Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Ultimate #2 Villanova / #15 Robert Morris Preview, NCAA Tournament, First Round, South Regional, Providence, RI - Part 2

To the Wildcat faithful-

In Part 2 of the Robert Morris Preview, I'm going to break down the Robert Morris Colonials, and what we may be able to expect in the game today.  You can read Part 1 of the Robert Morris Preview by clicking here.

The game will tip off at 12:30 PM, as we have the honor of being one of the first games of the tournament to get things under way.  I was pleased to learn that calling the game for CBS, from the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, RI, will be Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery.  ("Send it in!")

The Philadelphia Connections

There are a surprisingly large number of connections, between Greater Philadelphia, and the Robert Morris Colonials.  Chief among them:
  • Head coach Mike Rice, although from Pittsburgh, was an assistant coach from 2004-06 at St. Joseph's University, under Phil Martelli.
  • One of Martelli's sons, Jimmy, is now in his third season as an assistant to Rice, after playing for Dickinson from 2001-05.
  • Assistant coach Andrew Toole played three seasons at the University of Pennsylvania, under Fran Dunphy, now the coach at Temple.
  • Sophomore guard Velton Jones is from Philadelphia, having played at soon-to-be-closed North Catholic High School, in Northeast Philadelphia.
  • Sophomore forward Russell Johnson is from Chester, PA, having played at Chester High.
  • Junior guard Khalif Foster is from Philadelphia, having played at the Academy of the New Church in Montgomery County.
  • Freshman forward Lijah Thompson is also from Philadelphia, having played at Monsignor Bonner in Drexel Hill, PA.
  • Senior forward Dallas Green - although from Indianapolis, IN - shares his name with the legendary Philadelphia Phillies manager who led the team to its first world championship back in 1980 (well before the Colonial player was even born).
With so many Philadelphia ties on the coaching staff, it's easy to see how Philadelphia players represent a disproportionate share of the recruited players.  I actually had written this section, before I saw this piece by jhulax22 of The Nova Blog.... but check out their version on the many Philadelphia connections...

The Robert Morris Colonials Starters, in Order of My Perception of Their Importance

# 4 Karon Abraham, 5-9, Freshman, Combo Guard, But Primarily Shooting Guard

Robert Morris returned three starters from the team that won last year's NEC tournament championship and went to the NCAA tournament.

Accordingly, prior to the season, Rice was not anticipating that a 5-9 freshman such as Abraham, would be leading the Colonials in the following categories:
  • points/game (13.4);
  • field goal attempts (294);
  • three-point field goals (80), attempts (181), and percentage (44.2%)
  • free throws (122), free throw attempts (143) and percentage (85.3% - and in this latter category, he leads the NEC).
But Abraham has done so.  Compare the numbers above, with the official quote Rice gave on Abraham, in the Robert Morris media guide:
"Physically, Karon is ready to come in and play right away because of how quick and athletic he is and because he'll bring a change of pace.  He'll come off the bench and provide an instant spark.  He'll play a little bit at point guard, but mostly he'll see time at the two guard.  He really has the ability to create his own shot because of his speed.  He can be isolated on the wing and create a high percentage shot for himself.  He needs to be a sponge and continue to improve, but I think he could be successful in our program."
Rice was prophetic: Abraham has been more than successful in the Robert Morris program.  Instead of the sixth man, coming off the bench for offensive sparks, he's arguably the best player on the team.  Of the team's 34 games, Abraham has started 23, and he's second on the team in minutes with 26.6/game.  

Abraham's accolades include a unanimous selection as NEC Rookie of the Year, and was MVP of the NEC tournament.  During Robert Morris's run through the tournament, Abraham averaged 17.7 points, shot 54.5% from the floor, and 50% (8-16) from three-point range.  In the championship against top-seeded Quinnipiac, Abraham scored 16 points to lead the Colonials to victory, with four rebounds and three steals (the four rebounds are particularly good for a 5-9 player)

After Robert Morris got off to a 4-7 start, Rice inserted Abraham into the starting lineup for the first time.  Since then, the Colonials have gone 19-4.  Although the 4-7 record was against tougher, non-NEC competition, for the most part, the sudden soaring was not a coincidence.

How Jay Wright Will React: Senior Reggie Redding, who at 6-3 has a considerable height and experience advantage, usually draws the assignment of guarding the opponent's best player.  Let's expect to see him on #4.  Also, due to Abraham's size, he could be guarded by Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, or even Maalik Wayns.  Wright may decide to just use waves of fresh defenders on Abraham.

# 2 Mezie Nwigwe (6-4 Senior) - Shooting Guard(Pronounced Mez-e-A new-WIG-way) 

Nwigwe is a savvy senior, and a stout defender - he was named NEC Defensive Player of the Year, and is second on the team in steals with 44.  His role will be to stop Reynolds and Corey Fisher from filling it up from the outside.  He averages 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds/game, and can hoist a three every once in a while (19-55, 34.5%).  At 74.3%, he is a superb free throw shooter.  (He actually is very similar to Redding.)

