Thus far, Robert Morris' 2013-14 season has been something of a worst-case-scenario for a team breaking in seven new players. The team has struggled for long stretches, ones mired by inconsistent play and uncharacteristic mistakes. In all, it has added up to a 3-5 record, the program's worst eight-game start since 2010, and a six-game stretch in which the Colonials have lost five of those games.
Blame can be difficult to assign sometimes, but in this instance, there are a few reasons why the team has been struggling so far.
1. They're not playing very good defense
Since the time Mike Rice took over as the Colonials' coach, Robert Morris as a program has prided itself on defense. It's been one of its defining characteristics and, most importantly, it was a major factor in the team's recent period of success.
Perhaps that is what has made the team's early struggles on defense so puzzling. Robert Morris has allowed 79.8 points per game so far this season, over 10 points more than what they had allowed per game through its first eight games of last season (68.3). Obviously, scoring is up nationally -- largely because of more trips to the free throw line under the new foul rules -- but the trend goes much deeper than per game averages.
In six of the team's first eight games, it has allowed its opponent to average more than one point per possession. Generally speaking, one point per possession is kind of a litmus test for a team's defense -- if you're giving up less than that, you're doing alright, but if you're allowing more, then there are some problems.
And it's not even like the team is barely giving up more than one point per possession -- it's significantly more. In five of the six games where they allowed more than one point per possession, the Colonials gave up more than 1.10. For the sake of comparison, that happened just nine times to them all of last season.
It's tricky to say one thing in particular is the cause of a team's struggles, but this makes up for more than a fair majority of Robert Morris' early shortcomings.
2. They're not making shots -- particularly on 2-pointers
Obviously, if you can't make shots, it's awfully hard to win, something that Robert Morris has learned over this stretch. Here are the team's following performances from both the field and 3-point range in their past six games:
|Opponent||FG percentage||3-point percentage|
The italicized text is from the Texas-Arlington game, the team's lone win in that span. It might also be smart to not put much stock in the team's worst performance in that span -- the 87-49 loss to Kentucky. The Colonials obviously did not play well in that loss, but it was against a clearly superior opponent.
Obviously, one of those performances is not like the other -- the game in which Robert Morris happened to win. The numbers from the Delaware loss are encouraging, but they also allowed the Blue Hens to shoot about 52 percent in that game.
Another alarming trend comes from their 2-point shooting percentage. I've spent some time discussing how Robert Morris can be a one-dimensional team -- living beyond the 3-point arc -- but even last season, when over a third of the team's points came from 3s, it still made 46.7 percent of its 2s. Now, that number is down to 41.9, ranking it 323rd among 351 Division I teams.
3. They're letting opponents get to the line too much
This ties back in with the defensive woes a little bit, as well as the new foul rules, but Robert Morris has been significantly outshot on free throws this season. In all but one of their games (the season opener against Savannah State), the other team attempted more free throws than the Colonials. Overall, their opponents have had 288 free throw attempts compared to just 210 for RMU.
The disparity can be tied back to a few things. One, teams are shooting a whole lot more free throws this season than last (obviously), but for Robert Morris' sake, its lack of trips to the free throw line is more than likely a product of a team that's just not attacking the basket enough. Only 44.9 percent of its points have come from 2-pointers, generally where you draw fouls, a number that puts it among the bottom 50 DI teams.
4. They're figuring things out
This is one of those obvious, catch-all sort of categories since six of the players on Robert Morris' roster are in their first year of Division I basketball (Chuck Oliver's a junior-college transfer, but he played one season at Rider). When you talk to Andy Toole and he mentions things like a lack of consistent effort, that's the sign of a group that is still adjusting to certain things and it's shown. Yes, teams have to figure it out at a certain point, but for now, it just may be taking longer than expected.
One doesn't have to look much further than some of the team's offensive numbers. The team's leader in percentage of possessions used is Mike McFadden, meaning that the Robert Morris player who has the ball in his hands the most when he is on the court, a category normally dominated by guards, is a 6-8 forward.
Eight games is far enough in the season for legitimate concerns to arise for Robert Morris fans, but there's still a lot of basketball to be played. The team has struggled in numerous aspects of the game, shortcomings that are impossible to ignore, but it will be interesting to see if those continue. If so, this team could potentially be staring at its worst season in some time.