Friday, January 31, 2014

Fordham/Rhode Island Preview

Fordham seeks second Atlantic 10 win when it hosts Rhode Island and oft-controversial Dan Hurley at Rose Hill Gym tomorrow. (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

Following two road losses, with the second slightly better than the first, Fordham returns home tomorrow evening, taking on a Rhode Island team that the Rams have defeated in each of the last two meetings at Rose Hill Gym.

At 11-10, Dan Hurley's team is much better than they were a year ago, but the Rams of New England have still had some bumps in the road under their fiery and often emotional second-year leader. With that said, Rhode Island has developed a solid backcourt duo of leading scorer Xavier Munford and freshman E.C. Matthews to back Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta, who anchors the front line alongside Staten Island freshman Hassan Martin.

With two Atlantic 10 wins, one against a George Mason team that Fordham garnered its lone conference victory against, as well as a somewhat huge win over Dayton, Rhode Island is still looking for another major step forward. With that said, we turn it over to a higher authority on all things URI, that being the ubiquitous college basketball insider Vin Parise, who covers Hurley's Rams among his many talents for Cox Sports Rhode Island, as well as his color commentary and studio analyst work on SNY; where he will be calling this game alongside Dave Raymond, and WBBR-AM in New York. Here's what Vin had to say about the team who has lost its last two games in the Bronx by a grand total of just five points:

Jaden Daly: Most critics expected this year to be one in which Dan Hurley took a significant leap forward. At 11-10, has the delay in reaching the summit been attributed more to the overall strength of the Atlantic 10 than it has the youth on Hurley's roster?

Vin Parise: Good question, and I honestly think it's a combination of both. As much as Dan Hurley relies on veterans Xavier Munford and Gilvydas Biruta; two of their better players are freshmen in E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin. And in terms of the league; nobody could expect the conference to be this strong. The fact that the A-10 can get just as many teams, if not more teams, to the NCAA Tournament in March than the Big East proves that. We knew VCU and Saint Louis would be strong - but nobody had UMass being ranked - and nobody had George Washington as a postseason team. The Colonials were picked 10th! And look at St. Bonaventure who is only a game up on Rhode Island - they just beat UMass.

JD: The majority of Fordham fans will not know of E.C. Matthews right away, so what is it about the freshman shooting guard that makes him such a lethal weapon for Rhode Island?

VP: He's just so efficient, mature and durable for Dan Hurley right now, and that's not always something that is said for freshmen. He's playing over 30 minutes and night and is still putting up good numbers when many freshmen are hitting that 'Freshman Wall.' Matthews had 20 points last week when URI beat Dayton.

JD: With Rhode Island's front line being almost as thin as Fordham is up front, how much more valuable has Gilvydas Biruta been in his first year back after transferring from Rutgers?

VP: Biruta has brought a lot of toughness and experience down low; something that Rhode Island really needed since Hurley took over, but they're also getting terrific minutes from local standout Hassan Martin, who is the 2nd leading rebounder on this team. That being said, I still think this matchup between URI and Fordham will be a guard's game. Some great perimeter play potentially between Frazier, Severe and Munford.

JD: Seeing that VCU and UMass immediately follow on the schedule for Rhode Island, could this be a trap game of sorts for Hurley's team, and what are the keys to victory for the visitors?

VP: I honestly don't feel Rhode Island is at the point yet where they could have a trap game and I feel Hurley would agree. This is still the rebuilding stage for this program, and Hurley preaches every day that anyone can beat anyone in that league if you're not ready to play.

JD: Considering Rhode Island has yet to win on the road in A-10 play this year, and have lost two consecutive games at Rose Hill Gym by a grand total of five points, how important is this game for the Rams, and how strong of a homecourt advantage does Fordham possess?

VP: I feel any game on the road is a grind in the A-10; and UMass losing at St. Bonaventure recently just proved that. And when you have two teams that are under .500 in the league battling it out, it's a huge game for both programs with February about to begin. That being said, I do feel Fordham's guards shoot well at home and the team overall runs a bit more in Rose Hill.

JD: Ultimately, where do you see Rhode Island finishing in the A-10, taking into consideration the handful of winnable games remaining on the schedule?

VP: Yes, but Rhode Island still has to play VCU and UMass twice moving forward. Right now, URI is right about where they were picked in the preseason polls; which is 9th, but this team has continued to improve, the freshmen are showing that the future is bright and Xavier Munford is one of the toughest covers in the league - so I definitely feel this team can overachieve with how they finish. Ultimately, they'll be judged like everyone else - how they play in late February and early March.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fordham/VCU Preview

Shaka Smart and VCU are next up for Fordham as Rams hope to turn page from 38-point loss to UMass. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

After their first Atlantic 10 win of the season against George Mason, what followed for Fordham was a performance the Rams would like to forget, a 90-52 debacle in Amherst against Derek Kellogg, Chaz Williams, and No. 13 UMass.

Tom Pecora, who has come under criticism, (and justifiably so in the wake of Sunday's lopsided defeat) particularly in this piece from Gary Moore that goes so far as to profile Pecora's coaching inconsistencies even while at Hofstra, now faces yet another familiar foe for his next challenge, with Shaka Smart and VCU next up on the Fordham ledger.

Richmond's Rams are still riding high from their 2011 Final Four run, not to mention a banner year in their first A-10 campaign last season. Using their patented "Havoc" defense to force turnovers and seize momentum in every game, VCU is truly a college basketball brand unlike any other, and could be the toughest test that Fordham; who has already gone through Saint Louis and UMass on the road, have faced. In addition, let us not forget that the first of two games against the black and gold Rams takes place in the Siegel Center, also known not just as "The Stu," but also a place where homecourt advantage is a mere understatement.

VCU has already competed in the New York area, decisively handling Boston College at the Barclays Center last month, and they will invade Rose Hill Gym at the end of February before returning for the Atlantic 10 tournament. Until then, though, we preview the clash of two herds of Rams by welcoming Mike Litos to the site. A walking encyclopedia of all things VCU for several years, Mike is a more experienced version of yours truly in that he is a dual threat as both a broadcaster and writer; serving as the color commentator on VCU radio broadcasts while also maintaining his own website,, not to mention he holds a day job completely outside the college basketball industry the same way I do. Without any further ado, here is what Mike had to say about Virginia Commonwealth University: 

Jaden Daly: Overall, how well has VCU adjusted to Briante Weber starting full-time following the graduation of Darius Theus?

