This is Part 1 of what I am striving to create - the Ultimate #2 Villanova / #15 Robert Morris Preview, NCAA Tournament, First Round, South Regional, Providence, Rhode Island. You can read Part 2 of the Robert Morris Preview here.
The Villanova Wildcats enter the game with a record of 24-7, having received an at-large bid, out of the Big East. The Robert Morris Colonials arrive with a record of 23-11, having received the automatic bid, as the tournament champions of the Northeast Conference (NEC).
Part 1 - The Viewpoint on the Robert Morris Colonials
History vs. Villanova - This is the first time the schools have ever met.
NCAA Tournament History - Robert Morris is making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance. Previously, the Colonials received NCAA bids (with seeds in parentheses) in 1982 (#12), 1983 (#12), 1989 (#16), 1990 (#15), 1992 (#16), and 2009 (#15). (Note: prior to the expansion to 64 teams, the lowest possible seed was a #12, which they received in both 1982 and 1983.)
After a 17-year hiatus, the Colonials returned to the NCAA tournament last season, but were defeated by #2 Michigan State (the eventual national runner-up), 77-62. 2010 marks the second consecutive Robert Morris appearance in the NCAA tournament, and as was the case last year, the Colonials were seeded #15.
Despite half a dozen previous appearances, Robert Morris has only won a single NCAA tournament game, giving them a 1-6 record in tournament play. Moreover, the Colonials have never defeated an opponent, other than another low seed. The sole victory came back in 1983 - two years before the tournament expanded to 64 teams, in which Villanova - of course - won the championship! In 1983, the Colonials defeated Georgia Southern in the opening round (the "play-in" game, in which Georgia Southern was another #12).
2009-10 Season - 23-11 overall, 15-3 NEC (tied for first place, with Quinnipiac, in a conference with a dozen teams).
The Colonials shared the regular-season title with Quinnipiac, as they both finished 15-3. However, Quinnipiac received the top seed in the NEC tournament, by virtue of its victory over Robert Morris, in their sole regular-season meeting, on February 20. Thus, Robert Morris received the #2 seed.
However, the two regular-season co-champions met in the NEC tournament final, and Robert Morris avenged its February defeat. On March 10, the Colonials won a nail-biter, 52-50, over their rival, and claimed the automatic bid. The seven NCAA automatic bids are a NEC record, for any member school.
Analysis of 2009-10 Schedule and Results
This season did not get off to a good start for Robert Morris. They began the season 1-4, and the only opponent against whom they were hopelessly overmatched, was Syracuse. In the Colonials' season opener, the Orange, ranked #25 at the time, annihilated them, 100-60, at the Carrier Dome, on November 11 (Veterans' Day).
However, Robert Morris also lost @ Penn State by 19 points, before playing in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Albany, New York. They lost to Detroit Mercy by 12, crushed Alcorn State, 107-76, and then lost to the host, Albany, by 5. By the end of November, they were just 1-4.
After an initial improvement, the Colonials began to sink back into the mire. They defeated Mount St. Mary's and Wagner, by single-digit margins - and so were back to 3-4. But Robert Morris then lost three of its next four - @ Duquesne (a cross-town rival in Pittsburgh), @ Cleveland State, and two home games to Appalachian State and Kent State. At Christmas, Robert Morris was just 4-7.
It is likely, that after a 4-7 start, that Colonials fans were not particularly optimistic about their likelihood of returning to the NCAA tournament.
But then, the ship was righted. In its final game of 2009, Robert Morris won @ Youngstown State, 72-67. In January, they closed out their nonconference schedule, with a pair of home victories, both narrow, over NCAA tournament-bound teams: Ohio University (by two points) and Morgan State. So, Robert Morris entered NEC play with a 7-7 mark.
January/February 2010- NEC Schedule (plus Pittsburgh)
The NEC opener was a setback, losing @ Long Island by 10. But after that opening loss, Robert Morris took off like a rocket. The Colonials, after starting 7-8 overall, ripped off nine consecutive victories in NEC play, as their record soared to 9-1 NEC, 16-8 overall. They swept home-and-homes with St. Francis (NY), St. Francis (PA), Fairleigh Dickinson, and Monmouth. And they also avenged the loss @ Long Island, by defeating the Blackbirds at home, 66-58. (Note: #4 Villanova defeated #13 Long Island, the NEC champions, in the first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament, in Winston-Salem, NC - Wake Forest was the host.)
Robert Morris's nine-game overall winning streak was snapped by a game at another cross-town rival, then-#25 Pittsburgh, and the host Panthers pulverized them, 77-53. But they shrugged off the loss well enough, winning three more NEC contests: @ Central Connecticut State, @ Bryant, and visiting Sacred Heart. Their record was now 12-1 NEC, 19-9 overall.
