Monday, January 27, 2014

Careful For What You Wish For

I have been writing this blog, The College Hardwood, since December 2005.  I can't remember writing a post based specifically on watching one game.  But here I was on an early Sunday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina watching the entire Fordham vs. UMass game on the NBC Sports Network.   The Minutemen absolutely pasted the Rams 90-52.  It was how the Rams played or didn't play that inspired me to write this post.

So many things I saw Fordham do on the court, or actually not do, I had seen before.  Players not moving without the ball on offense while waiting for their best player, who is dribbling at the top of the key, to "create" as he finally makes his one on one move to the basket.  Too much dribbling, too many bad shots, too many three pointers instead of working the ball inside.  Hell, no inside game whatsoever.

That's because I had seen it all before.  Fordham's coach is Tom Pecora, who previously coached at Hofstra for nine seasons.  For nine seasons, I had a prime seat to all of Pecora's teams' style of play.

Pecora left Hofstra for Fordham after nine seasons, mainly for two reasons.  One reason was that he was tired of the southern tilt of the CAA.  He felt the Pride never had a fair shot to win in the Colonial and my guess is that he especially felt jaded after the 2005-06 season which ended in a NCAA snub.

Second, Pecora, even the Hofstra administration at the time, wanted to be in the A-10, but there was little hope of Hofstra ever being able to join the A-10.  Fordham gave him an opportunity to be in the A-10 and with his ability to recruit, Pecora felt he could succeed in the A-10.  Fordham saw a coach who, in his last five seasons, had four twenty plus win campaigns and three trips to the postseason.  An amount of success Fordham hadn't seen in ages.  It seemed like a perfect match.

Recruiting has never been a question with Pecora and I certainly believe he has a knack for talent.  Over the years, Pecora has recruited Speedy Claxton, Norman Richardson, Rick Apodaca, Kenny Adeleke, Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio, Carlos Rivera, Adrian Uter, Aurimas Kieza, Charles Jenkins, Chaz Williams, Halil Kanacevic, Brenden Frazier and Jon Severe.  

Three of those players; Claxton, Richardson and Jenkins have played in the NBA.  There's a good chance that Chaz Williams will make it four. It's an impressive list of talent.  If I had to say who was the top three of Pecora's all time recruits I would say right now Claxton, Jenkins and Agudio.  Chaz is catching up fast though.

And Pecora was successful with Hofstra.  He did have four twenty plus win seasons, three NIT appearances and a .552 won lost percentage with the Pride.  And it did take time for Hofstra to succeed, as Hofstra had losing records in each of Pecora's first three seasons before breaking through with a 21-9 record and a NIT appearance in the 2004-05 season.  So it stands to reason that Fordham fans should be patient with Pecora and let him build a winning program.

Based on the previous paragraph, you would think Pecora would be somewhat successful or his team would show improvement going into his fourth year at Fordham, correct?  Well, halfway through Pecora's fourth season at Fordham, his overall record is 32-75.  The Rams have currently only eight conference wins in those three and half seasons.  His current team is 8-11 and has only one win in conference.

Compare that to his Hofstra teams.  In Pecora's second season, his team went 8-21 and 6-12 in conference.  In Pecora's third season at Hofstra, the team improved to 14-16 and 10-8 in conference.   In Pecora's second season with Fordham, the Rams went 10-19 and 3-13 in conference.  Last season, they actually were worse, 7-24 and again 3-13 in conference.  In Fordham's non conference losses last season, the average margin of loss was sixteen points .  In their conference losses, the average margin was thirteen points.  Sixteen of their twenty four losses were by double digit margins.

This season, they are 7-6 in non conference, which is certainly better than last season, but again the Rams are on pace for only three wins in conference after their 1-5 A-10 start.  In their twelve losses this season, their average margin of loss is sixteen points and they have seven double digit losses.  Three of their five conference losses are by twelve points (home loss to Dayton), twenty four points (road loss to St Louis) and after yesterday's drubbing by UMass, thirty eight points respectively.  Their only win in conference is over winless George Mason.  At this point, there seems to be little or no improvement.

So what are the reasons for Pecora's struggles with Fordham?  I have certainly noted that Pecora can recruit and anyone with a basketball sense can tell you that Frazier and Severe are good ball players.  Well there are a couple of reasons.

