The County Game Q + A

The next installment of the County Game is coming up this Saturday when the Dukes make the short trip down the Parkway West to the Sewell Center in Moon to take on the Robert Morris Colonials. We caught up with Andrew Chiappazzi, Rivals.com publisher for ColonialsCorner, which he founded as an independent site six years ago. He took the time to answer some questions about Andy Toole's squad, their season and a few other odds and ends.

1) Robert Morris and the NEC in general started the season with some pretty high expectations. It's not looking good but it's not looking awful either. What are some of your surprises so far around the league and with Robert Morris?

The first surprise for Robert Morris came opening night, when they absolutely tanked it against Rider. Maybe RMU thought that they'd blow Rider out like they did last year, but Nurideen Lindsey helped key a couple runs and Robert Morris never recovered. It was like Pacquiao going down. Rider looks better than they were last year, but that's still a bad loss. However, Robert Morris rebounded nicely with the wins over Bowling Green, Cleveland State, and Ohio, even if that may have damaged any chances of Robert Morris getting schools from the great state of Ohio to step foot in the Sewall Center again. League-wide, I've been surprised that Wagner hasn't gotten a boost from Dwaun Anderson, the Michigan State transfer. He's been marginal and so have the Seahawks. LIU Brooklyn is finally starting to turn it on now that they're all healthy, but they've been inconsistent.

All this while Bryant, which won two games last year, somehow took down Boston College. I guess the Eagles are just that bad.

2) The Colonials have been a tough, blue collar team under Andy Toole but their shooting percentage is down around the bottom of the D-1 this season. How have they managed to go 6-4 while shooting so poorly in every game except against Ohio? Do you think the shooting effort that night was more flash in the pan or show of true potential?

Toole won't admit it, but the defense has been very strong. They've had some hiccups, which is why he'd be irked in admitting it. It's cost them at times, and the team's inconsistency is his main mantra in practice. But that's how they're going to win. They're going to crash the glass, hold teams below 40 percent, and be efficient on offense. They borrow a lot from Pitt in that regard. They've won in spite of their offense, but their offense is not as bad as the stats suggest. Two key players, forward Russell Johnson and Anthony Myers-Pate, have battled injuries. When healthy, they not only shoot better but also help the offense's efficiency. Myers-Pate is the team's best ball-handler even though he's the back-up point guard. Johnson is a very strong passer for a wing. But because they've been hurt, they've struggled overall. Sharpshooter Coron Williams has also struggled with his outside shot, though he had a better night against Hampton. Even Velton Jones has been cold from beyond the arc. I don't expect many of those trends to continue. Robert Morris won't suddenly start scoring 85 points per game, but there's no reason they can't score 68-70 every night.

3) The County Game seems to be growing in the consciousness of Duquesne fans and looks to be an emerging rivalry. I know it's a game I look forward to every year. How important is it for Robert Morris fans and players to beat Duquesne in the County Game? Does it mean more to them now that the series is becoming an annual slugfest?

This is THE rivalry game that RMU fans look forward to in the non-conference schedule. The one disappointment has been that the two teams can't seem to find a solid night to get it scheduled when it comes to Robert Morris. A couple years ago, it was on a Friday night during high school playoff season. Oops. This year, it's the day after finals week ends. Robert Morris' fan section, the Colonial Crazies, is trying to push to get students to stick around for 24 extra hours. We'll see how successful they are. Robert Morris vs. LIU-Brooklyn and Robert Morris-Mount St. Mary's might be the team's best overall rivalries because of the passion and history in league play, but RMU fans definitely want to beat Duquesne. Of course, it helps to foster that when you start winning, and RMU's done that the last few years.

4) The year is 2001. Danny Nee is hired by Duquesne after one season at Robert Morris who in turn hire Mark Schmidt. Schmidt builds a successful program in Moon while Duquesne flounders for 6 more years. Funny how this game of basketball works, no? 

There are some that believe Danny Nee leaving was the best thing to ever happen to Robert Morris. Seriously. Nee's there for one year, the team goes 7-22, and the next year Mark Schmidt comes in and starts utilizing players like Maurice Carter and Chaz McCrommon who have been among the best players in recent RMU history. Schmidt helped build a consistent NEC tournament team - though he should have won at least one title with the players he had - and left it in good position for Mike Rice to come in and take the team to new heights.

5) NEC looks like it's losing Quinpiac, Monmouth and Wagner to the MAAC. Since the Dukes are football only members of the NEC, how do you think this will impact that side of the league since the MAAC no longer offer football? What is Robert Morris' next move for all sports?

I actually just published an article on ColonialsCorner detailing what I think Robert Morris' next move should be (http://robertmorris.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1448486). It's ambitious and costs money, which is why it probably won't happen, but I think it's the only thing that makes long-term sense in this insane world of college realignment. While I hold the door open for Robert Morris to move all sports to the CAA, the more likely result is this: Despite being ticked that Quinnipiac, Monmouth, and Wagner are taking their talents to the MAAC, the NEC allows Wagner and Monmouth to reapply as associate members in football.* The league then grabs NJIT to join in all sports (no football team) to balance things out again at 10 basketball teams.

I don't like that because it leaves the door wide open for other moves to happen that could further decimate the league. It already is going to hurt lacrosse if those three schools go to the MAAC in all sports. It's been my observation that the schools that are proactive, not reactive, in this realignment saga are the ones that emerge the cleanest. That's why, if I'm Robert Morris, I saddle up and see if the CAA will bend a little bit to accept RMU despite subpar facilities.

*EDIT: Wagner did not move to the MAAC. Monmouth did and they have applied to be an associate football member of the NEC.

6) You've probably seen Jim Ferry coach more games than Duquesne fans have. He seems like a winner. Why do you think it took him so long to break through in the NEC and how much do you like him at Duquesne? 

Ferry took over an LIU team that was pretty mediocre and didn't have much support. Unlike the situation here at Robert Morris, where the new president who came on board just as Rice was coming in and threw full support behind him, LIU has been an afterthought in NYC. College sports in general often is if St. John's isn't winning. So Ferry had to build brick by brick, find a style that would work in the NEC and in non-conference games. He finally figured it out with his up-tempo style and by mining Texas for some outstanding athletes. The good news for the Dukes is it seems like the administration is eager to get Duquesne back on track, and to do it quickly. Ferry won't have to fight over a recruiting budget or facilities (it took four years for Ferry to get LIU to open their new facility, the WRAC, in 2006). He just has to worry about basketball in a tough conference. Because it's the A-10, I think it'll be more of an adjustment process. Ferry's teams just outscored NEC opponents; they didn't shut teams down. They won't be able to run-and-gun as much, but if they can find a defensive style to match their up-tempo offense, he'll do well.

7) What's you prediction for Saturday?
It's been about five years since a blowout occurred in this series. It'll be at least one more. I'll go with Robert Morris 62, Duquesne 56. Free throws help RMU pull away in the final five minutes of a very defensive game.