Mike Litos: I'd say it's been slower than many people wanted, but Weber is right on schedule. You can see his decision-making improve every night--when to pass, when to shoot, when to drive to the rim, when to stop at 10 feet. Those kinds of point guard decisions. And with those decisions comes confidence, and his confidence level is growing. He's making better plays in late shot clock situations.

What people forget is that a point guard is also responsible for getting four other guys in the right place, too. All of that stuff in the previous paragraph has to occur, but it is useless if the point guard isn't managing the other four players. The most telling outcome, for me: Treveon Graham scored 34 points and Juvonte Reddic scored 27 points in the LaSalle win, but it was Weber who had the team's highest plus/minus.

Weber is also coming along as a leader. He is getting comfortable with being unpopular at times, a key trait for a leader. That isn't easy for him because he's such a nice and fun-loving kid.

JD: With Fordham being as small as they are, would it be out of the ordinary to see Shaka Smart play a shorter lineup himself more than usual?

ML: That's a good question, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I'll answer the other side of it, because VCU goes four guards for extended periods of games. So no, they won't go smaller because Graham already plays the four spot often. However, I am interested to see if smart chooses to go big and give Mo Alie-Cox extended minutes alongside Reddic or Terrance Shannon; who is coming back from a knee injury, and I don't know as I write this if he will play or not.

JD: In your opinion, who creates the bigger mismatch for VCU: Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, or someone else, and why?

ML: There is no question in my mind it's Graham. He is such a horse he can get into the lane and to the rim at will. At 6-6, 225, he has the strength and the ability to absorb contact on offense, and lean on bigger guys when he's playing defense. His nickname down here is The Freight Train.

However Graham also has some finesse to his game. He scored on multiple spin moves against LaSalle, and he can knock down threes with regularity. Who guards him? There's your mismatch, not necessarily because Graham is the mismatch, but because who you choose to cover him creates mismatches elsewhere.

Reddic, though, is the guy that can make a good team great. He can shoot out to the line and face up for 15-footers, and he can play back-to-the-basket post. He is an incredibly skilled kid that when he really brings it is tough to defend. He had 10 offensive rebounds the other day against La Salle.

JD: Fordham has struggled defending the three-pointer in recent games after a brilliant start to the season in that category. As a result, how much more will VCU try to get in transition and turn Fordham over?

ML: I don't want to weenie out of the question, but this is the truth. Turning teams over and getting into the open court is VCU's M.O. They already do it for 40 minutes. No more, no less.

JD: From a VCU standpoint, has the Atlantic 10 season gone as expected? What would Ram fans like to have back, if anything?

ML: Ah, another good one. If you are talking strictly A-10 season, I don't know that there's anything we would take back. Obviously, we would prefer to have beaten GW to be 5-0, but I don't want to say that because it isn't honoring your question. Besides, that was a game that VCU didn't play its best, and GW was good enough on that night to win the game. I think they learned a lot about where they truly were as a team that night. Sometimes the results are no what you want when a team is growing and getting better. Sometimes the results don't reflect progress, and I think progress was made that night in Foggy Bottom.

If I had anything to take back, it would be the officiating in the Georgetown game. That affair lasted 2:45 in regulation, and nobody, win or lose, should sit through that.

JD: Finally, for those still unfamiliar with "HAVOC," what exactly is it in a nutshell, and can you really put a tangible value on its effects?

ML: Simply put, it's pressing the opponent all over the floor, baseline to baseline, opening tip to final buzzer. There are man traps and zone traps, and they will blitz the ball for traps in the frontcourt. It's constant pressure, everywhere, and that includes on offense. It's designed to turn teams over and get quick strike layups and threes, but it's also attacking constantly on offense, putting a defense on its heels. Smart will talk about energy, enthusiasm, and sparks as the most important aspects to havoc. The end result is to get VCU more shots than its opponent. Keep your eye on field goal attempts--that's the second most important statistic when tracking the effectiveness of havoc. (Turnover differential is the first.)

We speak of the cumulative effects of havoc; that is, teams may withstand it for awhile, but eventually legs get tired, tongue's start dragging, and then you look up and the press is still there. And then you look to the scorer's table and there's three subs ready to enter the game. It's as much mentally taxing as physical.

There's so much more to it, but I won't bore you any longer.

Quinnipiac Proving Critics Wrong With 7-3 MAAC Start

Once an assistant to Jim Calhoun at UConn, Tom Moore has come a long way, turning Quinnipiac from Division I also-ran to MAAC contender. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

When making the jump to the MAAC from the Northeast Conference, Quinnipiac's physical, rebounding-oriented style seemed somewhat out of place for their new home, a league whose history was predicated on guard-heavy offenses and uptempo scoring attacks.

Therefore, their ranking in the preseason coaches' poll was one that fans in Hamden had not been accustomed to seeing after their long run among the NEC elite.

"We always have a chip on our shoulder," senior forward Ike Azotam said after the Bobcats picked up their seventh MAAC victory in ten conference games, a 90-86 overtime win at Manhattan that gave Quinnipiac a regular season sweep of Steve Masiello's Jaspers, the No. 1 selection in the poll. "We were picked seventh, and we're going to carry that with us all season."

Through the first half of their conference schedule, the chip on Quinnipiac's collective shoulders has grown larger each week, from their thrashing of reigning MAAC champion Iona and first win over Manhattan at home earlier this month, then avenging upset losses to Rider and Saint Peter's with yesterday afternoon's second Manhattan win; a victory that leaves one of the two MAAC newcomers at 7-3 through ten games of league play, tied with Manhattan for third place, one game back of the tie for the lead. By the way, the Bobcats' next game is Thursday night at home against Canisius and Billy Baron, whose Player of the Year frontrunner status has lifted the Golden Griffins to an 8-2 start in a league that is nothing like the NEC, no disrespect intended.

