Jaden Daly, the most prolific New York City Metro college basketball writer/blogger/play by play announcer around, is graciously again guest blogging on The College Hardwood. With Fordham traveling to North Carolina to take on a streaking Davidson team tomorrow evening, Jaden gives an inside look at a now surging Rams team that has won three out of its last four games.
Jaden has covered in person SEVEN Fordham games this season. No one, and I mean NO ONE, knows Fordham better than Jaden Daly. Enjoy!
Hello again, everyone, Jaden Daly from A Daly Dose Of Hoops here, giving you my traditional yearly look at the Fordham Rams, who come to Belk Arena this Saturday to take on Davidson for the first time in Atlantic 10 play. Covering the Rams on a regular basis as I do, it is my hope to give you a better idea of what the Wildcats can expect from their latest new opponent.
Game Reviews, Nuggets and Quotes
UMass Lowell vs. Fordham
Siena vs. Fordham
St. John's vs. Fordham
Manhattan vs. Fordham
Howard vs. Fordham
VCU vs. Fordham
UMass vs. Fordham
Even though he has a better frontcourt than in years past, Tom Pecora will still employ his traditional three-guard set, a system he admits he is, at times, stubborn to change because of how well it has worked for him, both at Fordham and at Hofstra before that. Junior Mandell Thomas will be the first of the three guards in Fordham's offense. A combo guard from Rochester, New York; whose father, Chad, played at Rhode Island and was recruited unsuccessfully by Pecora, Thomas just recently moved to the point guard position after an ineffective showing by freshmen Antwoine Anderson and Nemanja Zarkovic inspired Pecora to try a different hand as the Rams' floor general. Thomas has been the best athlete on the team since arriving at Rose Hill, and he has used his explosiveness to his advantage since the middle of his freshman season, when he was inserted into the starting lineup. Now, Thomas is still adjusting to being more unselfish, and more of a facilitator. This is not to say he is completely sacrificing his scoring, but he is focusing more on his ancillary numbers in the rebound and assist departments as of late, then worrying about points as they come.
One thing Pecora has always been to a fault, and Gary himself will attest to this from years of watching Hofstra, is loyal to his seniors. That alone is the biggest reason why Bryan Smith continues to get the playing time he still receives, despite being an enigma on the floor more often than not. Much like the proverbial box of chocolates that was so vividly described in "Forrest Gump," you truly never know what you're going to get from Bryan. One night, he'll give you 15 points and knock down several clutch three-pointers, the next, he'll struggle through a 1-for-8 outing hampered by foul trouble. Pecora often laments Smith's inconsistency, yet for four years, has believed in the kid, hoping he would find a way through.
Fordham's third guard is one who should play as more of a forward, yet settles way too often for shots he should not be taking. That, for those who don't know, is Eric Paschall. A 6-6 swingman who came to the Rams after winning Mr. Basketball honors in the state of New York, Paschall is a player who is at his best when he attacks the basket and drives inside against bigger competition. However, he decides on way too many mid-range and outside shots, something a player of his physique should be much less reliant on. In spite of his questionable shot selection, his raw talent alone has enabled him to be Fordham's leading scorer, and the frontrunner for Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors.
If you paid attention to the A-10 last year, you probably know who Ryan Rhoomes is. If not, he's a 6-8 junior that has such a distinct nose for the ball to the point where he can, and more often than not, does, end up with anywhere between ten and fifteen boards per game. Rhoomes has become one of the more underrated big men in the A-10, and that is a credit to his relentless work over the summer in becoming more of an interior presence, something Fordham has admittedly struggled with finding and maintaining throughout Pecora's tenure.
The Rams' biggest surprise, though, is Rhoomes' frontcourt partner, Christian Sengfelder. A 6-8 German power forward, Sengfelder is unique in his ability to space the floor while coming up with rebounds and a deceptively strong outside shot. In his last five games prior to Fordham's most recent win against George Mason Wednesday night, Sengfelder had been averaging a double-double, and has a 16-rebound performance on his ledger against a UMass team led by a walking double-double in his own right, Cady Lalanne. When watching Sengfelder, pay attention to what he does away from the ball before it gets to his hands. While Eric Paschall commands most of the attention, it is his German teammate who is the more polished player, and something Fordham fans have been very satisfied with since his debut in November.
The Fordham bench looks a little different this season, most notably with the presence of Jon Severe. The sophomore guard, who was the star of the show as a freshman last season alongside Branden Frazier; who has since turned pro, has taken on a new role as somewhat of a high-energy reserve upon returning from a month-long leave of absence. Severe had a string of five consecutive double-figure scoring games before the Rams took on Richmond last week, so his scoring is starting to come together as well. The aforementioned freshman point guard duo of Antwoine Anderson and Nemanja Zarkovic offer a stable hand at the point guard position, but not much else in the way of scoring. In fact, since Mandell Thomas was moved to the starting point guard spot, Zarkovic has seen his minutes drastically decrease. Forwards Manny Suarez and Dekeba Battee-Aston are slowly learning the ropes in their freshman seasons, but neither one is active on the floor for a long period of time, simply used as a fresh body if either Rhoomes or Sengfelder is plagued by foul trouble.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Fordham is a much stronger team up front than in years past, which is a quality Pecora has lacked since his early years at Hofstra, and that even included the three years he got from Chris Gaston when coming to Fordham. The presence of Rhoomes and Sengfelder, and Eric Paschall when the Rams play a smaller lineup, gives Fordham the flexibility to impose their will on teams on both ends of the floor, one of the biggest reasons why the Rams have rebounded to win three of their last four following an 0-9 start to the A-10 schedule.
From a weakness standpoint, one thing the Rams struggle with aside from shot selection is turnovers. When facing a team that likes to press, as was the case against St. John's, Manhattan and VCU, Fordham tends to look like a deer in headlights, and commits way too many careless miscues than they should. If the Rams can handle the ball well, they play at their best.
I've been admittedly critical of Pecora in recent years as he attempts to rebuild a program that has been in a two-decade-long morass since joining the Atlantic 10. Still hopeful of reversing the Rams' fortunes, Pecora appears to have bitten off more than he can chew sometimes, but in recent games, it seems as though Fordham is, slowly; but surely, turning a corner. Granted, Saint Louis and George Mason were not picked to finish near the top of the league this year, but the Rams' victory over reigning A-10 champion Saint Joseph's, projected at the beginning of the year to be a team in the postseason conversation, may have been the most impressive example of Pecora's eternal hope that it can get turned around in the Bronx once and for all.
Fordham's guards have a refuse-to-lose mentality when they realize they are in a winnable matchup. Mandell Thomas and Bryan Smith have had an experience edge in recent games, which should give them confidence against a Davidson team that some may say has overachieved in their first season removed from the Southern Conference under longtime mentor Bob McKillop, for whom Tom Pecora worked as an assistant coach on the Long Island high school circuit in the 1980s.
While their recent surge has begun to dispel the notion that the Rams are in over their heads in a strong A-10, Fordham remains a work in progress. Playing on the road might be an even bigger weakness for this team, as for some reason, the Rams have had a hard time away from Rose Hill Gym. In fact, Wednesday's win over George Mason was just the second road win in A-10 play during Pecora's near-five-year tenure, the only other one coming at St. Bonaventure in 2013. Fordham has never seen a team like the Wildcats, which is both a blessing and a curse. If this game was played a month ago, Davidson would win handily. Now, I don't know if I can still say that, as Fordham's ever-growing confidence and group of veterans who are starting to tap into their potential will make this a close game that will ultimately come down to the final two or three possessions.