Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Tale of Two Teams at Rose Hill

It's been a rough winter in New York.  We have been bombarded by snow storm after snow storm.  I have had two days off from work due to snow closings and it's not even mid-February yet.   And when it doesn't snow, we get other forms of precipitation.   Last Wednesday, we had freezing rain which caused a two hour delay at my son's school.  Then last Saturday, since the thermostat was slightly above freezing, it rained.  Great for snow melt, but there is nothing worse than walking around outside on a very cold rainy day.  Such has been the last few months of life in a northern town.

For the second week in a row, I was on Fordham's campus to go to another Rams game at Rose Hill Gym.  This time as I had my umbrella up protecting me from the frigid rain, I was going to see the Rams face the Spiders of Richmond, one of the A-10's elite teams the past couple of seasons.  It was the battle of one team trying to find it's first win in conference in more than two years vs. one team many have squarely on the bubble for an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

For the at large hopeful Spiders, this is when they need to avoid bad conference losses.   Depending on the site, the Spiders are either barely in, or barely out.  Joe Lunardi's Bracketology has them in, but playing one of the "First Four" games vs. Baylor.  Bracketography has them in as well, but not in the "First Four" game, as does Jerry Palm's tournament predictions.  Bleacher Report has them as one of the first four teams not in the tournament.

The good on their resume - a neutral site win over Purdue, a team that should be a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and a home win over VCU, another bubble team.   The bad, well, losing at Iona really isn't that bad.  Remember the Gaels barely lost at Syracuse and waxed a top team in the CAA in Hofstra.  Bucknell is not a bad loss, considering the Bison's RPI is 97.  The worst loss is a neutral site loss to Georgia Tech (RPI 164).  But a 7-2 road record is nothing to sneeze at, nor their current third place standing in the A-10 (tied with Temple).

Meanwhile the Rams were 0-8 in the A-10 going into their game vs. the Spiders.  Fordham had just been trounced on the road by the Rams of Rhode Island.  It was their eleventh loss in a row after starting out 6-4.  There is very little hope of any kind of postseason for Fordham since the bottom two teams in the Atlantic 10 miss out on the postseason tournament and Fordham is two games behind Charlotte for the 12th and final spot in the A10 Tourney.

The only bright spot has been the play of Chris Gaston, Fordham's double double machine.  After the game against Richmond on Saturday, Gaston now has thirteen double-doubles on the season. He averages 15 points and 11 rebounds per game.   Gaston's lone weakness is free throw shooting as he is only shooting 52 percent from the line on the season.

So you have two teams on the opposite end of the A10 spectrum.  The only thing in common they have is they both lost the prior Saturday at home.  Fordham lost at Rose Hill to St. Bonaventure while Richmond was crushed on their home court by Xavier.  Both were looking for a much needed win.

As I finally exited the cold and walked into the entrance to Rose Hill gym, unlike a week ago for the game against the Bonnies, there was no wait at the Fordham Will Call.   I showed my ID at the counter and she asked if I needed three tickets.  Both Mal and Tieff were unable to make the game, so being polite, I said "My friends couldn't make it.  So I'll just take one and you can give the other two to someone else."   They were good seats, courtside, Section 113 A, seats 13-15, right behind the Fordham bench.  But after getting sardined by the people who took my two other seats and the people to my right, I should have just kept the other two (since I paid for them) and had some space.

Despite being shoe-horned into my seat, I still had a great view of the game.  I knew I was only going to be there for the first half again like the week before, since I had another Hofstra game to attend.  But it turns out I just needed to see the first twenty minutes.   The player I came to see, Kevin Anderson put on a show in the first half.

Anderson is the star senior guard for the Spiders.  His points per game this season are down slightly as opposed to last season (16.4 to 17.6) but his three point shooting percentage is way (44.9 this season as opposed to 33.9 last season).  Anderson has also taken as many three point shots as he did for all of last season (107 currently to 112 last season).

The game started out with Richmond spotting Fordham a 3-0 lead on a Brenton Butler three.  Then the Spiders scored the next nine points, led by their 6 foot 10 senior forward Justin Harper, who scored five of those points.  The 6-10 Harper is a scout's dream.  He is athletic, shoots 48 percent from three and can score in the post.  He is 42nd on Chad Ford's Top 100 NBA Prospects and I can see why.

Meanwhile Anderson wasn't getting any love.   One of the fans to my right kept yelling "Anderson, you are too slow for the NBA".   Anderson certainly didn't care.  When the Rams cut the deficit to four, 11-7 with 14:24 left in the half, Anderson went to work.  Over the next six minutes, he would drill four 3 pointers and assist on two other baskets.    With eight minutes and fifteen seconds left in the first half, the score was 31-11 Richmond.

Now Anderson was responsible directly or indirectly for 16 of those 20 points.  But a lot of credit also has to go to Richmond's offense.  To watch them move the ball around for the open shot was a simply a thing of beauty.   The fan who kept yelling Anderson was too slow had a friend that was begging Pecora to double team Anderson.  It wouldn't have mattered because Anderson would have found the open man and Richmond has balance.

Besides Anderson and Harper, the Spiders have another scoring option in center Dan Geriot.  Geriot is another three point threat who shoots 46 percent from three and scores about ten points per game.  He buried a couple of long jumpers in the first half.

It was all too much for a Fordham team that just struggles to score at times.   While the Spiders double teamed Gaston, the Rams just couldn't hit a shot.   At one point, Fordham was 4 of 16 from the field in the first half.  And when they weren't hitting shots, they were turning the ball over.  The Rams had ten turnovers in the first half.  Gaston was held without a point until 2:52 left in the first half.  By that time the score had been 38-16 Richmond.  Gaston would score the last nine points for Fordham in the half but the Rams were still down 41-25.

As I noted previously, I was sitting behind the Fordham bench.  Like last week, again I heard fans saying "C'mon Pecora, show some emotion!"   It certainly wasn't the demonstrative Pecora that I had grown accustomed to all those years at Hofstra.   But you could tell that Pecora knew his team was overmatched.  His normal seven man rotation was down two players as freshmen Marvin Dominque and Lamount Samuell were both out with injuries.  Thus he dug deeper into his bench and played two players, Jacob Green and Raynor Moquete, both who barely play, for ten plus minutes each.

This team reminds me of his first season at Hofstra in 2001-02 where he took over a team that had graduated four of its five starters.  In that season, Hofstra started out 4-2 before losing 17 of their last 24 games.  Their signature win that season was an early season win over Kent State, a team with Antonio Gates that would make the Elite Eight that season.  Fordham's signature win this season was the stirring comeback over St John's.

There is hope for Fordham though.  For the second Saturday in a row, there was a good crowd at Rose Hill Gym.  And outside of Butler, Pecora's top six other players return for next season with at least three more talented recruits coming in.  If the fans are patient, they will see a better team, as did the Hofstra fans a few seasons after that 2001-02 season.

However, I had seen enough and had another game to go to in Hempstead.  As I made my drive from the Hutch to the Cross Island to the Grand Central etc, I did keep track of the second half on WFUV.  Richmond would eventually win 77-60, but the game was decided in those first twelve minutes of the game.  There would be no stumble for the Spiders last Saturday as there was also no first conference win for Fordham.   There was one thing though last Saturday.

There was the cold rain outside.  Such is this winter in this northern town.

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