"It seems like we're facing guys two, three inches taller, and probably 20 percent more athletic," Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said when asked of his initial impressions of the MAAC. "Every good experience that you have, you try to build on it and draw as much from it as you can."

Halfway through the MAAC schedule, the Bobcats have had their share of good experiences, particularly yesterday's win, which came without Ousmane Drame after the junior forward missed his second consecutive game due to a sprained knee. With a 3-1 record against Manhattan and Iona, who were picked first and second in the MAAC poll, respectively, Quinnipiac now has to be included among the contenders for a regular season championship, even before their much-anticipated showdown with Canisius in three nights.

"Wins come in all shapes and sizes," Moore said after his team sealed what could be considered their signature victory this season, "but you won't get many regular season wins that are more satisfying than this. I was talking with my staff about road wins and what I've been part of, even when I was an assistant at UConn. This might be the best one of my career."

Despite the win, the man largely responsible for making it happen realizes there is still more to accomplish.

"It's definitely a good win," Zaid Hearst, who recorded 25 points and 10 rebounds, said after the game. "We wanted to bounce back from the Iona game. That last game, that wasn't us. We're nowhere near satisfied. We know where we want to be."

With another ten conference games remaining before the league tournament in Springfield, it certainly looks like more people will be finding out exactly where it is that the Bobcats are looking to go.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bobcats' Big Three Combines For 71 As Quinnipiac Sweeps Manhattan

Zaid Hearst was one of three Bobcats with 20-plus points, as his 25 led Quinnipiac past Manhattan in overtime. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Two days removed from a humbling loss to reigning conference champion Iona, not to mention playing their second straight game without one of their best players, the script for Quinnipiac was probably not designed to include a win over Manhattan.

However, as New York Yankees radio play-by-play voice John Sterling would say if he called games on the hardwood rather than the diamond, "you can't predict college basketball."

After coughing up a 10-point lead in the final 5:33 of regulation, Quinnipiac (12-7, 7-3 MAAC) needed overtime to pull out a road win, but went on an 11-3 run through most of the extra session to prevail at Draddy Gym by the final of 90-86, giving the Bobcats a regular season sweep of the preseason conference favorite Jaspers, who fell to 14-5 on the year and 7-3 in conference play just 17 days after falling to Quinnipiac on the road.

"We just wanted to be tougher and more relentless than them," senior forward Ike Azotam said moments after posting 21 points and 12 rebounds on a day where Quinnipiac outrebounded Manhattan 50-39 despite having Ousmane Drame inactive again due to a sprained knee, "and it worked to our advantage."

Zaid Hearst also recorded a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Umar Shannon added 25 of his own to give the Bobcats three 20-point scorers in a single game for the first time in twelve years. With the victory, Quinnipiac remains one game back of the first-place tie between Iona and Canisius, the latter of whom heads to the TD Bank Sports Center Thursday evening for a crucial battle atop the MAAC standings.

Through most of the first half, Manhattan dictated the tempo and held a slight advantage, but lost the lead on Hearst's layup with 7:45 left before the intermission. The Jaspers would later come back to tie it at 19, but an 11-4 Quinnipiac run gave the Bobcats control of the game as they headed to the locker room with a 35-29 cushion.

The two teams traded baskets for most of the second half, but it was Hearst who was the catalyst again, as the junior swingman started an 11-3 run that put Quinnipiac ahead 70-60 with 5:33 to go in regulation. However, a 13-0 Manhattan run turned the game back into the hands of the Jaspers with 2:55 remaining. From there, Azotam and Shannon scored four unanswered points to regain the lead prior to a Michael Alvarado layup that made it 75-74 in favor of Manhattan with 1:21 left.

Emmy Andujar's layup with 49 seconds on the clock following a missed Azotam free throw gave the Jaspers a 77-75 lead, but Shannon knocked down two free throws to tie the score. Manhattan had two chances to win in regulation, with Alvarado's missed three-pointer leading to a scramble for a loose ball won by Manhattan, whose inbounds pass was intercepted by Azotam as the buzzer sounded.

Manhattan seized control of the opening tip in overtime and looked to score the first points of the extra session when driving to the basket. However, two missed layups and a Shaq Shannon block thwarted those plans, and Evan Conti's basket 31 seconds into the overtime period was all Quinnipiac would need on their way to dominating the final five minutes behind the trio of Hearst, Shannon and Azotam, who scored 71 of the Bobcats' 90 points. Four players had double-figure scoring days for Manhattan, led by 15 points each from Michael Alvarado and Rhamel Brown, who scored his 1,000th career point in a losing effort for the Jaspers, who must now regroup heading into a pivotal matchup against Iona Friday night after a hard-fought battle against a team that is no longer sneaking up on its competition.

"The emotional impact of not having Ousmane and only having a one-day prep for these guys, that was huge," Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said after picking up one of Quinnipiac's biggest wins in their first season as a MAAC member. "Other than postseason, this one is a really big win."

FDU/St. Francis: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Recap

FDU point guard Sidney Sanders Jr. awaits a screen from Kyle Pearson. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

TEANECK, NJ -- ­ Win the battle, lose the war. It is rare to have a team ‘win’ efficiency, yet go down in scoreboard defeat. Welcome to the Northeast Conference. Just about anything happens.

FDU  edged St. Francis Brooklyn  86-­85  on two last-second  free  throws  by  freshman Malachi  Nix. The victory put FDU at 3­-2, the same record as St. Francis in NEC play. The game was contested at a quick pace.


St. Francis                 68

FDU                          72

                               Offensive Efficiency

St. Francis                125

FDU                         119

The Terriers had the higher efficiency largely due to their ability to win the offensive boards, where they enjoyed a 52­-24%  edge. In  fact, St.  Francis  won  three of  the Four Factors, losing  only  in turnovers. The Terrier TO rate was an over the limit 24%, while FDU was  above average  at  10%. Turnovers played a major part as the Knights had a 23-11 scoring advantage on points off turnovers.

Jalen Cannon of St. Francis scored his 100th career point with just over four minutes to play. Cannon led all scorers with 23 points and rebounders, grabbing eleven. His efficiency rating was an outstanding 30.