The first obvious reason is that the A-10 is stronger than the CAA.  Much stronger. The only exception might have been the 2010-11 season where the CAA had three teams make the NCAA Tournament. And two of those teams, VCU and George Mason are now in the Atlantic Ten.  There are no days off in the A-10 and there are no Towsons (well the Towson we used to know, not the good Pat Skerry teams of now) or Benny Moss' UNCW teams to feast on during the season.  Every team in the A-10 has a lot of talent.

As for the facilities argument, I don't buy that.  The Rose Hill Gym doesn't seat a lot of people, but it's a nice gym and if the Rams play well, it would sell out regularly (which it doesn't) and then you could have an argument for a larger arena.

But there's another point to be made.  One, if you look a little closer under the hood and if you watched the Hofstra games in person, you would know why Fordham can't compete with the UMass', VCU's,  St Louis' or even Rhode Island.

I'll be blunt.  It's the Xs and Os on offense.  It's the coaching.

I want to take the time to note that what is about to be written here is not personal.  I have heard a lot of good things about Pecora over the years, that he is a nice guy.  I have that based on several people I hold in high regard.  What I am writing about is strictly from a coaching standpoint.

Defensively, I have never had a problem with Pecora.  Pecora's teams could always rebound.  The Rams are currently 58th in the country in rebounds.

His Hofstra teams were also pretty decent defensively, as they played just about always man to man.  My favorite game of Pecora's tenure was the CAA Tournament Semifinal vs. George Mason.  In the final twenty minutes, the Pride held the Patriots to just sixteen second half points, Tony Skinn nut punch and all, as Hofstra beat Mason convincingly 58-49.  Mason shot four of twenty three in the second half. Every Pride fan in attendance thought Hofstra was going to get an at large based on that dominant second half performance.

After the 2006 NCAA snubbing, the Pride were favored to win the CAA in the 2006-07 season.  In the 2006-07 season, they led the CAA shooting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc.  But the Pride only finished third in the CAA that season and got upset in the CAA Quarterfinals by George Mason, a team they had dominated earlier in the regular season.

So what happened?

Well that 2005-06 team that went 26-7 was truly special.  Not only did you have Stokes, Agudio and Carlos Rivera, easily the best three guard group in the history of Hofstra, but you also had a very good frontcourt of Uter and Kieza.  Uter just missed averaging ten points per game, otherwise you would have had a starting lineup that all averaged in double figures in scoring.  Uter and Kieza could also rebound (both were in the top ten in rebounding in the CAA that season) and Uter perfectly played the part of the dominant shot blocker as he was fourth in the CAA in blocks per game.  It was a balanced offensive team, where all five players could score, as well as a very solid defensive team.

Uter and Kieza graduated after the 2005-06 season.  Pecora didn't have any suitable replacements as Chris Gadley, Arminas Urbutis, Mike Davis Sabb and Ziggy Sestokas literally combined couldn't match the totals of Uter and Kieza from an offensive or rebounding standpoint.  It was basically Stokes, Agudio and Rivera carrying that team in 2006-07.

In that quarterfinal game against George Mason, Pecora inexplicably started Sestokas at the four, along with Davis Sabb, despite Mason's tall, talented beefy front line of Darryl Monroe and Will Thomas, who outrebounded Hofstra 36-27.  Urbutis would have been a better choice at the four (and I was saying that before the game started).

As a result, the Patriots jumped out to a fifteen point halftime lead.  The Pride rallied and had a chance to tie late in regulation, but Greg Johnson inexplicably drove the lane down three points, along with two Mason players who inexplicably followed him and put up a wild floater instead of kicking out to an open shooter beyond the arc.  I know.  I was there at Richmond Coliseum that day. The Pride lost 64-61.

In those three seasons with Stokes, Agudio and Rivera, Hofstra was 40-14 in conference but only made the CAA championship game once, in 2006.  In fact, in Pecora's nine seasons, Hofstra only made the CAA championship game once and the semifinals three times.

After Stokes and Rivera left, the Pride struggled the next season, the 2007-08 season, despite the amazing Agudio and the CAA Rookie of the Year, Jenkins.  Agudio would often win games by himself at the end of a game.  Despite Agudio and Jenkins, the Pride finished 12-18, including 8-10 in conference in Agudio's senior season.

