It might be simplistic to say the team's success rides on the play of its star, but, when that player takes 23 percent of his team's shots, it's merited. Such is the case with the Robert Morris basketball team and senior guard Velton Jones. As coach Andy Toole has pointed out, when Jones has had some of his best games, the Colonials were at their best and when he had subpar performances, the team didn't fare as well, sometimes losing to lesser opponents. In Robert Morris' 26 wins last season, Jones shot 40 percent from the field, but in its 11 losses, Jones shot just 27 percent, including some of the worst shooting performances of his career -- 2 for 15 at Wagner, 2 for 13 at Memphis, 1 for 14 at Pitt. Obviously, even the best players have off games, but Jones will have to meet the expectations he's created for himself if the Colonials hope to succeed.
Before the season started, the Colonials were dealt a blow in the form of a season-ending injury to forward Lijah Thompson, who averaged 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season. Granted, Robert Morris has post players such as Mike McFadden and Russell Johnson, but the injury thins what already was something of a question mark. The team's leading rebounder last season was 6-foot-5 freshman Lucky Jones and, with the loss of Thompson, the team loses -- statistically -- 28 percent of its scoring and 40 percent of its blocks among returning big men. But Toole has lauded the improvement of Johnson over the offseason, and the presence of junior-college transfer Vaughn Morgan, an athletic 6-foot-6 forward, might signal that an improved Colonials frontcourt is possible.
What did not change in the offseason could boost the Colonials. While Robert Morris returns its head coach and its five leading scorers from last season, Long Island and Wagner -- the only teams that finished ahead of the Colonials last season in the Northeast Conference -- suffered significant personnel losses over the offseason. Both return key players, but each lost its coach, with Jim Ferry leaving LIU for Duquesne and Danny Hurley going from Wagner to Rhode Island. Assistants Jack Perri (LIU) and Bashir Mason (Wagner) were promoted, so both teams will maintain a level of familiarity, but it will be difficult to maintain the success of their predecessors at historically mediocre programs. No team in the conference returns more -- both in the starting lineup and on the bench -- than Robert Morris.
-- By Craig Meyer
The Colonials lost four of their top five scorers from a year ago, meaning they must replace a lot of points, rebounds and assists. They do have leading scorer Artemis Spanou back. Spanou, a 6-foot junior forward from Greece, averaged 16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and was first team All-Northeast Conference. She is on the short list of NEC player-of -the-year candidates, but will need help. The Colonials have several players, including junior Kelly Hartwell, who are ready to break out.
The Colonials non-conference schedule, as usual, is difficult because coach Sal Buscaglia favors playing tough games to get ready for the NEC season. Robert Morris will play Iowa, Michigan State, Duquesne, Minnesota and Miami of Ohio. That's an admirable approach, but the risk is that the team could be discouraged if it loses too many early games. The Colonials must play well in these contests and be competitive enough that they gain confidence and have the positive experience Buscaglia is looking for.
Buscaglia has done a masterful job of bringing in junior-college players who have had an immediate impact. This year, the Colonials have one such import, forward Jolie Olingende, from Arizona Western Junior College, and Buscaglia expects her to step in and contribute immediately. She averaged 15.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, was the player of the year in her conference and a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.
-- By Paul Zeise
2011-12 record: 18-14, 11-6 Northeast Conference.
Coach: Sal Buscaglia (10th year, 160-116).
Probable starters: G Jasmine Tate (averaged 4 minutes per game last season); G Kelly Hartwell (4.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Anna Gailite (1.8 rpg); F Artemis Spanou (16.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg); F Jolie Olingende (15.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg in junior college).
Schedule (home games in caps):
NOVEMBER -- 9, NIAGARA, 7 p.m.; 11, at Colgate, 4 p.m.; 15, at Miami (Ohio), 7 p.m.; 20, at Iowa, 8 p.m.; 25, at Michigan State, 4 p.m.; 28, STONY BROOK, 10 a.m.
DECEMBER -- 2, DUQUESNE, 1 p.m.; 9, at Minnesota, 3 p.m.; 17, at Central Michigan, 6 p.m.; 21, at Coppin State, 4 p.m.; 30, at Kent State, 3:30 p.m.
JANUARY -- 5, CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE, 4 p.m.; 7, BRYANT, 7 p.m.; 12, at Monmouth, 3 p.m.; 14, at Fairleigh Dickinson, 2 p.m.; 19, SACRED HEART, 4 p.m.; 21, QUINNIPIAC, 7 p.m.; 26, MOUNT ST. MARY'S, 4 p.m.; 28, at Saint Francis, 7 p.m.
FEBRUARY -- 2, at St. Francis, 2 p.m.; 4, at LIU Brooklyn, 7 p.m.; 9, WAGNER, 4 p.m.; 11, SAINT FRANCIS, 7 p.m.; 16, at Sacred Heart, 1 p.m.; 18, at Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.; 23, FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON, 4 p.m.; 25, MONMOUTH, 7 p.m.
MARCH -- 2, at Central Connecticut State, TBA; 4, at Bryant, 7 p.m.; 10, NEC tournament, TBA.