Sidney Sanders Jr. led FDU with 20 points. FDU coach Greg  Herenda  took  time postgame praising  Sanders  Jr.  for shooting 4-of-20 from the floor, yet being the ultimate competitor and finding the way to lead the Knights to the  victory. Sanders did have a solid 19 efficiency, largely due to 12-of-13 shooting from the line, 9 assists , only one turnover and 4 steals.

“He has a heart you cannot measure or quantify like a statistic, and rubs off on teammates," Herenda said. "Sid brings it.”

There are no official statistics revealing how many times the  team  leading  in  efficiency winds  up  losing  the  game.  From experience working with the tempo-free based numbers, I have to say it is around a 3% occurrence. In other words, over 95% of the time, the more efficient team emerges victorious. Not on this single digit cold night. Another ’typical’ night in the NEC. Herenda said of Sanders, "his attitude is contagious."

“Every second of every possession for forty minutes” – sign in the FDU locker room

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fordham/UMass Preview

Fresh off first Atlantic 10 win of season, Fordham now faces difficult road matchup against UMass and Chaz Williams, who Tom Pecora once coached at Hofstra. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Fordham stopped the bleeding on Wednesday, ending a six-game losing streak with a 76-70 victory over George Mason that served as the first win for the Rams in Atlantic 10 play.

It doesn't get any easier for Fordham from here, as the next two games for Tom Pecora's team are difficult road soirees against two of the best teams in the conference, first resurgent UMass before traveling to Richmond to take on Shaka Smart and preseason A-10 favorite VCU.

At 16-2, the Minutemen have become one of the more underrated success stories in college basketball this season, and head coach Derek Kellogg has UMass poised to take the next step after ending March squarely on the bubble before an opening round NIT exit at the hands of Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook. Senior point guard Chaz Williams, who Pecora coached at Hofstra before leaving Hempstead for Rose Hill; and was the catalyst behind the Minutemen walking out of Rose Hill Gym with a victory a year ago, is the man who unquestionably makes the motor run, averaging nearly 16 points per game to go with over seven assists per contest. To top it all off, Cady Lalanne is a formidable inside presence; and a consistent one too, as evidenced by his averages of over 14 points and nine rebounds per night.

Williams and Lalanne are just two of the myriad of options that Kellogg has for one of the best kept secrets on the East Coast, and to help us get to know UMass a little better, we introduce Phil Kasiecki to the pregame preview. The founder of Hoopville, a New England-based national college basketball site that offers comprehensive coverage of most games on the Eastern seaboard, Phil was gracious enough to take a few minutes to help us all understand the University of Massachusetts a little better as they continue to enjoy their best season since the John Calipari era.

Jaden Daly: What has been the biggest improvement in UMass' transition from bubble team to Atlantic 10 contender?

Phil Kasiecki: The biggest reasons for improvement are that the Minutemen are playing off Chaz Williams better at the offensive end and Cady Lalanne has been able to stay in the lineup. The Minutemen haven't fallen into the trap of settling for three-pointers like they have in the past. They attack the basket more and get chances close to the hoop. Part of it is that Lalanne is also part of that, as he's a post scoring threat. Now that he's stayed healthy and out of trouble, UMass has one of the best post players in the Atlantic 10 and a guy who can get a double-double on any night.

JD: On that note, would it be too early to consider Williams and Derek Kellogg the frontrunners for A-10 Player and Coach of the Year honors?

PK: Not at all, especially since UMass is a frontrunner in the conference. Simply put, Chaz Williams makes this team go. He's their unquestioned leader on and off the court in addition to leading them in scoring, assists and three-point field goal percentage. Derek Kellogg has done a great job since he took over of steadily growing this program, and now that they've had some success this year, he has kept them level-headed and with a business mindset. He has been consistent, and perhaps that's the best thing of all about him. That said, I think Mike Lonergan at George Washington will at least give Derek Kellogg a run for his money.

JD: Last year at Rose Hill Gym, Fordham allowed UMass to take a big lead at halftime only to come back furiously and lose by just four. How much better are the Minutemen in closing out games down the stretch?

PK: UMass has been much better at closing teams out. The first evidence is that they have rarely trailed in the second half all year. The second is that they have won many games with a late rally when they have trailed or pulled away late by wearing the opponent down. An opponent might rally, but UMass will then respond with a run to put the game away before the outcome is in doubt again.

JD: Back to Williams for a second, if we may. How much has the arrival of Derrick Gordon meant to Chaz, both as a scorer and facilitator?

PK: Derrick Gordon is simply a winning player. He's the epitome of a player that statistics do no justice to, and that was the case in high school as well. He's not elite in any one facet of the game except for I.Q. I'm not sure he makes life easier for Williams any more than he does for the whole team, frankly, he's just that valuable all the way around.

JD: Coming off a three-point loss to Richmond, can this matchup be viewed as a trap game for UMass, and what are the keys to victory for Kellogg and the Minutemen?

PK: It could be viewed as a trap game, but I think this team has been terrific at focusing on what is in front of them. As such, I expect this team to come out wanting to win this game like any other. The big keys will be to play the winning defense they have played most of the season and run the offense that has worked. In their two losses, both of which came against elite defensive teams, the Minutemen struggled shooting from long range. Offense might be more important for them.

JD: Finally, with most of the A-10 elite still to come on the schedule, where do you ultimately see UMass finishing come March?

PK: UMass should be in the mix for the Atlantic 10 regular season title. They are in the top ten in RPI thanks in large part to a 10-2 record against top 100 teams that includes a 3-1 mark against top 50 teams. The only teams I could see beating them out are Saint Louis and VCU, and UMass not only has played better than both, but they also don't have to go to either team's gym for head-to-head matchups. If I had to make a hard prediction, I would have UMass winning the regular season title.

Jaspers Welcome Beamon Back, Defeat Rider For 7th MAAC Win

After a disappointing road loss, Steve Masiello is all smiles again after Manhattan rebounded with 67-51 win over Rider to remain tied for MAAC lead. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

Following his team's surprising loss to a Fairfield roster that was previously winless in conference play, Steve Masiello joked that Manhattan's ensuing practice would be so intense to where security would have to perform an ID check at the entrance.

Needless to say, the Jaspers recovered, and in the third-year coach's own words, "message received."

