Robert Morris capitalizing on NIT win over Kentucky

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Karvel Anderson celebrates a win over Kentucky (AP)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

It was one of the more memorable and heartbreaking games of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Robert Morris, coached then by Mike Rice, had No. 2 seed Villanova on the ropes that Thursday afternoon in Providence leading for much of the game only to have the Wildcats eke out a 73-70 win in overtime. Color commentator Bill Raftery summed up the game perfectly following the gut-wrenching loss that left dynamite freshman point guard Karon Abraham motionless on the floor: “They only lost on the scoreboard, Vern.”

Much of the appeal of the NCAA Tournament is watching schools seldom heard of win a game and advance to the next round, and it looked like No. 15 seed Robert Morris was on their way to doing just that. Despite the deflating loss, the Colonials were becoming a household name in the NEC and mid-major basketball.

(MORE: Click here to read NBCSports.com’s NEC Preview)

Fast forward three years and the program is under new leadership with Andy Toole at the helm. While Robert Morris hasn’t been back to the NCAA Tournament since 2010, they’ve been to the postseason and won games two of the past three seasons. Toole would tell you there was already momentum building even before Rice took over as head coach in 2008. It began with Mark Schmidt, the current head coach at St. Bonaventure, the prior season as they went 26-8 and nearly upset Syracuse in the NIT. Up until this point, Robert Morris was buried in obscurity. They hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in nearly 20 years and many didn’t know much about the school and basketball program.

Toole told NBCSports.com by phone: “We were hitting wall after wall after wall in terms of people not knowing what Robert Morris and our basketball team was all about at that point in time. After going to the NCAA Tournament and almost beating Villanova, we started getting call backs; they had a point of reference after seeing us in the NCAA Tournament back to back years. That game legitimized us.”

While the Villanova game may have legitimized Robert Morris, it was their NIT win at home over Kentucky last season that placed them at the forefront of the college basketball world.


It was the perfect storm for Andy Toole and his program. On the heels of being upset in the NEC tournament by Mount St. Mary’s, Robert Morris was paired with Kentucky — the 2012 NCAA Champions — in the first round of the NIT. Since Rupp Arena was one of the eight venues for the second and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky was forced to travel to Moon Township to play Robert Morris at Robert Morris. The game was played on a Tuesday night, which allowed for a nice buffer period in between Selection Sunday and the Thursday games. After their win over Kentucky, the talk all day Wednesday wasn’t about the NCAA Tournament, but rather the NIT. Again, it was the perfect storm.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“This year with the win against Kentucky, that put us on center stage for a few days because of some incredible timing and incredible circumstances. This was another perfect opportunity for people to learn about the program.”

It wasn’t long ago that Robert Morris was struggling to just have conversations with top recruits that they were targeting, but now that conversation is much easier to come by. Toole explained while the recent success and exposure doesn’t always lead to landing top-flight recruits, they are now in contention for them. “It doesn’t guarantee that we’re always going to get the recruits. We still have to do our due diligence to make sure we are targeting the right kids for our school and program, but we are at a starting point that is so much different than it was six years ago.

The exposure Robert Morris has generated on a national level since 2009 has helped to elevate the program to another level and, predictably, that is paying great dividends. Specifically, the geographical footprint that Toole and his staff are now recruiting from has vastly expanded.

“We are recruiting from a much wider geographic area. We were in Florida recruiting and people recognized us. We were recruiting a kid from Kansas and people recognized us. We have a kid on this year’s team (Desjuan Newton) who played junior college in Arizona and is originally from Seattle and he knew about the [Kentucky] game.”

The key now is to sustain the momentum that has been building since 2009, which will be no easy task as the NEC has steadily improved as a league. “You see a lot of young staffs in the NEC who are trying to make names for themselves. They’re really getting out there and recruiting, and maybe not taking the same old thought process of, ‘Well, we’re just a Northeast Conference school, that kids not going to want to come here.’ That’s not the case. I think you see that across the board and why the programs are getting better and better.”

