Hi everyone, this is Jaden Daly from A Daly Dose Of Hoops here, providing a closer look at the Fordham Rams as they prepare to invade Halton Arena for their first Atlantic 10 road game of the season against Alan Major and Charlotte. I cover the Rams on a regular basis, having already seen them six times this season, and would like to share some of what Charlotte can expect to see.
Game Reviews, Nuggets and Quotes
Tom Pecora routinely plays a three-guard set, and junior Branden Frazier is the centerpiece of the Ram backcourt. Frazier, a Brooklyn native who was Pecora's first recruit at Fordham; and would have gone to play for him at Hofstra if Pecora were still there, has improved considerably in this, his third campaign in a Fordham uniform, coming into this contest as the Rams' leading scorer. Frazier, whose tendency to take ill-advised shots was once off the charts, has improved his shot selection dramatically, and has become more of a facilitator too as evidenced by his two double-doubles against Siena (20 points, 10 assists) and Duquesne. (16 points, 13 assists)
Bryan Smith is usually the second option out of the backcourt, and is honestly like a box of chocolates: You never truly know what you're going to get from the sophomore. One night, Bryan can knock down several threes from the corner like he did against Monmouth, (18 points) while he can be an enigma on others, like he was against Manhattan, fouling out and only managing one point on a free throw.
Finally, Mandell Thomas is the third member of the starting backcourt. A freshman who has just recently found his way into the opening five, Thomas is arguably the best pure athlete on the squad, finding ways to drive inside while also displaying a relentless defensive game. Thomas also has a flair for the dramatic block late in regulation, as he has rejected potential game-tying shots in the final minute on three separate occasions to offset his lack of offensive productivity.
The Fordham front line begins and almost always ends with Chris Gaston. A senior from New Jersey, Gaston is a first team all-Atlantic 10 selection this season, and is recovering from a torn meniscus that sidelined him for a month earlier in the season. When healthy, he is a walking double-double that can burn teams with his patented mid-range jumper, which sometimes looks like he is literally pushing the ball into the basket. Since returning from the injury in December, Gaston has lost half a step rebounding the ball, but is still far and away the Rams' best threat on the glass, which complements his natural scoring talent.
Ryan Canty usually gets the start alongside Gaston, and if there were an award for Most Improved Player in the A-10, it would go to the sophomore from Massachusetts. Canty was forced into the lineup while Gaston was injured, and has stuck in the starting five with several breakout performances such as his 18 points against Manhattan and double-doubles against St. John's, Princeton and Mississippi. With an average of seven boards per game, he is the second-leading rebounder on the team behind Gaston.
The Fordham reserves are a double-edged sword for Tom Pecora, primarily because of their youth. As high as the potential for these players is, each of the four major players in Fordham's contingent of substitutes is a freshman, all of whom are working on multiple facets of their game.
Travion Leonard is a 6-9 power forward who could be an all A-10 big man in the next two years, and has responded much better than most would have expected after losing 65 pounds in the offseason just to get himself into average playing shape. Ryan Rhoomes, another forward whose journey to Rose Hill mirrored the long and winding road that Mike Glover took to Iona, is a 6-8 forward with a natural knack for rebounding the ball in his limited playing time.
As far as Fordham's reserve guards, Jermaine Myers was getting the start at the point guard position and playing over 30 minutes per game until Mandell Thomas' emergence and Myers' lackluster offensive numbers forced the switch in Tom Pecora's lineup. Myers also needs to improve his defense, as he has been battling Branden Frazier for the dubious distinction of leading the team in turnovers.
Jeff Short has recovered from two knee surgeries to see significant minutes as a redshirt freshman, but his major flaw is more often than not trying to do too much to carry the Rams, especially if Frazier is on the bench. Every now and then, he'll hit the occasional three, but his offensive capabilities have by and large yet to materialize.
Strengths and Weaknesses
First and foremost, Fordham's greatest strength is its rebounding ability. The Rams have two gifted rebounders in Chris Gaston and Ryan Canty, with solid help from Travion Leonard and Ryan Rhoomes in that department as well, but that's about it. As far as weaknesses, we'll start out with the fact that Fordham has been unable to consistently play defense, especially in transition. Fordham commits more turnovers than it forces, and when matched up against faster competition, as they were against UMass with Chaz Williams at point guard against Branden Frazier, it does not usually end well. Fordham also struggles at the free throw line, shooting 67 percent from the charity stripe while their physical nature allows opponents to get to the line more frequently, creating for a higher percentage. Fordham is also much more vulnerable away from Rose Hill Gym, as they have yet to win any of their eight games on the road, a recurring theme for this program even before Pecora took over in 2010.
Tom Pecora is really trying to make something out of one of the closest situations to nothing. With all due respect, Fordham is arguably the most difficult situation in the nation to inherit, and it appears that the former Hofstra coach may be biting off a little more than he can chew in his third season with the Rams. A positive, however, is that he was able to reunite with former assistant coach Tom Parrotta after he was fired by Canisius last season. Parrotta, who worked with the big men as a Pecora assistant at Hofstra, is doing the same at Fordham; developing Ryan Canty, Ryan Rhoomes and Travion Leonard, with each showing their own flashes of brilliance.
Based on last year's matchup where Charlotte stole a heartbreaking win at Rose Hill against Fordham last season, the Rams have a winnable game on their hands for their Atlantic 10 road opener. A key will be to win the matchup of the Chrises, as Chris Gaston faces a player cut from a similar mold in Charlotte's Chris Braswell.
As good as Fordham has looked in their wins this season, they are still a major work in progress, and the relative youth on this team has come back to hurt them as they develop the experience that will serve them better over the next two seasons. The Rams stand a chance in this one, but they will need a near-perfect game based on their road history in order to come away from North Carolina victorious.