The season after, the 2008-09 season,the Pride won twenty one games, including an 11-7 record in conference.  But upon closer look, the record is not truly indicative of how Hofstra did that season.

The Pride started off the season 8-1 (including an early conference win over Towson) and were 8-3 in non-conference games.  One of their wins was over a Division III opponent, SUNY Old Westbury.  Only three of their seven Division I non conference wins came against teams over .500, and two of them, Stony Brook and Manhattan were each 16-14 on the season.  Only a Charleston Classic win over East Tennessee State, an eventual NCAA Tournament team that won twenty three games that season stands out in the non conference schedule.

In conference, Hofstra was 2-7 against teams that finished over .500 in conference; home wins vs. Northeastern and Old Dominion, home and road losses to Drexel, home and road losses to VCU, a road loss to Northeastern, a twenty four point loss at George Mason and a one point loss in the CAA Tournament to Old Dominion.  If you include their two wins over James Madison, who finished 9-9 in conference and 21-15 overall, then the Pride were 4-7 against above .500 teams overall in the CAA.

Then came the 2009-10 season, the freshman seasons for Chaz Williams and Halil Kanacevic and Jenkins was the CAA Player of the Year that season.  Williams and Kanacevic each made the All CAA Rookie Team.  Yet, Hofstra went 19-15 and 10-8 in conference.

Hofstra won only two games ALL SEASON against Division I teams that finished over .500 overall; Fairfield and Northeastern.   All nine of their conference losses, eight in regular season and one in CAA Tournament came against teams above .500 in conference.  Their only wins against teams above .500 in conference were again Northeastern and Drexel.

By the way, all the pictures you see in this article are from the 2009-10 season.

Over Pecora's last two seasons with the Pride, Hofstra's record against teams above .500 in the CAA was 4-16 (including the two CAA Tournament losses).  Four and Sixteen.  This is not the first time I noted this.  I noted this when I was pushing Tim Cluess for head coach of Hofstra. (see how Cluess has worked out for Iona?)

Now think about that record in regards to now playing quality teams in the A-10 every night.  Enough said.

Now we all know what happened after Pecora left.  Chaz and Halil left to go to UMass and St Joe's in the A-10 respectively.  Tim Welsh was hired and basically fired after 30 days on the job due to a DUI arrest. Mo Cassara came in, did a heck of a job in his first season with basically just Charles Jenkins and Mike Moore in an incredibly tough CAA.  Then after a tough second season and the four idiots arrests in his third season after the Pride started 3-2, Cassara was unfortunately fired and Joe Mihalich was hired to replace Cassara.

So what I often hear from friends and college basketball bloggers I follow on Twitter (many of whom follow me as well) is "Imagine if Pecora stayed. Imagine what could have been with Jenkins, Chaz and Halil".  It's something I have thought of many times myself.

Well after yesterday's game and all the evidence I have shown above, I am here to tell you something.  It probably would have been more of the same of the 2009-10 season.

Heck, they went 10-8 together that 2009-10 season in a CAA that was nowhere near as tough as the 2010-11 season where three CAA teams made the NCAA Tournament, two teams won a NCAA game; VCU and George Mason, one team lost to the eventual National Runner up Butler on a buzzer beater; Old Dominon and one, VCU, went to the Final Four.   Perhaps with the addition of Mike Moore and Frazier, who Pecora first recruited to Hofstra, things would have been different.  But what makes you think Pecora would have got more out of them?

Think about what Mo Cassara did without Kanacevic and Chaz in his first year as a head coach on the Division I level.  He took a team, that on paper was not as good as the season before, and he got them to finish four games better in a tougher conference than the season before, and they made it to the CAA Semifinals for the first time since 2006.

And despite what has happened since Cassara's magical first season, I would rather have Hofstra now under Mihalich than with Pecora, considering Mihalich's long, successful tenure at Niagara.  Having watched several of Hofstra's games this season online and one in person, Mihalich's offense is fun to watch.  They actually move without the ball. And he has the Pride already with three wins in conference, a team that was picked to finish last in the CAA and is basically a placeholder until four of Mihalich's players (three transfers) are eligible next season.