Playing for the first time since their 71-67 defeat at the hands of Sydney Johnson's Stags in Bridgeport six nights ago, Manhattan took the court with a sense of urgency as well as a returning leader, as George Beamon led all scorers with 21 points in his first game after a two-week absence to fuel the Jaspers' 67-51 win over Rider, who had emerged from Draddy Gym victorious in each of the past two seasons.

"I wrote on the board tonight, 'back to basics,'" Masiello said after Manhattan (14-4, 7-2 MAAC) held the visiting Broncs (9-9, 5-4 MAAC) to just 27 percent (13-for-48) shooting from the field, "and that's we did tonight on the defensive end. We rebounded the basketball, we blocked shots, and we locked down the three-point line and had a good field goal percentage defense. That's who we have been since we got here."

The Jasper defense was suffocating throughout the night, holding Rider to just four made field goals in the first half, not allowing the Broncs' first successful shot until Anthony Myles' jumper with 11:50 left in the opening stanza pulled the visitors within nine at 13-4 on a night where Manhattan led wire-to-wire, leaving the court having matched their win total from last year's 14-18 campaign that ended with a loss to bitter adversary Iona in the MAAC championship.

After leading 33-17 at the intermission, Manhattan nearly squandered their double-digit advantage, as a 12-0 Rider run over the first 5:06 of the second half turned an apparent runaway into a four-point game. However, the 33-29 margin was as close as it would get the rest of the way, as a 23-6 Jasper run quickly and emphatically shut the door on any hope of a comeback by the Broncs.

Michael Alvarado, whose load was lightened considerably with the return of Beamon, still provided worthy contributions with 12 points and seven assists to go with 11 points and seven rebounds from Ashton Pankey, while Daniel Stewart paced the visitors with 17 points.

Manhattan plays its second game in three days when the Jaspers welcome Quinnipiac into Riverdale in a 2 p.m. tipoff Sunday afternoon. The Bobcats, who were soundly defeated by Iona tonight, may once again be without junior forward Ousmane Drame, who missed tonight's affair with a sprained knee.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fordham 76, George Mason 70: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Branden Frazier scored all 22 of his points in second half as Fordham picked up first Atlantic 10 win of season. (Photo courtesy of Ryan and Richard Restivo via Big Apple Buckets)

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"It was nice to make some shots, we shot 56 percent in the second half, and obviously, it's a different world. The most important stat is offensive field goal percentage, and it was good to see Branden (Frazier) get back on track after a rough day Saturday, Bryan Smith made a couple of big threes, had a couple of big shots. Jon Severe just continues to keep competing, I thought Chris Whitehead gave us great minutes, he was a good quarterback for us, and I liked the way that looked. Mandell Thomas came out of his shell a little bit, I want him to get more shots up than that...he was 2-for-2 from the floor, he made a big three. We have to depend on the three-pointer to score a little bit, and I keep telling these guys to have confidence in it and work harder to get them. I thought it was a gutsy win, I mean, we went down, we fought back, they went up, we fought back, we went by them and right to the bitter end, and then we executed very well, we made the free throws we needed to, we got the ball in the right people's hands, Branden, Jon, and it was a good team win. I ran those five in there just to shake things up a little bit, and they did, they played hard and when that first group came back in, they played with greater energy, so that was good."

On having flashbacks to his past battles with George Mason while coaching Hofstra:
"Oh, we used to beat them all the time at Hofstra! A little bit, much different without (Jim) Larranaga there, but they've got a lot of New York kids, you know? So those kids want to play, they want to put on a good show, but I think it speaks volumes for how good this league is. They're a storied program, so to speak, in the CAA, a prominent power, very good coach, and this league is unforgiving, you know? You've got two teams that are battling to try and get their first win in the conference, so I think it speaks volumes for how good this conference really is."

"I was kidding with somebody (that) with them and VCU coming with us, and with Old Dominion going (to) Conference USA, Hofstra's back in the America East, basically, with Northeastern and Delaware, Drexel, Towson and themselves, and there's only two Southern teams instead of that dominant...three Southern teams. So I think there's a transition period for them (George Mason) coming in, but that was a good college basketball game because we won."

On changes in execution after trailing by 10 early in the second half:
"Yeah, we started running some of our ball screen stuff from a different angle, got the ball in Branden's hands, which obviously; now you have a scoring threat with the ball, whether Jon's making shots or not, his reputation precedes him, so it opens the floor when you put it in certain spots on the floor...people won't leave him, you know? That was big for us, so I think that was it, and we just picked up the tempo a little bit defensively, and even though we weren't getting a whole lot of double-teams, the intensity was there, there was better ball pressure, we were making them try to do some things we didn't do. The thing we did a poor job (with) was at the end, with our halfcourt, we were supposed to be up on them and not let them get any looks at threes, and when they ran, our switches weren't clean and aggressive enough to get up and prevent those threes they made towards the end, but that was kind of it. We just changed a couple of things up offensively and opened the floor."

On what to expect against Chaz Williams against UMass on Sunday:
"Hey, look, you've got to control Chazzie. There's no secret to him, you know? It's a major chore. He's a little rat, and I watched the game last week, he wasn't supposed to play, he played, he had a bad ankle, and his game against Mason, he's just as competitive a player as I've ever coached, and he's a tough kid, he really is, and a great leader. That's really what makes this group special, so if you can, try to contain him and keep his body out of the lane. I mean, if he makes eight threes against us and we lose, I can sleep at night. We've got to keep him away from the rim, it's important, and then hope that he's not kicking to guys and drilling threes."

On hearing Richmond had defeated UMass earlier in the night:
"Did they? Well, Richmond's a good club, and we had Richmond here, a game we should have won, so I mean, we're so close, just so close. When we just get that veteran consistent effort every night, you know, we've got eleven games left in the league and then the tournament. We've just got to get a little bit better each year, each day rather."

Branden Frazier (22 points) on his second half performance:
"I just think in the first half, I was a little too anxious to score, I mean, coming off the game that we had against Saint Louis, it was just in my mind that I just gotta make a shot. I just gotta make a shot. I just think I was rushing it a little too much in the first half, and then in the second half, during the break, I just kind of calmed down, just taking it slow, just looking for my man. I knew I was going to get shots in the offense, and it came to me. I started knocking them down, which made me feel more confident as I was driving to the lane, and I was able to get my shot and get my teammates involved."