The big showdown game was their sole meeting with Quinnipiac, the other power. Despite the fact that the game was at Robert Morris, the visiting Bobcats won 87-79, and took the lead for the regular-season title. Robert Morris's final two were @ Wagner (a win) and @ Mount St. Mary's (a loss). They wound up 15-3 in the NEC, regular-season co-champions, and 20-11 overall.
The NEC tournament was one of the first to get under way, back on March 4. The #2-seeded Colonials had received a bye, and prevailed over #7 Central Connecticut State in the quarterfinals. They had no trouble with #3 Mount St. Mary's in their third meeting of the year, breezing 80-62. So it was another showdown with Quinnipiac, for the NEC championship and the automatic bid. And Quinnipiac had the right to host the game, as the top seed. But the Colonials edged the Bobcats, 52-50, to return to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.
So what does their 23-11 overall record, 129 RPI rank, regular-season NEC co-championship, and NEC tournament championship tell us about Robert Morris?
According to the outstanding site, CollegeRPI.com, Robert Morris had a final RPI rank of 129. (To put that in context, Villanova had a RPI rank of 11.) Their strength-of-schedule ranked just 258. However, to put that in context, Quinnipiac - which played in the same conference with a virtually identical record, both in conference play and overall - had a strength-of-schedule of 324, and an RPI of 147.
By the standards of whom a NEC team has the chance to play, Robert Morris actually had a pretty tough nonconference schedule. (Please bear in mind that little schools only get to play big schools when they agree to play on the road, or on the neutral court of a holiday tournament.)
They had games @ two Big East powers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh; they had a loss @ Penn State, albeit a terrible team, in the Big Ten. They had home victories against Ohio University, which qualified for the tournament as a #14 seed, and Morgan State, a #15 seed. They have a good home loss against Kent State: although the Golden Flashes did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, they were a bubble team with a RPI of 47 and a 22-9 record.
However, as is the case with all low-major teams, there are some wins on their schedule that are of no value whatsoever. (This was not Robert Morris's fault, as they have to play all their conference opponents, obviously.) They had a 10-point win @ Bryant, which ranked 346 out of 347 teams in Division I, and which finished the season, 1-29. (The Colonials only won this game by 10, too.)
They own two wins over Wagner, which was 331 in RPI and 5-26 overall. The home game against Wagner was actually close - Robert Morris won by just three points! They did better in the game @ Wagner, winning by 21.
They have two wins over Central Connecticut State (309 RPI, 12-18): one on the road and one at home in the NEC tournament. Both wins were in the high single digits. The first win was by just nine points, the second by just eight.
The Coaches vs. Cancer tournament brought them a win over Alcorn State, which was just a shade above Bryant - a RPI of 344 and a 2-29 record. However, Robert Morris at least won that game by 31 points.
Robert Morris swept St. Francis (NY) (294 RPI, 11-18 overall). In the game @ St. Francis (NY), the Colonials won by just four points; however, in the home contest, the Colonials won easily, by 18.
Let's consider the other St. Francis - St. Francis (PA), which are both in the NEC. In an interesting arrangement, they played each other twice in three days - February 4 and 6. On February 4, @ St. Francis (PA), the Red Flashes (287, 11-19 overall) lost by just nine; two days later, @ Robert Morris, it was a dozen-point victory for the Colonials.
Robert Morris played Fairleigh Dickinson (270 RPI, 11-21 overall) twice in seven days: the home game was actually pretty close, with the Black Knights falling by just seven. The game @ FDU was a 15-point victory for the Colonials.
Out of conference, Robert Morris had a narrow victory @ Youngstown State (271 RPI, 6-22 overall).
Albany (300 RPI, 7-25 overall) was the host of Coaches vs. Cancer. On December 22, Robert Morris lost to them by five.
So, here's my analysis of what this schedule and results tell us...
When Robert Morris played elite teams - which they did only twice - they were crushed, by both Syracuse and Pittsburgh, on the road. This is to be expected; NEC vs. Big East isn't a fair fight, especially on the Big East team's home court. However, although Kent State isn't a Big East-caliber team, the victory over them was a big coup, though.
What's intriguing to me, is how well the Colonials did, against teams that were roughly equivalent to them, and were fairly evenly matched: neutral court loss to Detroit Mercy (167); win @ Cleveland State (165), loss @ cross-town rival Duquesne (114), and road loss to Penn State (194 RPI, 11-20 overall).
Penn State is sort of an anomaly, as even though Robert Morris had a far superior record and RPI, it was still NEC vs. Big Ten, and it was on the road. The fact that it was a 19-point loss, however, is surprising.
This concludes Part 1. Next up - Part 2 - Breaking Down the Robert Morris Colonials...