Fordham takes the court for their third game of the season tonight, entertaining the Colonials of Robert Morris University inside the Petersen Center in Pittsburgh. To shed some further light on this matchup for the Rams, we enlisted John Templon of Big Apple Buckets, who specializes in coverage of the Northeast Conference, to give us some insight on what lies ahead for Tom Pecora and company.
1) The loss of Lijah Thompson looks like a bigger one on paper than it may be for Robert Morris. How have they replaced him early, and what will be the biggest key to victory against a deeper Fordham front line that will include two freshmen in Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard?
Robert Morris has replaced Thompson by playing younger players. Vaughn Morgan is playing big minutes as a junior. He's joined in the front court by Mike McFadden and the athletic Lucky Jones. Freshman Stephan Hawkins is coming off the bench and is another body at 6'9".
2) At 6-5, Lucky Jones is a lot smaller than some other wings he'll be facing in the nonconference schedule, but he definitely has the length and athleticism to stay with them for 40 minutes. What will he need to do to prevent Chris Gaston from going for his usual double-double?
I really doubt it's going to be Jones on Gaston. He'll probably end up with McFadden or Morgan on him as they're more traditional posts. Jones looked really good during the summer and was expected to have a breakout season as a sophomore, but he's struggled a little early going 2-8 in both games and scoring a total of 15 points. He needs to trust his athleticism. It's obvious that he can make plays. Jones has particularly struggled from the three-point line, going 2-9 in the first two games.
3) This team was picked as a possible NEC champion after the incident at LIU Brooklyn was dealt with, but they have struggled early in games that they have been competitive in over recent years. What is the biggest challenge that Fordham presents, and how will Robert Morris combat it?
Andy Toole was obviously frustrated after the Lehigh game when he said, "We've wasted too much time the last 8 weeks, and this is what happens. We're learning is it takes everyone on every possession." I think the fact that RMU gets to play on back-to-back nights is really helpful in this case, as the Colonials can't dwell on another sub-par game. The big problem though is defense. RMU just isn't playing at the level defensively that they need to in order to win games. Thankfully, Fordham's anemic offense might be helpful in that regard. I think the biggest problem Fordham brings is the pace at which the Rams want to play. This was a problem against Rider. RMU isn't equipped to run up and down the court with teams. It needs to dictate pace, take good shots and get back defensively.
4) The Colonials return everyone except Lawrence Bridges to a program that has been to four straight conference championship games, so they definitely have the experience edge on Fordham. How has this program remained successful, even after the transition from Mike Rice to Andy Toole?
Quite simply, Andy Toole is one of the best young coaches in America. The defense is always in the top 140 or so in the country thanks to an ability to force turnovers and the offense thrives on offensive rebounding. That's where the loss of Thompson hurts though. Still, even through two blowouts RMU is rebounding the ball well. The Colonials just aren't forcing turnovers with enough regularity. I expect their defense will start locking down moving forward.
5) What has been the most surprising part of Robert Morris' 0-2 start? For a team that has lost by 25 and 29 in their first two games, is this Fordham matchup a must-win, and what must they do to prevent Fordham from pulling away?
If Robert Morris loses this game the Colonials could be 0-6 heading into their game at Campbell. Thus I think from a confidence standpoint this is basically a must-win type of atmosphere. RMU needs to prove that it can play winning basketball and turn the season around. Past results indicate that RMU is the better team, but can they get it done when the lights go on? That's been the problem this season.