On changing his role while playing alongside Chris Whitehead:
"Anything for us to win, I mean, Chris is a good guy, he comes in and presses the ball on defense and gets into guys, and also controls the floor and shows good leadership when he's on the floor, so he was good."

Pecora on fighting back from a 10-point deficit:
"I think that's the toughness we need to become more consistent with, and the tough losses we've had this year are because we've gotten in the position to put teams away, and we haven't. I think we finished the game tonight, we did a pretty good job of even finishing the first half, with the exception of the flagrant foul, you know? We went into the half and we closed it out the way good teams do. So I think it's really a sign of toughness and competitiveness, they really wanted to step it up and find a way to win this game, and that's what we talked about beforehand, just find a way to win this basketball game, and the world changes when you're 1-5, or 1-4 in this league. There's a lot of teams with one win, I don't know how it played out tonight with Duquesne and some other people, but I mean, I know it's a cliche, but it's 'boom, get this one, then 'boom, just get the other one.' It's a grind, but that's what it's like, and this conference is better than it's ever been in my opinion. I mean, you've got nine teams in the top 100 in this league. I don't know if we've ever had that in the three years we've been here playing in this conference, so it makes this whole process that much more difficult, but it's a good win."

On his line change substitution in the first half:
"It was the lack of effort, and I just said 'I've seen enough, you know what?' If we put them in, I heard some guy behind me scream, 'What are you, crazy?' if you put them in and they go on a 10-0 run and you're down 20, the game's over, but I thought they competed, and you know what? I knew they would play hard. Khalid Robinson, he's been a walk-on for us, a senior, he's as tough as they come, you know? If the kid was 6-6 instead of 6-2, he'd be on the court a lot, but he led the way with them, he got them fired up and playing hard, and that was important. I think the way they got out to the big lead was a little bit different. We talked about a couple of things and changed a few things up."

On team chemistry:
"We've got great guys, and they're too nice. Honestly. You know, Jeff Van Gundy's got, I spoke to him at a clinic, there were a bunch of coaches there, and at the end, they do a Q&A, and the guy said 'tell me the difference between college and the pros,' and I said in college, Mike Krzyzewski's quote is 'I want to feel about my team the way my mother felt about me,' and in the NBA, Jeff Van Gundy's quote is 'I want to coach guys I wouldn't introduce to my sister.' I want to be somewhere in between, you know? I want to coach guys that I would think about introducing to my sister, but I'd threaten them in the process. So right now, we've got great guys, we've got wonderful guys, they like each other, we've got a couple of guys that might complain a little bit, they might make excuses at times. They're young men, (and) we try to get them to turn the corner there. I don't think there's no conflict around the team, the guys genuinely like being around each other, which says a lot when you're not winning, you know? When you're winning, hell, it's great to be around everybody, it's like having a pocket full of money. Now, it's when you're broke and you're trying to find a way to win, you just need a buck, and they've stuck together, so that's a good thing. We still practice hard, I watch the tape before practice every day, I look, and these guys are still grinding, they haven't given up, they're still trying to get better. In my opinion, that's chemistry."

Nuggets of Note:
- Fordham's win snapped a six-game losing streak that started on December 28th against Harvard, and kept the Rams undefeated against George Mason, who they played for the second time in school history. The victory was also the first for Tom Pecora, who earned a belated present after his birthday yesterday, against the Patriots since February 10, 2007, when his Hofstra team defeated Jim Larranaga 68-60. Prior to tonight, Pecora had gone 1,463 days since last coaching against George Mason, doing so in a 90-72 loss that was chronicled in our pregame preview last night.

- Branden Frazier scored all 22 of his points in the second half, while Jon Severe added 21 of his own to overcome a 21-point, 8-rebound effort from Mount Vernon High School product Sherrod Wright, whose George Mason team lost their sixth straight and twelfth of their last fifteen following a 4-0 start.

- As Pecora alluded to after the game, Fordham shot 56 percent (14-for-25) in the second half, and closed the game on a 40-24 run after George Mason took a 46-36 lead with 14:50 to go in regulation. The Patriots had started out 8-of-13 from the field, but ended the first half having missed eight of their next twelve attempts.

- Fordham's ball handling was stellar, with just eight turnovers on the night, a statistic the Rams will seek to maintain in hostile road environments during both of their next two games, road contests against UMass and VCU; who possess a pair of exceptional point guards in the aforementioned Chaz Williams and Briante Weber, respectively.

- Finally, given that tonight marked Pecora's first encounter with George Mason since he was at Hofstra; and with all the history surrounding 2006, when the Patriots were inexplicably selected for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth despite two losses to the Pride, it seemed fitting that a player with Hofstra ties would be the one to ultimately defeat Paul Hewitt's team. Branden Frazier, who of course committed to Hofstra before following Pecora to Fordham when he was hired in 2010, made the difference by scoring all of his 22 points after the intermission and truly taking the game over, refusing to lose in much the same way he willed the Rams past Princeton at the Barclays Center last season.

Stat Class: Ray Floriani on Efficiency 101

Greg Herenda and Fairleigh Dickinson search for answers against Bryant University. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

TEANECK, NJ -- ­ Stats class in session. Call it the start of the second semester. We will look at efficiency, a player’s individual efficiency, for which there are many formulas and ideas. Today, we will look at a basic and widely used metric as employed by the NBA and WNBA. 

The basic formula:

EFF = REB + Steals + Assists + Blocked shots + Points ­ (missed FGA + missed FTA + Turnovers)

FGA:­ Field goals attempted

FTA: ­ Free throws attempted

Let us look at the efficiency numbers from the respective team leading scorers in Saturday’s game won by Bryant over FDU 95-­68.

                                    Points Efficiency

Corey Maynard, Bryant       30           34

Sidney Sanders Jr., FDU     21           20

A word about efficiency: No formula is perfect in measuring individual performance. The classics as PER, Tendex, win score, et al., all have their good points and flaws. The NBA efficiency model does not take fouls into account. Still, it is easy to compute, and by getting a halftime or final statistic, you can do the math quickly even without a calculator. One can also divide efficiency by games played or minutes played to get a closer breakdown for comparison sake.

