Our hard-working, city-traveling friend Jaden writes a lot at Daly Dose of Hoops, covers a number of New York City area games live and is very positive about the Fordham Rams' attempt at a turnaround with coach Tom Pecora. Pecora, the former coach at Hofstra and a former assistant under Jay Wright, took on a task that has felled many a coach before him.
See, the Rams are a small, relatively academic school that hasn't seen the postseason since 1992, back when they were a member of the Patriot League. The Rose Hill Gym is very charming but even more tiny than it's charming, and the Ram faithful - including a raft of recognizable sports media names - hopes that this is finally the coach who can get them to SOME kind of postseason.
Now we're gonna grill Jaden (these answers do not account for the Furman game on Wednesday night) to get a better sense of what these Rams are all about.
Q// What have been the big narratives around Fordham this season? What does Tom Pecora like about his team, what is he concerned about? (Also, are the Rams waiting for any players to become eligible?)
Fordham's biggest narrative has been navigating the season with four guards in their starting lineup, a product of only having two capable big men (Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard) now that Ryan Canty left the team for personal reasons nearly three weeks ago.
Tom Pecora likes his starting backcourt, (quite frankly, it's hard not to with the production he gets from the trio of Branden Frazier, Mandell Thomas and Jon Severe) but is obviously concerned with his thin front line staying out of foul trouble, not to mention Bryan Smith doing the same. Playing the four out of necessity, Smith packs a deceptive scoring punch, but he too has fallen victim to foul trouble; and injuries as well, with a minor ankle problem keeping him out of the Rams' last two games against Sacred Heart and Manhattan.
If Fordham wasn't waiting on appeals for Manny Suarez and Antwoine Anderson, both of whom were ruled out by the NCAA and are; in essence, redshirting this season, their bench would be much more complete.
Q// Fordham has excellent three-point defense. Is that actually good defense or a statistical anomaly? What are they doing to defend so well?
I love how everyone is finally catching on to Fordham defending the three so much better than last season! The reason has been a combination of great defense and an even greater willingness to play zone, which Pecora has done for stretches in every game since Fordham's second game of the year against Syracuse.
In their last game, the Rams held a proficient three-point shooting Manhattan team to a 6-of-32 effort from beyond the arc, something the Jaspers were unable to overcome.
Q// But how is their interior defense? And related - do the Rams play man or zone?
On the contrary, their interior defense, though solid, is prone to giving up a big game against a forward who can outmuscle Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard inside.
On that note, I'd expect JaKarr Sampson to have a big game, and maybe even Orlando Sanchez as well. Look for a man defense to start, but don't be surprised to see Fordham go into a zone at various times during the day.
Q// On offense, what's the Rams' best attribute, and which player needs to score for the Rams to be successful?
Other than having three warrior guards, Fordham's best attribute is rebounding, which seems unusual with the lack of height on the roster and the graduation of Chris Gaston, who was a walking double-double. Then again, the Rams put up over 50 rebounds without Gaston against St. John's a year ago.
There are two players who need to score for Fordham to be successful, and they are Branden Frazier and Mandell Thomas. Frazier's 33-point outburst against Syracuse kept the Rams in the game when they would otherwise have been run out of the Carrier Dome, while Thomas being held to 11 in the loss to Sacred Heart helped compromise the Rams' chances.
If I were Steve Lavin, I wouldn't worry too much about stopping Jon Severe...he'll get his share of points regardless of how he's defended, and the great ones usually do.
Q// Tom Pecora is in his fourth year at Fordham. Is he the right choice to turn the Rams around and how much longer will this rebuild take?
What most critics tend to forget is just how far in the ground the Fordham program was when Tom Pecora took over, and in some ways, the inferno created by Dereck Whittenburg still hasn't been extinguished.
However, Pecora is just now starting to turn the corner, and is slowly rebuilding this team into what he had at Hofstra in the mid-2000s. Next season should be a little easier to continue the rebuild even without Frazier, as the addition of Eric Paschall gives the Rams another dynamic young scorer, so I would give it at least another year or two before Fordham is contending again.
Q// Why have three guards - senior Branden Frazier, freshman Jon Severe, and sophomore Mandell Thomas - played over 38 minutes per game?
Frazier, Severe and Thomas are seeing so many minutes for one reason and one reason only: Lack of depth. In their win against Manhattan, only Travion Leonard and backup guard Chris Whitehead came off the bench, giving Pecora a seven-man rotation.
Should Bryan Smith be back, his return to the lineup sends Jermaine Myers back to the second unit and gives the Rams an eighth body, but his stalwart backcourt will still see almost every possession simply because Pecora feels their productivity is too meaningful to his team.
Following the Manhattan game, one of his first press conference quotes was "I told Branden, Jon and Mandell that we need 60 a night from you three guys," so I don't see any extended breaks in their immediate future.
- St. John's opening month: high-energy pieces that need to start faster together
- The Chris Obekpa effect (through seven games)
- Big East honors for Harrison (men's hoops), Lewis, Handford (women's hoops)
- Podcast Episode 10: tailspins, warning bells and Longwood jokes
- St. John's vs Georgia Tech final score: Johnnies disrupt GT in second half, win 69-58