Basketball preview: Depth, experience could make Robert Morris men contender
Robert Morris’ season actually started in August when coach Andy Toole took his team on a trip to Ireland.
Not only was it a chance to play basketball and do some sightseeing — the Colonials defeated three opponents, toured the Guinness Storehouse and visited Croke Park — but it was a bonding experience that might help the development of a team that already returns four starters.
Coach Andy Toole, who is in his ninth season as coach, has a unique blend of youth and experience on his roster, with sophomores Jon Wiliams, Charles Bain and Koby Thomas — all returning starters — and senior guard Matty McConnell, a Chartiers Valley graduate.
McConnell, 6-foot-2, averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds last season while finishing second in the Northeast Conference in steals (two per game).
Depth looks good, too. Thomas, 6-6, 190, is not a lock to open the season in the starting lineup, even after averaging 12 points and 6.9 rebounds and being named Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year last season.
Toole likes to frontload his schedule with difficult opponents. Robert Morris opens Tuesday night at USC in the National College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic before visiting Purdue and Louisville on Nov. 23 and Dec. 21.
Robert Morris was picked to finish fifth in a preseason poll of NEC coaches.
Three players to watch
Matty McConnell: He has played in 94 games with 85 starts, so his leadership will be important as the young players continue to grow. He is the school’s active career leader in points (784), assists (204) and steals (175). Plus, he finished sixth in the NEC in free-throw percentage (79.6) last season.
Jon Williams: A 6-1 guard, he started all 33 games last season, setting a school freshman record for starts while averaging 6.7 points and 3.5 assists. He’s a threat beyond the arc, ranking fifth in the NEC in three-point field goal percentage (.433) last season.
Josh Williams: Jon’s brother played for Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot at Akron before transferring to Robert Morris. He played in 69 career games (13 starts) with the Zips, averaging 7.1 points and 2.2 rebounds per game while shooting 39.5 percent (162-for-410) from the field, including 38.6 percent (127-for-329) from beyond the arc.
The season will be a success if …
The growing pains that led to a 16-17 season in 2017-18 are gone.
The season will be a flop if …
The Colonials are not worn out from travel during the 13-game nonconference schedule. Robert Morris visits eight states, including California and Florida, before settling into NEC play.
18-13 overall, 10-8 NEC
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.