Let us take a closer look at the ‘lines’ of our two leading scorers, beginning with Maynard of Bryant:


12-­15 3-­3 3     30   3    1    0    2

Maynard, a 6­-3 senior guard, compiled 38 points through scoring, steals, assists and rebounds. He lost only four on three missed field goals and one turnover for an outstanding afternoon with an excellent 34 efficiency.

Sanders Jr. had the following numbers:


6-­13 8-­10 2    21    5    1    0     2

Sanders lost nine on missed shots. He also had one turnover. His scoring, rebounds, assists and steals gave the FDU guard 30 . The final efficiency with the 10 subtracted (misses and turnover) gave a final total of a 20 efficiency.

Next time out, try to ascertain and make sense out of these numbers. In other words, a 34 efficiency is impressive; but measured against a certain standard, how impressive?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fordham/George Mason Preview

Now in his third year as successor to Jim Larranaga, Paul Hewitt has fallen on hard times with 7-11 George Mason team that enters Rose Hill in search of first Atlantic 10 win. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

Wednesday night's matchup at Rose Hill Gym has been described by some as the best, if not only, chance for either of the two teams taking the court in the Bronx to pick up a win in Atlantic 10 play.

In one corner, you have the home team in Fordham, losers of six straight after a 7-4 start, their latest setback being a 70-48 defeat at the hands of reigning conference champion Saint Louis after opening league play with solid efforts against Duquesne and Richmond that resulted in near-misses. Despite the outstanding play of freshman guard Jon Severe and leadership of senior floor general Branden Frazier, the Rams have appeared to be outplayed through most of their recent contests, and head coach Tom Pecora is looking for an answer to stop the bleeding.

On the other bench is George Mason, the A-10 newcomer who comes back to New York at 7-11 after a 4-0 start. Winless in five conference games, the Patriots suffered their first loss of the season in the Empire State when they were soundly defeated by an Iona team who opened their November 23rd contest on a 34-5 run, a spurt that has become a mere microcosm of how far the wheels have come off the Mason wagon. Only two players (guards Bryon Allen and Sherrod Wright) are double-figure scorers for head coach Paul Hewitt in a season where all five starters returned from a team that nearly won the CBI last season before departing the Colonial Athletic Association.

Adding to the subplots already prevalent is the fact that Pecora is no stranger to George Mason, having faced the Patriots and former coach Jim Larranaga numerous times while at the helm of Hofstra, who was notoriously snubbed of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid in 2006 despite two wins against George Mason; who, of course, ended up reaching the Final Four after a win in the CAA Tournament that featured Tony Skinn's low blow to Hofstra guard Loren Stokes. This is Pecora's first interaction with the Patriots since January 19, 2010, an affair in Hempstead that ended in a 90-72 defeat that friend of the site and Hofstra columnist/savant Jerry Beach refers to as the "Jaime ran up the score" game.

Nonetheless, it is Fordham entertaining George Mason, and to continue our pregame tradition, we welcome Alan Kelly, a George Mason alumnus and contributor to, to answer some questions about the Patriots as they invade Rose Hill with a long-awaited conference victory in sight:

Jaden Daly: In your opinion, what has been the biggest reason for George Mason's collapse after starting 4-0?

Alan Kelly: I don’t think collapse is the right word for what happened. Those four wins were more about the poor level of competition that Mason faced than they were about the Patriots being good. Mason found a way to win those games despite, for the most part, playing some pretty bad basketball. That 4-0 mark was pretty hollow, and Mason fans knew it. The only good team out of the four (Northern Iowa) was still settling their roster into new roles, and got almost no production from anyone except their top four players. Once Seth Tuttle fouled out, UNI couldn’t get stops or rebounds, and it was game over. The Panthers have bounced back from their slow start to the year, and could very well beat the Patriots if the game were played over again now.

JD: After losing Jonathan Arledge and seeing Erik Copes struggle, Paul Hewitt has been challenged to find a true big man. Against a smaller Fordham team, will the lack of an inside presence provide a better matchup?

AK: Mason’s frontcourt is definitely their single biggest challenge this season. Red-shirt freshman Jalen Jenkins has emerged as our best post player since Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison graduated, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of help. The loss of Arledge cannot be understated, and is probably the single biggest reason Mason seems to be regressing from last season. But the problem is bigger than just Arledge. Johnny Williams has mixed flashes of sheer brilliance with more inconsistency than you would hope to see from a fifth-year senior. Marko Gujanicic started the year strong, but has faded, likely due to an injury he apparently suffered a few weeks ago. Erik Copes has finally shown some productivity recently after being limited for the previous 18 months by a hip injury, but he’s still nowhere near the promise he showed as a top-60 recruit out of high school.

Matching up with a smaller roster like Fordham will help the Patriots some, but unforced errors like missed layups/dunks and an inability to hold onto rebounds don’t depend on the level of competition. It will be good news for the guards, who will have a better chance of getting to the rim, and for the defense, since they usually switch on every screen, which regularly leads to terrible mismatches in the post.

JD: Six of the Patriots' 11 losses have come by five points or less, with each one seemingly more excruciating than the last. Is the inability to close out close games attributed more so to Hewitt and his staff, the youth on the roster, or a combination of both? If the struggles continue, is Hewitt the long-term answer?

AK: I really can’t accept youth or inexperience as an excuse when George Mason began the season returning all five starters, and with two fifth-year players, three fourth-year players, and three third-year players on the roster. The experience should have been there for a successful season. Instead, we now have two freshmen in the starting lineup, not just because they deserved to be there, but because other players weren’t getting the job done. There is plenty of blame to go around. I don’t know exactly where the problem lies, and I assume it’s a combination of factors. Perhaps every single coach and player on the team has the same flaws, and so they’re unable to compensate for each others’ weaknesses. It’s not just a communication/coaching problem, because players seem to recognize what they did wrong after the fact, yet the same mental lapses recur. Hewitt has been accused of poor preparation, but Mason has actually looked very well prepared recently. In game adjustments seem to be the weakness right now, but without sitting in the huddle, I don’t know whether that’s a coaching problem, or an execution problem, or both.

