference. It would have felt good to make a better first impression to the Horizon League. Robert Morris still has the opportunity to turn things around, and there’s no better time to do so against the top dogs in the conference playing three consecutive weeks of basketball for the first time in a calendar year.