One of the more bizarre emails I ever received, and there have been more than a few strange ones over the years, was from a Fordham fan during the advent of the Blackburn Review. From what I recall, it was in response to a post I wrote discussing the possibility of the Atlantic Ten parting ways with Fordham. This particular missive was acrimonious in nature and steadfastly defended Fordham, going as far to label it a “sleeping giant” in the conference. To be fair, the email was well written and made some fairly decent points. The draw of New York City was chief among his reasons, and I believe he felt that the program was about to turn the corner with Tom Pecora in the Ram’s corner.
Again, the points the author made were reasonable and, while overly optimistic, not without validity. I concurred with the Fordham fan on one point specifically – the Rams were always seemingly a player away from becoming a factor in the A10. Make no mistake, Fordham had talented players over the years. Chris Gaston, Brenton Butler, Branden Frazier, Bryant Dunston and Marcus Stout could have started for any program in the conference. The Rams had pieces but not enough to complete the puzzle.
There have been circumstances out of the program’s control as well. Jio Fontan and Eric Paschall, last season’s A10 Rookie of the year, were arguably the two best players the Rams brought into the fold since joining the Atlantic Ten and both transferred out of the program as soon as they could (Paschall left after his freshman season, Fontan tried to do the same but Fordham wouldn’t grant him his release after his first year. Fontan was forced to stick around for a few weeks into his sophomore season before leaving for good). Fontan had an up-and-down career at USC and Paschall is currently sitting out the season with Villanova, he has three more years of eligibility left. Mike Moore was another player that transferred out of the Bronx after showing great promise, he went on to have a stellar two seasons at Hofstra before playing in the D-League. If these players stuck around, maybe the Fordham program would have be in better shape today. Maybe not.
Suffice it to say, attracting gifted players has never been Fordham’s problem. The issue has been the overall lack of talent once you got past the top two or three kids on their roster. If the Atlantic Ten was a three-on-three league, the Rams would have been right near the top of the standings. No team in the conference had as consistent a precipitous drop in talent as you scanned down the roster as Fordham did. The Rams had more glaring weaknesses getting major minutes than any program in the league, particularly in the frontcourt.
I say all of that to get back to the original point. The writer of the aforementioned email specifically wanted me to name five programs, realistic options, which would make the Atlantic Ten conference a stronger league with Fordham’s elimination. I didn’t supply a list in my reply, but it is something I always think about whenever the Flyers take on the Rams. In the end, he was probably right when you take into account the general makeup of the league, maybe there weren’t many genuine possibilities to replace Fordham with after all (Southern Illinois, Valpo, Iona?).
Regardless, I can’t for the life of me figure out why Fordham can’t seem to escape the league’s cellar year after year. Other programs seem to rise and fall from season to season but the Rams remain anchored near the bottom of the conference. Fordham hasn’t had a winning season in the A10 since 2006-07, and it doesn’t seem like the Rams are any closer to breaking that streak this year.
Fordham ran through an objectively unchallenging non-conference schedule, racking up a 9-2 record before entering the conference portion of their season. Then, predictably, it all went to hell. The Rams are currently 2-4 in league play, with wins over La Salle and George Mason, losses coming at the hands of GW, VCU, St. Joe’s and Richmond. Fordham, led by new coach Jeff Neubauer, were once again picked to finish last in the Atlantic Ten.
The Rams are a decent perimeter shooting team, hitting 37% of their three-point attempts and hitting 51% of their two-point shots. Fordham plays with a very patient mindset offensively. Neubauer’s team does not fire shots indiscriminately like Davidson or Duquesne, preferring to work the ball around in order to get a good look each time down the floor. However, with more passes come more turnovers – the Rams turn the ball over on a staggering 20.4% of their possessions, the worst rate in the Atlantic Ten.
Defensively, Fordham is rather solid. The Rams force turnovers on 23.5% of their opponents’ possessions, currently ranking them ninth in the nation. Fordham gets steals on 12.8% of their opposition’s possessions, good for sixth in the country. Neubauer’s philosophy is built on turning the opposition over and hitting threes at an above-average clip (the early Pitino Kentucky teams maximized their talent employing a similar approach). Although the Rams don’t get up nearly as many threes as those early 90’s Wildcat teams, they still put up around 37% of their shots from behind the arc. The drawback with this style is the lack of easy points from the foul-line, Fordham gets to the line at an extremely low rate.