Ultimately, the coach can’t go out there and inbound the ball, or defend the paint, or lead by example on the floor. The players have to execute. But one can’t fire players, so coaches get held accountable for their portion of any problems, and, likely, for things that were beyond their control, as well. If he can’t right the ship soon, Paul Hewitt’s seat will get even warmer, but the funny thing about Hewitt’s future is that the players he himself has brought into the program all seem to be working out. Many fans are unwilling to forgive him for failing to succeed with the players he inherited, and that’s a legitimate failing, but if he’s able to milk something out of his own recruits and succeed with them, there’s still a chance he sticks around and ultimately succeeds in two or three years. Of course, if he keeps losing in the mean time, it may be hard for the administration to justify giving him enough time to prove that theory.

JD: Are there any positives to take away from the first four Atlantic 10 games? Also, how much harder was the adjustment from the CAA than most fans and media may realize?

AK: Individually, Jalen Jenkins is one huge positive, and all four of the underclassmen have played very well so far. Marquise Moore handled VCU’s havoc defense better than any other Paul Hewitt point guard has. As a team, while Mason hasn’t won any of the four games, they haven’t been blown out, either. They’ve proven that they have the talent to hang with the top teams like VCU and UMass, now they just have to keep focused, pay attention to fundamental details, and make enough in-game adjustments to close the deal.

The major difference I see in the adjustment from the CAA to the A-10 is that you have to bring your ‘A’ game every single night. There are no games off. But I don’t think that’s even related to Mason’s struggles at this point. The Patriots have been repeating the same kinds of mental lapses and fundamental mistakes that were made last year in the CAA. Only now, instead of fattening up their win-loss record with empty wins against the bottom 75% of a bad league, they’re playing a higher level of competition, and are at legitimate risk of losing 20 games. As strange as it may sound given our record, the adjustment has been easier than I expected. The team (coaches and players) have had plenty of opportunities, they just haven’t executed on them.

JD: With the conference schedule not getting any easier, is it fair to say that Wednesday's game might be the only chance for both schools to pick up an A-10 win? What are the keys to victory for George Mason in this matchup?

AK: That’s a good question. Mason has six players from the New York metro area. Historically, Mason’s New York area players usually show up in a big way when they play in the Big Apple, and long losing streaks are not something the program typically endures. But it’s still a road matchup, and I see the game as a coin flip. Mason’s best chance for a win will probably be at home against Duquesne on March 8, but I don’t really believe the Patriots are going to go 0-16 or 1-15. This team is too good not to luck into a couple of wins somewhere along the way.

In no particular order, I see several keys for Mason to win:

- Get back to defending better. Mason is allowing 78.5 points per game in their first four league games, and while they have an overall defensive efficiency of 99.4 overall, it has fallen to 109.2 in conference play, according to KenPom.

- Get to the line early and often, and make their free throws. When Mason has been able to do this, they have generally gotten favorable results. In conference play, however, they are last in the league in free throw rate, per KenPom.

- Keep composure no matter what happens. This applies on both the offensive and defensive ends, especially in late game situations. The players have to stay within themselves and within the offense, rather than panicking and playing what I like to call “hero ball.” Trust each other, make smart passes, and take good shots, rather than going 1-on-1 or 1-on-5 and taking the first shot that comes along.

- Limit turnovers, especially in the last 2-3 minutes. This is self-explanatory.

- Find Jenkins. He’s as strong as an ox, and I don’t think the Rams don’t have the personnel to contain him. If they double-team him, then run some inside-out plays to guards for open jump shots.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fairfield Shoots Past Manhattan 71-67

Marcus Gilbert's 17 points and four three-pointers were enough to lift Fairfield to first MAAC win of season in Stags' 71-67 upset of Manhattan. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Just over one week removed from a close loss to Iona that saw Sean Armand held without a field goal for the first time in nearly two years, it was evident that Fairfield was slowly turning the corner after a lackluster start.

The Stags now have concrete proof of their improvement, rallying behind nine three-pointers and a defense that forced 16 turnovers in a 71-67 upset over MAAC favorite Manhattan, giving Fairfield its first conference win after an 0-7 start.

"For 40 minutes, humbly speaking, we were the better team," Stags head coach Sydney Johnson said after the game, "and that makes me feel good about us, especially how young we are."

After trading baskets with the Jaspers in the opening minutes, Fairfield gained the lead on a Maurice Barrow layup with 13:59 remaining in the first half, putting the Stags ahead 9-7 and providing a lead that would ultimately never be relinquished despite a late Manhattan rally in the final minutes.

"He's a dream to coach," Johnson said of Barrow; who paced the Stags with 18 points, "and he's inspiring and motivating for everybody. I think this afternoon, we saw multiple guys match his intensity and his effort."

Marcus Gilbert contributed 17 points of his own for Fairfield, including several uncontested looks from both corners throughout the night, channeling the performances usually reserved for Manhattan sharpshooter Shane Richards, who missed all but one of his nine field goal attempts as the Jaspers fell to 13-4, suffering just their second loss in MAAC play as the preseason pick to win the conference continues to adjust to life without George Beamon, who is still nursing a shoulder injury suffered last week against Quinnipiac.

"I didn't like one thing about our team today," Steve Masiello remarked about Manhattan's effort, which saw a late comeback fueled by Michael Alvarado's game-high 22 points after Fairfield stretched its lead to 19 points with 17:21 to go in regulation with a 44-25 margin fall just short as the Stags continually made clutch free throws. "Our program is built on playing harder than your opponent, being more ready than your opponent, and having more urgency. We didn't do any of those today."

While Fairfield travels to Nashville to contest a game with perennial mid-major power Belmont that was rescheduled due to inclement weather, Manhattan now focuses on another conference showdown with a deceptively strong Rider team that brings back most of its core from a second-place finish in MAAC play last season.

"You always try to find a positive," Masiello admitted, "and the positive to this is that it happened now and not March 6th. There's still 12 conference games left. There's still a ton of basketball to be played."