Nwigwe came off the bench for his first three seasons at Robert Morris, but has started all but one game this year, averaging 26.7 minutes/game.  According to the media guide:
Scoring guard with the ability to take the ball to the basket in a variety of ways... Also has the ability to knock down the mid-range and long jumpers... Arguably the most physically-gifted athlete on the Robert Morris roster...Became a playmaker... consistently finding the open man.
# 1 Rob Robinson (6-8 Senior) - Power Forward - 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds per game, 22 blocks

Robinson has started every game this season, and is Rice's main option in the paint.  Robinson has been named All-NEC second team for the second straight season, and was named to the NEC All-Tournament Team as a junior.  (As a junior college transfer, he has been at Robert Morris for just two seasons.)  He's the team's top rebounder, and second-leading scorer.  However, he has two considerable weaknesses: foul trouble and the foul line.

Robinson committed 106 fouls in the 33 games in which he played, over 3.2 per contest, and he plays just 26.2 minutes/game, probably for that reason.  He's fouled out of seven games.  In addition, he is a dreadful free throw shooter - he made just 38.7% of his attempts.  This is a significant decline from his junior year, when he shot 50%.  With Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton each bringing five fouls to the table, Robinson may be fouled a lot.  But primarily, the task of neutralizing him will fall to Antonio Pena.

The Robert Morris media guide on Robinson:

Length continually poses problems for opponents in the paint... Possesses an uncanny ability to block shots... Extremely active on the glass on both ends of the floor... One of the most magnificent dunkers in school history... A natural scorer with his back to the basket and a solid passer for his position.
# 3 Velton Jones (6-0 Redshirt Freshman), Point Guard, 8.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 97 assists, 81 turnovers, 50 steals. 

Jones has started 29 games this season at the point, averaging 24.8 minutes/game, while leading the team in assists and steals.  For a point guard, he is a poor free throw shooter, making just 58.3% of his attempts.  He is also an inaccurate perimeter shooter, converting just 27.9% of his triples.  Villanova will likely leave him uncovered beyond the arc, and dare him to start dropping threes.  A partial qualifier, he practiced with the team last season but could not participate in games, retaining four years of eligibility.

The Robert Morris media guide quotes Rice, describing the Philadelphian:
"The one thing we've lacked we have in Velton Jones, and that's a pure point guard who penetrates to pass... Velton is an aggressive penetrator who has an ability to create shots for others..." 
In his player profile, the media guide states further that Jones "is not afraid to take the open shot", which may account for the poor three-point shooting percentage. 

#24 Dallas Green (6-8 Senior) Forward - 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds per game. 

Green heated up in the NEC tournament, averaging 10 points and 4.3 rebounds, in the three Robert Morris victories.

Rice describes Green, thus:
"Dallas is the ultimate glue guy.  He's really comfortable with the role he plays.  He knows where to get his shots and where to get his rebounds.  He's a guy who understands how we want to play basketball at both ends of the floor, and he's a big reason why we've been successful the last two years [now three years].  Dallas thrives in his role, and he does so in a very efficient manner."
Off the bench, Rice has some options: 6-6 redshirt freshman forward Russell Johnson (the Chester native); 6-3 junior guard Gary Wallace, and 6-8 senior forward Josiah Whitehead.  It appears that Robert Morris largely uses an eight-man rotation. 

How Villanova Could Lose to Robert Morris 

It's no secret that the Wildcats stumbled badly down the stretch.  Of course, Villanova is bigger, deeper, and more talented than Robert Morris.  The Wildcats are comparable to Big East rivals Syracuse and Pitt, both of which crushed the Colonials on their home floors.  But this isn't the Pavilion; this is a neutral court in Providence, Rhode Island, and while there will be some of the 'Nova Nation there, there will also be a lot of the crowd rooting for the #15 seed.  (The Wildcats do have the advantage of being familiar with the Dunkin' Donuts Center, the home of Big East rival Providence.)

Robert Morris takes a lot of free throws, and if the Wildcats continue to foul recklessly, and give the Colonials many opportunities for free points, they could stay in it.

In addition, Rice preaches defense above all else.  Robert Morris averages 68.5 points/game, while giving up 65.7; the Wildcats average 82.5 points/game, while yielding 72.9 points.  Robert Morris, like most underdogs, will try to shorten the game, hold the ball for long possessions, and try to get fouled.  In contrast, Villanova will try to press and trap, get baskets in transition, and try to get a big lead early.  (Robert Morris has not come back from any deficit larger than 10 points, all season; if Villanova can take a commanding lead in the first half, it may deflate morale.)

I continue to add this to this preview, so please check back for more content...

Don't forget to fill out your brackets, before the deadline closes this morning.

Go Wildcats!

E-mail: villanova.viewpoint-at-yahoo-dot-com

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