I thought that maybe with better talent to recruit since Fordham was in the A-10, you might see Pecora developing a more rounded team.  A team that had inside post play as well as good guards.  A team that would be competitive night in and night out.  I wasn't expecting the Rams to be in the top third of the A-10, but at least respectable, given Pecora's ability to recruit.

And yet, four years later, I see the same things in Fordham games that I did in Hofstra games.  No ball movement, a guard oriented dribble drive offense where the guard stands at the top of the key and tries to "create", while four other players stand around and no post play on offense whatsoever.   Pecora only recruited and developed four good post players at Hofstra; Adeleke, Uter, Kieza and Kanacevic.  He inherited Chris Gaston when he took over Fordham, so he doesn't count.

One frontcourt player he recruited to both Hofstra and then Fordham, Marvin Dominique, barely touched the ball in his two years with the Rams.  Dominique transferred to St Peter's, where he has flourished.  The junior forward averages nearly eighteen points and nine rebounds per game for the Peacocks.

Pecora's teams have basically become guard oriented and have been since the 2006-07 season.  You could get away with it for the most part in the CAA against teams with less talent or with three outstanding guards like Stokes, Agudio and Rivera.  However, the last two seasons at Hofstra showed he couldn't beat good teams when necessary.  The problem is you need good inside post play to balance your offense.   Talented A-10 teams have exploited and exacerbated that with Fordham, especially this season.

Pecora got what he wanted in 2010 when he took the Fordham job, a chance to coach in the A-10.  The problem is that the evidence seems to indicate he bit off more than he could chew from a coaching standpoint.  Being able to recruit talent is one thing. Frazier and Severe are very talented.  However, being able to coach talent in an elite league like the Atlantic Ten is another matter.

What's ironic is that the teams Pecora was trying to get away from in the Colonial; southern based teams like VCU and Mason are now in the A-10. Meanwhile, the CAA is basically now the old America East with a couple of Southern teams sprinkled in.

I had considered writing this for a while, but I held off.  One play on Sunday put me over the edge.  In Fordham's last possession before the half, Pecora had Frazier dribble at the top of the key, while the four other Ram players just stood around.  Finally, one of the Ram bigs came out for a ball screen.  Frazier drove, then tried to pass the ball back.  He threw it away for a back court violation.

It was similar to that 2007-08 season, where time after time Pecora had Agudio run that same play at the end of games. Though my friends Mal, Tieff and I hated that play, Agudio would often succeed (and also would take the shot and not pass back).

But Frazier is not Agudio.  UMass is not the 2007-08 James Madison.  And the A-10 is not the 2007-08 CAA, or the 2008-09 CAA or 2009-10 CAA for that matter.

My guess is that Fordham fans have finally figured this out.  The question is, has the Fordham administration figured that out?


  1. i see someone is finally paying attention to the mess at fordham. right on the money analysis of the coaching.

  2. Very good analysis. Pecora has not improved any of his Fordham players. He is in the process of hurting Severe's development by allowing him to shoot from anywhere, in any situation. The Rams exhibit no ball movement, little defensive intensity and almost no basketball IQ. Pecora seems detached and unconcerned by the often embarrassing performances turned in by his team.

    Pecora has never made the NCAA tournament as a head coach. There is good reason for that, and this article explains those reasons very clearly.

    Pecora needs to go, whether or not Fordham stays in the A10.

  3. After reading/publishing the comments here and looking into it further, I am surprised statistically by Fordham's lack of defense. What's also stunning, is outside of VCU, the Rams have attempted the second most field goals in the A-10. Of course they are 331st in the country in FG percentage. That does have much to do with what I said, too many three point attempts, too guard oriented.

    Two more things - One, Rhoomes shoots 65 percent from the field, but he only averages four field goal attempts per game. Two, the Rams lead the A-10 in FT percentage but are dead last in free throw attempts. Both are not surprising, given Pecora's guard oriented, outside shooting offense. But it goes to show a lack of an inside game and it's a shame.

  4. Pecora needs to change his offensive philosophy completely to succeed with the front court bangers in the A-10.

  5. Agreed pretty much with everything said. Although my view is the Fordham Rams defensive play is poor. To many players not moving without ball on offense and to many player stepping up the defense only when a player has the ball.

  6. TG my alma mater has Mas...