While Toole has continued the momentum his predecessors Schmidt and Rice began, he has yet to win the NEC and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Nearly defeating Villanova in 2010 and beating Kentucky in 2013 may have been steps one and two. The next step is getting back to the NCAA Tournament and winning a game, something Robert Morris hasn’t accomplished in 30 years.

Arkansas returns to underdog role after offseason arrests

Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson (AP Photo)
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas coach Mike Anderson says he was “blindsided” by a tumultuous offseason for the Razorbacks, one that included the arrests of three players on allegations of using counterfeit money.

Still, entering his fifth season at Arkansas – his 22nd overall at the school, including 17 as an assistant – Anderson remains optimistic the program can build on last year’s second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference.

Led by SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis, the Razorbacks finished 27-9 last season and reached their NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.

The excitement-filled season was the culmination of four years of rebuilding for Anderson, though the school took a step back afterward following the early departures for the NBA of Portis and second-leading scorer Michael Qualls.

That was only the first step in a difficult offseason for the Razorbacks.

Starting point guard Anton Beard, forward Jacorey Williams and transfer Dustin Thomas were arrested by Fayetteville police in July, accused of using counterfeit $20 bills and exchanging counterfeit $50 bills for $100 bills.

Williams was dismissed in August, while Beard and Thomas have been suspended from the team and remain enrolled in school awaiting trial.

“I think if you’re in it long enough, you’re going to have some of those things take place,” Anderson said. “I was kind of blindsided by some of it, I’ll say that. … When it happens, I think the measure of, not only the person but the program, is how you deal with it. And I think we’re dealing with it in the right way.”

With Portis and Qualls’ departures, as well as the graduation of Ky Madden and Alandise Harris, Arkansas enters this season without four of its top five scorers from a year ago.

The lone returner in that mix is senior shooting guard Anthlon Bell, who averaged 7.9 points per game last season while shooting 35.1 percent on 3-pointers.

Bell’s outside ability is something the Razorbacks expect to use often this season without the interior scoring touch of Portis, and because the revamped roster features several top shooters – including Texas Tech transfer Dusty Hannahs and heralded freshman guard Jimmy Whitt.

Anderson said they’re also likely to run more this season in order to try and manufacture easy offense through defensive pressure.

“We’re still going to play Hog basketball, 40 minutes of Hell,” Bell said.

Anderson wouldn’t comment in detail on the arrests of Beard or Thomas, but he did say he talks with the two while they’re on suspension. He also said they are continuing to work out on their own, with the hope of being reinstated after the legal process plays out.

In the meantime, Anderson is embracing a return to the underdog role after last season’s breakout – calling the reversal a “challenge” and insisting “We’re not going backward.”

“It’s unfortunate that we had some individuals that, No. 1, they (did) some things that hurt the team,” Anderson said. “But at the end of the day, let’s see how these other guys respond.”

Big South Preview: Can John Brown take down Coastal Carolina?

High Point v Ohio State
John Brown, Getty Images
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big South Conference.

A month before the Big South Tournament started, seven teams were tied for first place in the conference standings. Once the tournament began, the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds were bounced in the quarterfinals. Despite all the parity and chaos in the league, the tournament champion remained the same.

Coastal Carolina is eyeing a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament in its final season in the Big South before moving to the Sun Belt Conference.

The Chanticleers bring back Elijah Wilson, the Big South Tournament MVP, point guard Shivaughn Wiggins and power forward Badou Diagne. That trio could make a three-peat possible. Coastal Carolina boasted one of the conference’s most efficient offenses and defenses, and tops in both offensive and defensive rebounding 2014-15. The production of graduating guards Warren Gillis and Josh Cameron won’t be easily replaced, but if they defend and crash the boards like they’ve done in the past, the Chanticleers will be in a good position when they host the Big South Tournament again in March.

