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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Robert Morris

Between a marquee game against Butler and the Anaheim Classic over the Thanksgiving weekend, Xavier will welcome Northeast Conference stalwart Robert Morris. The veteran Colonial squad will provide another early-season test for the Muskies.

Joe Camporeale-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

If you read one section of this post, make it the returning players one. More than any other facet of this matchup, that is going to be the difference between these two teams. Robert Morris is in the midst of the most successful run in their program's history - described as a "golden era" on the school's official website. Of course that "golden era" consists of a run of - brace yourself - seven consecutive winning seasons. Okay, so maybe that's not Coach Wooden's UCLA squads, but when you're Robert Morris, you take what you can get.

When: TBA on Wednesday, 11/17/12
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
Coverage: TBA

RMU is coached by Andrew Toole who - at thirty years old - is the youngest coach in Division One basketball this year. The former Elon and Penn guard was an assistant at Lafayette College and Robert Morris before accepting the head coach position at Robert Morris when Mike Rice, Jr. left for Rutgers. Toole's first game was a 55-30 victory over St Peter's College.

I only mention that game because it consisted of a mere 59 possessions. Perhaps buoyed by the success of that game, Toole has continued to play at a pace that Bo Ryan would find laborious. In his two years, his teams have played at about 64 possessions per game, which is painfully slow. His offenses have only converted about 45% of their two-point attempts, but they commit to the glass and were 8th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last year. Defensively, RMU hangs its hat on being able to force turnovers, doing so on 24% of opponents' possessions last year (19th nationally).

Robert Morris lost only one player who saw meaningful minutes last year in the form of senior forward Lawrence Bridges. Bridges played 20 minutes per game and averaged 3.8/3.8/0.9 on .576/.000/.446 shooting. He did grab more than 10% of his teammates' misses when he was on the court, which is a very good rate. Still, that's not a lot of production to replace.

Returning players:
I'll let the official Robert Morris 2011-2012 season review take over here:

The Colonials return four starters and nine letterwinners in 2012-13, highlighted by guards Velton Jones and Coron Williams and forwards Russell Johnson and Lucky Jones. In all, Robert Morris returns an astounding 92.2 percent (2,334-of-2,532) of its scoring, 86.2 percent (1,150-of-1,323) of its rebounding and 88.8 percent (443-of-498) of its assists.

That's a pretty stout portion of last year's production to return, especially compared to what Xavier is bringing back. Leading the line is rising senior Velton Jones who posted top 25 usage and assist percentages on his way to 16.0/2.8/4.5 per game on a fairly poor .354/.323/.767 shooting line. His backcourt mate Coron Williams was - according to Ken Pomeroy - the 89th most efficient player in the nation on his way to 10.8/2.6/1.3 on .402/.410/.820 shooting as a sophomore. Reserve guard Anthony Myers hit over 40% of his three-point attempts and assisted more than a quarter of his teammates' made buckets when he was on the floor last year.

Closer to the basket, rising sophomore Lucky Jones - a Mid-Major Freshman All-American - averaged 8.5/6.1/1.0 on .393/.278/.761 shooting. Despite being named like a comic relief character in a 70s blaxploitation film, he rebounded like a machine on both ends of the floor. Rising senior Russell Johnson posted 8.5/5.7/1.5 on a similar .419/.314/690 shooting line. Mike McFadden rounds out a trio of basically interchangeable forwards with averages of 8.4/4.3/0.4 on a shooting line of .539/.000/.522. Reserve Lijah Thompson put up 7.3 and 4.2 despite just 19 minutes per game of playing time.

Incoming players:
As though they didn't have enough scorers in the backcourt, the Colonials added 6'2" JuCo guard Karvel Anderson. All he did last year was put up almost 25 per game on .480/.430/.830 shooting. JuCo PF Vaughn Morgan is undersized at 6'6", but he does add athleticism on both ends of the floor. Incoming freshman Stephan Hawkins is taller at 6'8" but needs to add strength before he is ready to compete under the bucket at the NCAA level.

After what figures to be a tough game against Butler, Xavier will face an interesting matchup in the form of Robert Morris. While not exactly a traditional power, the Colonials veteran backcourt and ball-hawking defense are almost tailor made to test Xavier's young, thin set of guards. If Christon or Davis can get on the ball and dictate the game, the Muskies should be able to pick up a win here. If RMU can force turnovers and control the pace, X could be in for a long night.