Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 326 Division I teams. To order the complete 2006-07 edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Is the title wait finally over for Robert Morris?
If you polled the rest of the NEC coaches over the summer, they certainly seem to think that's the case. All 10 of Mark Schmidt's fellow league coaches had his Colonials at the top of their lists.
When you return four starters, and one of them is NEC player-of-the-year candidate A.J. Jackson (17.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg), it's easy to see why the league has placed the Colonials on a pedestal.
"On paper it looks good," said Schmidt, whose
team finished fifth in the league last year after back-to-back fourth-place efforts. "But you don't want to be
Jackson, a 6-6 junior, has a chance to be the first player to lead the NEC in scoring and rebounding since LIU's Joe Griffin did it in 1994-95. Jackson, who transferred from East Tennessee State, finished second in scoring and third on the boards last season on the way to all-conference first-team honors. He also tied for the league-lead in double-doubles with 14.
"We didn't expect that out of him," Schmidt said. "He had a great year."
The multi-talented Jackson, who also plays center, can score from just about anywhere on the floor, and surprised foes with a 41.2 percentage (33-for-80) from three-point range.
"He's hard to guard because he's an inside force and he can also go out and shoot the three," said Schmidt, who originally lost Jackson to East Tennessee State as a freshman, but landed him back two years ago.
All together, the Colonials return their top four scorers, all starters in 2005-06. Jeremy Chappell (14.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.86 spg), a 6-3 sophomore, earned league rookie-of-the-year honors after a dynamite freshman campaign.
"He was a difference maker for us last year along with A.J.," Schmidt said.
Chappell hardly played like a newcomer last season, leading all freshman in scoring, rebounds, steals, three-point percentage (.396) and blocks (0.9). He also finished in the Top 15 in all five categories in the league, including 10th in scoring and third in steals.
The Cincinnati native also delivered the game-winning three-pointer with 12.3 seconds left to upset host Mount St. Mary's in the NEC quarterfinals, 67-66.
"We thought he'd be a good player, but you never know how quickly it will happen," Schmidt said. "We thought he'd be a slasher and a great defender, but we never knew he could shoot like that."
Chappell will be joined by a pair of Charlestown (Mass.) graduates in the backcourt in 5-11 senior Derek Coleman (11.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.7 apg) and 6-0 junior Tony Lee (12.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.9 spg).
Coleman led the NEC in assists running the show for RMU at point guard. He not only sets up his teammates' shots, but the fourth-year starter can find the basket on his own, finishing fourth in free throws (.831) and third in three-point field goal percentage (.423). Coleman was also third in the NEC in three-pointers made with 74.
"Derek's our only senior and we are playing the season for him," Schmidt said.
So much for a sophomore slump with Lee, who became an impact player by raising his scoring average almost five points and his rebounds by about two per game from his freshman campaign. Lee led the team on the boards and was sixth overall in the league in rebounding. He also finished second in the NEC in steals per game and had 53 overall to fall one short of Chappell (54).
"He's just a hard-nosed kid who loves to compete," Schmidt said. "He just wants to win."
The Colonials did lose their fifth starter when 6-5 junior swingman Cori Boston (8.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg) decided to leave after two seasons because of lingering knee problems and assorted other ailments.
RMU also lost some backcourt depth when senior Steve Lancaster (3.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg) and sophomore Jonathan Clark (2.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg) also decided not to return. That leaves 6-3 sophomore Kelvin Bright, who didn't play last season, as the only other returning guard.
The one veteran off the bench is 6-7 junior Colson Senat (4.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg), who played the role of sixth man last year. Senat is another versatile player that can score inside and also roll out to the perimeter, where he stroked 22 three-pointers. He's role grew during the season as injuries cut into Boston's playing time.
The return of 6-9 senior center Freddie Harris (6.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg) from injury gives the Colonials an inside presence and will allow Jackson to play more at power forward. Harris appeared in only five games last winter after arriving from junior college but was expected to be ready to go in November.
Schmidt didn't take any chances with his inside game, though, signing three big men among the seven newcomers to the roster. Seven-foot freshman Bas Roszendaal (10.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.1 bpg), a native of Holland, spent last season at Massanutten (Va.) Military Academy.
Former Iowa State center Aaron Agnew (8.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) also comes onboard after spending last season at Highland (Ill.) Community College. The 6-10 junior is listed at 360 pounds, and can move, too.
"He's moves much better than he looks," Schmidt said.
The third center/forward is 6-7 sophomore Ifeanyi Ehirim, who transferred from Birmingham Southern after the school dropped down from Division I status. He will be eligible to play right away. Ehirim averaged 3.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and shot 65.4 percent from the field last winter.
While he might not have the size of the other three, 6-8 freshman Dallas Green, from Northwest High in Indiana, has some game and shooting range. The Indianapolis native averaged 14.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a senior.
The freshmen class also includes 6-4 guard Chimezie Nwigwe, from High Point in Hyattsville, Md., and 6-0 Eric Anthony from Wheeling Central Catholic in Wisconsin.
Flashy 5-10 freshman Jimmy Langhurst, who scored 2,199 points at Willard High in Ohio, is the final piece to the puzzle.
Langhurst averaged 32.3 points as a senior and was an all-state selection after leading Willard to a 24-1 record and No. 2 ranking among Ohio Division II teams. His career point total ranks eighth all-time in the state.
The Colonials will chase their first NEC title since 1991-92 with a little bit of everything on the roster.
"We are at a time where we have a chance to compete to win the Northeast Conference," said Schmidt, who took over a program with a 300-plus RPI five years ago. "It's a good feeling to have enough bullets to be very competitive."
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
After reaching the semifinals of the NEC Tournament twice in the last three seasons, the pressure is on RMU to make a trip to the championship game this season -- especially with virtually the same cast of players on the roster.
But Schmidt has cautioned his team not to buy into preseason hype.
"In this league you can't just show up," said Schmidt, who has harped on improved defense as a key to the season. RMU was 6-5 in games decided by five points or less last year. "We have a lot of good pieces, but it's up to us to put it together."
Coleman and Lee have a proven track record in the league, but Jackson and Chappell won't have it so easy this year. The rest of the NEC has had at least one look, and in most cases two, at both all-stars.
"That's been mentioned to A.J. and to Jeremy," Schmidt said. "Teams are going to be ready for them right from the get-go."
And RMU figures to be ready to roll right from the opening tip-off of the season on Nov. 13 against Florida International. Last year, the Colonials were picked to finish 10th in the preseason poll and ended up fifth. This year, they figure to be picked first at the start of the season, and that's where they want to end up as well.
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2006-07 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).