Like the Chanticleers, many of the teams across the Big South have lost start players. Of the 15 players named to the all-conference teams last March, only two of them return this season.

One of them is High Point senior John Brown, the ultra-athletic and physically imposing forward. Through his first three years he’s averaged 18.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He’s helped the Panthers win at least a share of the last three regular season titles, but has no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. Click here and check out some of the dunks he’s thrown down over the years. Now imagine him playing on the first Thursday or Friday of the NCAA tournament. Fun, right? Surrounded by a cast of upperclassmen, Brown could finally get that shot this spring.

Winthrop graduated two double-digit scorers, including first-team selection Keon Moore. Keon Johnson will be the key holder over in a new-look perimeter that could feature not one, but two Division II transfers. Jimmy Gavin’s amazing journey was chronicled back in May. Roderick Perkins, a 6-foot-5 wing, was the second-leading scorer in all of D2 in 2013-14. Winthrop’s defense, rated as the most efficient in the Big South, returns a pair of shot-blockers — Xavier Cooks and Duby Okeke — the frontline. Zach Price, the former Louisville and Missouri big man, is eligible this season, as well.

Longwood could be a dangerous team, especially if the Lancers can get quality play from the back court. The Lancers have one conference’s best front courts. Shaquille Johnson is one of the league’s top athletes. Lotanna Nwogbo, the 6-foot-8 forward, is back after missing the last 17 games of conference play with a thumb ligament tear. In three full Big South contest, he was averaging 19.3 points and 12.0 boards per game. Gardner-Webb is dealing with the loss of Jerome Hill and Tyler Strange, but returns six of its top nine scorers, including Tyrell Nelson. Radford should be another potential sleeper. YaYa Anderson is joined by senior Rashun Davis and Cameron Jones, the potential breakout star of the league.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


  • Favorite: “In my mind, it would probably be High Point. There will be several teams that have really good players back, but High Point has several really good players back and John Brown has been one of the top players in the league for the last three years. Probably the team with the most experience, top to bottom, coming back is Coastal. I think they have four starters back, but I think they lose two really good players. On paper, as you look at it, Coastal makes sense to pick first.”
  • Sleeper: “I think a lot of people would say Longwood. I think they have a talented roster and they have a player on their team (Lotanna Nwogbo) I think a lot of people would talk about having a chance to be one of the better players in the league. He got hurt the second or third game in the conference season.”
  • Star to watch: “I’d say John Brown should be the favorite for preseason player of the year. There are a lot of good ones, but he’s definitely been really good for a long period of time. I think it starts with his motor and how hard he competes and how physical he is. He just stays after it every possession. He really plays so hard on both ends. He’s great at working at working on catching the ball at the rim and using his size and athleticism to score in the paint. Then he’ll get stuff in transition and on the offensive glass. He’s a monster.”


Brown, maybe the best dunker in all of college basketball, returns for his senior season after averaging 19.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in 2014-15. The 6-foot-8 nightmare matchup plays with a consistent motor. He understands angles and where to position himself on the floor in order to get easy buckets. Brown also creates opportunities for himself in the open floor and offensive glass.


  • Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb: The 6-foot-7 center was top-10 in the Big South in both scoring and rebounding at 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a night.
  • Elijah Wilson, Coastal Carolina: Had a strong finish to last season, earning Big South Tournament MVP honors. The 6-foot-4 guard is the top returning scorer at 11.3 points per game.
  • Shaquille Johnson, Longwood: The best athlete in the conference not named John Brown, Johnson averaged 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season.
  • DeSean Murray, Presbyterian: The Blue Hose will rely heavily on the 6-foot-5 sophomore, who recorded five double-doubles during conference play last season.



1. Coastal Carolina
2. High Point
3. Winthrop
4. Longwood
5. Gardner-Webb
6. Radford
7. Charleston Southern
8. UNC Asheville
9. Campbell
10. Presbyterian
11. Liberty