Although not a particularly tall team, Fordham leads the A10 in block percentage – the Rams reject shots on 14% of their opponents attempts (my theory is Fordham’s adversaries play with increased confidence in the paint, underestimating the Ram’s shot-blocking ability in the frontcourt. Let’s see how this affects DP, Chief and Pollard down low). Fordham, as a whole, is inexperienced and doesn’t get a whole lot of production from its bench. Simply put, it’s your typical Ram team.
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Senior guard Mandell Thomas is the team’s top player, both offensively and defensively. Thomas is a threat from behind the arc and takes about a quarter of the team’s shots on a given night. Antwoine Anderson joins Thomas in the Ram’s starting backcourt. Anderson, a sophomore, has taken a major leap forward in terms of his production. He has improved dramatically in almost every offensive category.
I have fallen in love with many A10 players over the years – Pepe Sanchez, Dan Geriot, Halil Kanacević to name a few – and I think I have found my new crush in Fordham freshman guard Joseph Chartouny. Chartouny is a French-Canadian who found himself on Fordham’s radar after a dominating performance against the Rams during the school’s preseason trip to Canada. He can do a little bit of everything on the floor and is the type of player you’ll find yourself fixating on during the game. He is an extremely heady guard who makes everyone around him better. He’s a first-year player still finding his way, but I think he’ll have a memorable career if he doesn’t transfer out of the program.
Up front, Fordham starts perpetual senior Ryan Rhoomes and German blitzkrieger, Christian Sengfelder. Rhoomes never hit that next level as far as his development is concerned, but he is solid player nonetheless. He’s a decent rebounder who plies his trade around the basket. Rhoomes is very aware of his shortcomings offensively, you won’t see him pop outside to chuck a three. Sengfelder has the prototypical Euro game – a taller forward who can pick-and-pop from three and rebound when it’s convenient. You only notice players like Sengfelder when they are connecting from behind the arc.
The Fordham bench is led by Jon Severe, who has had a topsy-turvy career to say the least. The former freshman phenom is now relegated to bench duty and the program seems better for it. After several suspensions and “leave of absences,” the local product has found his niche as an energy guy who still takes horrendous shots and leaves you dumfounded at times. Still, the junior guard can still score in bunches and get hot quickly.
Nemanja Zarkovic and David Pekarek are the other main reserves for the Rams. Zarkovic is a zero-sum player, he won’t contribute much but isn’t a liability when he is on the floor. Pekarek is a lithe forward who enjoys camping out around the arc (where he is shooting an abysmal 21% this season).
Down to the most basic levels, this is not your typical Fordham team. For the first time in eight years the Fordham Rams have a positive efficiency differential, meaning they actually score more per possession than they give up. Like many teams who apply pressure, Fordham reaches the extremes in a couple of key areas. They turn teams over on 23.5% of possessions (8th nationally) and on 12.8% (6th) of possessions they create steals. Mandell Thomas and Joseph Chartouny lead this charge ranking 14th and 8th as individuals in steals percentage. Neither are Briante Weber reincarnate, but they’re not too far off either.
On the downside of the spectrum teams get to shoot a free throw for everyone 2 FGs they attempt, which is one of the highest rates in the country. It’s no surprise then they give up more points than most teams from the charity stripe. While on defense Fordham has one of the shortest average possession lengths in the country, with their average possession length lasting 15.8 seconds (9th). It’s pretty safe to suffice their pressure forces you into a turnover, fouls you or allows a quick easy bucket.
On the offensive side, Fordham struggles. They shoot it fairly well both inside and outside, but something tells me the inside numbers maybe inflated by easy baskets off turnovers. They turn the ball over a lot themselves (at a worse rate than the Flyers even) and don’t shoot many free-throws. I think Fordham will really struggle to score if they can’t get easy buckets off of Flyer miscues. The key will be Crosby and Scooch taking care of the ball. Many teams who pressure have difficulty in the half court. It’s a multiplier effect. If you can’t score, you can’t set pressure. If you can’t set your pressure you can’t score. It works the other way too: score, pressure, easy score, and pressure, so on and so forth. Which of these will apply on Sunday? The Flyers ability to take care of the ball will determine that.
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In the past it always seemed like Fordham had one player who was capable of going off and could possibly keep the game close enough to threaten an upset. The Rams don’t have such a player this season, Jon Severe would have been a possibility before he was emasculated, and the Flyers level of talent is just too much for Neubauer’s team to contend with. Dayton hasn’t lost to Fordham in over ten years and the streak continues as UD rolls, 75-61. Flyers cruise to 16 wins on the season and threaten in the polls come Monday morning.
Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.