It's safe to say that no team begins its season dreaming of playing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Nothing against the CIT, but for a team that came within one win of the NCAA tournament, it would have been easy for Robert Morris to pack it in for the season and start preparing for a run at next year's Northeast Conference title.
Instead, the Colonials accepted the CIT bid and have taken full advantage of the extra two weeks -- so far -- of playing and practicing.
"It's been cool," redshirt junior guard Velton Jones said. "We've been able to get a couple of good wins. Better to keep winning and not sitting on that championship game [a 90-73 loss to Long Island March 7]."
Jones and Colonials coach Andy Toole admitted that it took a little bit of time to get over the NEC title loss to the Blackbirds, but that getting back to the daily grind has helped. The Colonials have won against Indiana State and Toledo in the CIT and will travel to Connecticut to face Fairfield tonight in the tournament's quarterfinals.
- Matchup: Robert Morris (26-10) vs. Fairfield (21-14), 7 p.m. today, Alumni Hall, Fairfield, Conn. CIT quarterfinals.
- Radio/Internet: WPIT-AM (730), rmucolonials.com, collegeinsider.com
- Probable goaltenders:
- Robert Morris: Beat Toledo, 69-51, in CIT second round Saturday. ... Four players scored in double figures, with Coron Williams leading the way with 17. ... Freshman Lucky Jones has averaged 12.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in Robert Morris' five postseason games. ... Has never played Fairfield. This season, the Colonials are 4-1 against teams they are facing for the first time.
- Fairfield: Beat Manhattan, 69-57, Saturday in the second round of the CIT. ... Redshirt senior Rakim Sanders leads the Stags in scoring (16.7 points per game) and rebounding (8.3 per game). ... Head coach Sydney Johnson is in his first year at Fairfield after going 66-53 in four years at Princeton.
- Hidden stat: The Colonials were 10 of 21 from 3-point range against Toledo. Over the past two years, they are 10-1 when making at least 10 3-pointers.
The tournament has given Toole the benefit of extra time on the practice court. The Colonials will only lose one senior, forward Lawrence Bridges, with the rest of the roster returning for next season. Toole said that while postseason practices have been a little shorter, he and his staff have been focusing on a couple of key ideas each day.
"It's one or two principles that we want to make sure that we understand," he said. "They get to go over them, they get to do it, see it, be a part of it and now hopefully next year when we re-present those principles, they'll be a little more comfortable with them."
That doesn't mean, though, that Toole is drastically altering his rotation for younger players. Players can still earn more time from work in practice -- freshman Brandon Herman gave the Colonials 17 tough defensive minutes against Toledo -- but for the most part Toole is sticking with the guys who got him here.
"I think it's funny, some people ask, 'Are you going to play different guys?' " Toole said. "The guys that play are the guys that have earned the opportunity to play. That's one of the things if you're going to have a strong program. This isn't charity, you don't just give away minutes, regardless of what time of year it is."
In practice Tuesday, the team looked loose and relaxed, with the players, and even Toole, joking and smiling.
"It feels weird," Jones said. "Usually we're either going to our room or doing homework or something. It's better to come to the gym, do something we love and play games."
NOTE -- While Ohio University may have busted millions of brackets by reaching the NCAA Sweet 16, Toole isn't among those surprised. The Colonials beat Ohio, 70-67, Jan. 2 on the road, but Toole said he recognized how talented the Bobcats are. "Kind of seeing their matchup against Michigan, I thought they'd have a chance to win that game," Toole said. "In the NCAA tournament, I think 'bigger, faster, stronger' is the deciding factor in a lot of those first-round upsets, and Michigan wasn't bigger, faster or stronger than Ohio."
Sam Werner: email@example.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG