Pregame Thoughts: Robert Morris at Providence

Written by Craig Meyer on .

We’re in the afternoon of what could be the last Robert Morris game of the 2012-13 season, so what better way to prepare for the Colonials’ matchup at Providence than with a few pregame notes and analysis?

*** John Calipari uses the phrase “the other team’s Super Bowl” a lot when talking about matchups his Kentucky team faces throughout the season and in a lot of cases, it reeks of arrogance to me. Against Robert Morris, however, it was a very apt comparison.

That game, win or lose, would have been the biggest in program history and now that the Colonials won, it’s on them to try to prepare for their next game accordingly. As was evidenced in the win over the Wildcats, the team put almost everything they had into that game. How do you move on from that, both physically and mentally?

For what it’s worth, it seems like the team is prepared to take on its next challenge, but it can be awfully tough sometimes to stay motivated when you’ve already accomplished more than you could have imagined.

*** After managing to slow down and beat one of the better offensive teams in college basketball, by tempo-free standards, the Colonials now get a team that struggled for much of the season to score. Providence averaged 0.99 points per possession on offense this season. If you’re looking for an NEC comparison with that stat, Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut State both averaged that mark.

When the season ends, I’ll do a big primer on tempo-free and advanced statistics, but when it comes to distinguishing a good offense from a bad one, 1.0 points per possession is usually the threshold.

*** For any Robert Morris fans making the trip up to Providence, I can tell you from personal experience that Friars fans are probably the nicest in the Big East behind Marquette. Syracuse fans are, and will forever be, last on that list.

*** Anyone that followed the Big East knew that Providence was one of those teams that improved as the season went along and really started to hit its stride in the final stretch of play. The Friars have won eight of their last 11 games and though their offense has still struggled in that span of time, they’ve held opponents under one point per possession in eight games in that span.

*** A few guys on the Robert Morris team are banged up – Velton Jones, Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate – but the game against Providence will be the team’s first in six days. The players have gotten plenty of rest and will be ready to go.

*** A quick glance at the Providence statistical leaders shows that Bryce Cotton is a pretty integral part of the Friars’ offense. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this little anecdote about him, just to highlight how far he’s come.

As a native of Louisville, Ky., I’m pretty obsessed with all things college basketball, meaning I routinely visit sites for all the local teams (Louisville, Kentucky, Western Kentucky, et al). About three years ago on the Louisville SB Nation website, Card Chronicle, a young Cardinals fan living in Tucson, Ariz. would routinely post on the website trying to get people to watch videos of his friend who was trying to pick up a Division I scholarship offer. The friend’s name? Bryce Cotton.

This went on for about a month or so, with the poster trying to somehow get the attention of Rick Pitino (or anyone) to give his friend a chance to play. Cotton ended up signing with a junior college in South Florida before catching the eye of then-Providence coach Keno Davis, who gave him the scholarship he’d been longing for.

Now, he’s averaging almost 20 points per game for a power-conference program and made the Big East’s all-conference first team. Pretty remarkable journey.


Bryce Cotton, right, and Vincent Council (Photo: AP)

*** I made a note of this in my game preview in today’s Post-Gazette, but Providence is among the nation’s best teams in 3-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 28.9 percent from beyond the arc, the 7th-best mark among Division I teams.

Once the game tonight ends, Robert Morris will have played three of the top seven teams in the country in that statistical category. Here’s how the Colonials fared against some of the other teams that rank in the top 100 in 3-point percentage defense:

3P%D Rank 3P%D vs .RMU Result
Rider 28.8 3 20.0 Loss
Savannah St. 28.8 4 23.8 Loss
Hampton 30.6 37 37.0 Win
Xavier 32.1 81 37.5 Loss


* Note: The 3-point percentage allowed and subsequent ranks are from the end of the season, not at the time they played.

If there’s one thing that’s maybe deceiving with those numbers, it’s that many of those games happened earlier in the year and, frankly, most NEC teams weren’t very good at defending the three. The best of those teams in the category (St. Francis Brooklyn) allowed Robert Morris to shoot 28.6 percent in their first meeting and 35.5 percent in their second.

*** Personally, I’m a big fan of Friars coach Ed Cooley. He’s got a great personal story as a Providence native and most of all, he’s an excellent coach. In his two years at the school, he’s gone 33-31, turning around a program Davis let decline while bringing in top talent like Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo.

A very telling thing about Cooley: when he was a top assistant at Boston College, the Eagles went 143-52 from 2000-06, winning five NCAA tournament games. After Cooley left and became the head coach at Fairfield, BC went just 72-57 over the next four years, winning only one game in the Big Dance.

People may overlook it sometimes, but a lot of Al Skinner’s success at BC had to do with excellent assistants like Cooley and Bill Coen (now the Northeastern coach).

*** I wasn’t able to fit this into the game preview, but the game between the Friars and Colonials will sport two of the top five players in DI in assist rate against one another – Vincent Council (fifth) and Velton Jones (fourth).

Again, I’ll post a primer on advanced stats at some point soon, but basically, assist rate is the number of assists divided by the number of made field goals when a certain player is on the court.

It’s interesting to take a look at Council because even though his role in the team’s offense has seemingly diminished from last season, his assist rate has stayed pretty level.

%Possessions Assist Rate Assists Per Game Points Per Game
2012-13 23.6 43.8 6.9 9.9
2011-12 28.4 43.0 7.5 15.9


His scoring has definitely gone down, but his importance to his team and its offensive flow is still very much so the same, even if the ball was in his hands far less.

*** For all of the talk about a possible hangover for Robert Morris after the win over Kentucky, there’s another school of thought: that the victory can give this team a huge boost of confidence.

Prior to last Tuesday, the Colonials’ best win was against Ohio, which finished the season ranked 83rd by Ken Pomeroy. However, that victory came over three months ago, so it could be a little easy to forget in the grand scheme of a four-month-long season.

Not only were the Wildcats ranked 47th by Pomeroy, but there was also the pure symbolic value of beating one of the sport’s most storied programs. As far as the players have indicated, they feel that if they could beat Kentucky, what’s stopping them from beating any other team left in the NIT field?

Also, for a roster that features six players that grew up within two hours of New York City, a trip to Madison Square Garden would mean a lot. Two more wins get them there and if they win tonight, the Colonials would be 40 minutes away from reaching that destination.

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