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Robert Morris Basketball: Raising the Bar

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After a disappointing loss in the semifinals in last year’s Northeast Conference Tournament resulted in one of greatest wins in program history—the Colonials opening round defeat of Kentucky in the NIT—Robert Morris is looking to make another journey back into the NCAA Tournament.

Under Andrew Toole, the youngest coach in Division I at 32, the Colonials limited opponents to 0.99 points per possession last year, good enough to rank first in the conference. Robert Morris also boasted one of the most productive offensive units in the NEC, ranking fifth in points per game. It’s not as if the team is new to such success, either, as the 141-67 record it has posted over the last six seasons serves as a school and conference record.

The biggest key for Robert Morris in its attempt to capture an 11th regular-season NEC title will likely be the chemistry between a remodeled starting lineup, as well as the ability for newcomers to have an immediate impact.

Three of the five regulars from last year are no longer on the roster. Missing from the lineup are point guard Velton Jones, a fifth-senior in 2012-13 who garnered much recognition for his command of the court; forward Russell Johnson, whose versatility will likely be missed after his eligibility expired following last season; and shooting guard Coron Williams, who was one of the Colonials’ most productive outside shooters but now plays for Wake Forest as a post-graduate athlete.

Jones was, in essence, the general of the court, whereas Johnson and Williams each made a significant impact in certain areas of the game, with the latter draining 42.3 percent of his 3-point shots in his four-years with the team.

Toole and his staff were able to lure a handful of promising junior college players onto the squad, and three returning veterans seem to make for a sturdy centerpiece.

The most notable additions to the team are Charles Oliver, a JUCO transfer who overcame a so-so outing at Rider with a productive stint at Lakeland College; Aaron Tate, a former Dodge City Community College standout who lacks size but appears to be an ideal fit at power forward; and Desjuan Newton, who helped lead Central Arizona College to a 28-4 record as a sophomore.

If Oliver is able to translate his skill set to the Colonials’ lineup, the departure of Coron Williams may very well prove to be less of a hurdle than expected. Of course, losing one of the team’s most prolific players on the outside is not to be overlooked, but Oliver could make a noticeable difference for Robert Morris’ offense. After averaging 19.3 points per game while converting 44.9 percent of his 3-point shots for Lakeland, he could develop into a vital piece of the Colonials’ rebuilt lineup.

The same can be said about both Tate and Newton. At only 6-5, the former already lacks some of the physical dominance that was sometimes displayed by the likes of Johnson, but Tate appears to have more than enough toughness to hold down a spot, and could also be a key rotational player at small forward during rebounding situations. Newton, on the other hand, gives Robert Morris a boost of athleticism and figures to have an immediate role among the team’s shooting corps.

The trio of additions to Robert Morris’ lineup isn’t the only promising aspect, however, as the two returning starters, forwards Lucky Jones and Mike McFadden, could serve as solid building blocks on the court. As a sophomore last year, Jones posted a team-high 6.0 rebounds per game and seems primed to step into the spotlight as a veteran starter, whereas the 6-8 McFadden has demonstrated an invaluable sense of reliability and consistency as an inside shooter and defender.

Senior Karvel Anderson, who added points in bunches off the bench a year ago, is likely to see a boost in playing time as part of the new starting lineup.

Robert Morris BasketballAnother important piece could be senior Anthony Myers-Pate, who figures to see a larger role in 2013-14 without the presence of Jones. Last year, he notched an average of 2.8 assists per game.

The Colonials also welcome freshmen Kavon Steweart, Britton Lee and Jeremiah Worthem to the program.

If their recent success is any indication of RMU's ability to come together and take advantage of their potential, the new faces and returning pieces could very well be more than enough for another cruise atop the NEC.

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