Friday, February 28, 2014

Robert Morris 69, FDU 64: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

TEANECK, NJ --­ The clock at Rothman Center read eight minutes. Just the equivalent of two more media timeouts and the victory would be theirs. Eight minutes, a twelve point lead. Alas, FDU was dealt a few cruel reminders.

Number one, Robert Morris is the Northeast Conference leader for a reason. Two, or maybe one A, learning to close out games takes time.

Robert Morris went on a 19-­2 run those final eight minutes to post a 69­-64 victory over FDU on Thursday. The Colonials did not do it with any all out pressure. Rather, it was a calm, systematic possession by possession, stop by stop procedure. As Colonials coach Andy Toole said, “in college basketball, eight minutes is a long time.”

The pain of losing was hard for FDU. The Knights felt it was in their grasp, only to trickle away. The loss all but guaranteed a quarterfinal road game in the NEC tournament for the Knights. 

Just the inclusion of FDU and tournament in the same sentence shows the job Greg Herenda has done in his first season. Recent seasons have seen the balls into storage minutes after the final buzzer of the last regular season game. Now there is a postseason to look forward to, a second season, a second hope. With parity abound in this conference, who knows? As Toole added, “I can see any team in the quarterfinals winning their game and advancing, this league is so balanced.”

Now FDU is in that postseason projection and conversation. Despite the outcome on this night, that is a source of pride.

Robert Morris huddles during a timeout:
Officials take time to huddle going over a play:
FDU head coach Greg Herenda surveys the action:
Sidney Sanders Jr. looks over the options late in the contest:
Robert Morris coach Andy Toole on the airwaves:
The sign outside Rothman Center reminds us of this climatically insulting winter:

Emmy's Latest Award-Winning Performance Takes Down Iona In Overtime

Emmy Andujar's career-high 28 points add to long line of great performances against Iona, with latest one giving Manhattan a much-needed 80-77 overtime win over Tim Cluess' Gaels. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)

Just over two years ago, Emmy Andujar announced his arrival to what has become one of the fiercest and strongest rivalries in local college basketball with a three-pointer that banked in at the buzzer to complete an 18-point comeback that gave his Manhattan team an unlikely upset victory against bitter adversary Iona.

Thirteen months later, the Bronx native was at it again, as his play down the stretch was instrumental in the Jaspers surviving the Gaels in double overtime, a victory that started an improbable run to the MAAC championship game, where Iona narrowly exacted revenge to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Act III of Andujar's one-man show, however, may have been his most scintillating display yet.

The former Rice High School standout was perfect through the first half, with 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting, and did not let up from there, ending the night with a career best 28 and a 12-of-18 mark from the field as Manhattan (21-7, 14-5 MAAC) rebounded from a crushing road loss to Siena with an 80-77 overtime victory over Iona; (19-9, 16-3 MAAC) who had already clinched a regular season conference championship after Quinnipiac lost to Siena last night, at a sold-out Draddy Gym.

"It's just great playing these guys," Andujar remarked after the game when asked about his perennial flair for the dramatic against the Gaels. "It's always been a battle ever since I've been here. We let people know we're still the team to beat," the junior forward proclaimed, a nod to Manhattan being picked as the preseason favorite in the conference's annual coaches' poll.

Amid the offensive fireworks from Andujar, what was arguably his biggest play of the night came on the defensive end, when he blocked a potential game-winning layup from Iona swingman Tre Bowman in the final seconds of regulation and drove down the floor looking for a second buzzer-beater that narrowly rimmed out to send the second installment of the MAAC's equivalent of the Super Bowl into an extra five minutes.

"He loves the big moments," Jaspers head coach Steve Masiello said of his initial recruit upon replacing Barry Rohrssen in 2011. "We look at that in recruiting. Certain kids are built for it, for the big moments, and he showed that tonight. When he's in attack mode, I think he's one of the best hybrid forwards there are."

George Beamon supplemented Andujar with another gritty double-double, accounting for 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Rhamel Brown chipped in with nine points and nine boards. For Iona, Bowman's 23 led the Gaels in a valiant effort, with Sean Armand adding 18 points and nine assists to go along with a 15-point, six-rebound, seven-block performance from Isaiah Williams.

Iona, who is assured of at least a trip to the NIT no matter what happens in next week's MAAC tournament, will conclude the regular season at home on Sunday against Rider, while Manhattan hosts Canisius with a chance to secure the No. 2 seed at the MassMutual Center just 48 hours removed from what stands out as one of the more emotional victories on the Jaspers' ledger this year.

"This rivalry has turned into something special," Masiello gushed. "I think it's one of the better rivalries in college basketball, regardless of level. You wish both teams could win because the kids put so much into it, everyone cares so much. The best came out in the players tonight, and I think that's what's awesome about this."

Fordham/La Salle Preview

Tyreek Duren leads a La Salle team still hanging onto postseason aspirations into Rose Hill Gym for late-season Atlantic 10 battle with Fordham: (Photo courtesy of City of Basketball Love)

Fordham's 9-17 season has reached its final three games, and in order for the Rams to escape the fate of having to play the opening round game of next month's Atlantic 10 tournament, they must emerge victorious in at least one; maybe two, of their trio of upcoming contests, starting first with a La Salle team that comes in at 14-14 on the year and is holding a slim chance of returning to the postseason after advancing to the Sweet 16 a year ago.

This year's Explorers team is nowhere close to the group that shocked the nation last year by reaching the West regional semifinals as a 13 seed behind Tyrone Garland's "Southwest Philly floater," but Dr. John Giannini has done an admirable job of keeping La Salle competitive in the face of long odds and the loss of leading scorer Ramon Galloway to graduation last May. Nonetheless, guards Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills return to anchor an athletic rotation that also features one of the conference's most underrated interior pairings in 6-11 Steve Zack and burgeoning big man Jerrell Wright.

The Explorers will seek to get into transition and keep the game physical, a challenge for Tom Pecora and his smaller Fordham lineup as the Rams hope to move up into a Thursday night matchup at the Barclays Center. For more information on the Philadelphia invaders, we welcome Joe Juliano into our pregame Q&A. In addition to his exceptional work as the primary source of Villanova Wildcats coverage for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joe also covers a great deal of La Salle, and had this to say about the residents of Olney Street:

Jaden Daly: Can one quantify just how much La Salle has missed Ramon Galloway this season, both in and out of the box score?

Joe Juliano: There’s no doubt that the loss of Galloway has had a significant impact on the team. He was a terrific player at both ends of the floor and his defense helped the Explorers get easy points in transition. He was an outstanding shooter and floor leader. Tyreek Duren has done his best to try to match Galloway’s offensive production but the backcourt in general has had an off year shooting the basketball. While I think Duren is a good leader off the court, Galloway was an exceptional one.

JD: With a four-guard lineup, how can Fordham keep Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright under control, and how much of a factor will the size difference be?

JJ: Fordham will have to be sound in the fundamentals to keep Zack and Wright somewhat under control. That means boxing out the bigger men on the boards and front their men in the post, and making sure that the weakside help is there if the Explorers try to pass it over the defenders. La Salle should have an advantage there but the key is to make sure the big men, particularly Wright, get more touches than they normally get.

JD: Having lost eight of their last ten, is there a sense of desperation from La Salle going into what could be described as a trap game in a tough environment at Rose Hill Gym?

JJ: I don’t think there are trap games at this time of the season for teams that are struggling and desperate for wins. The rest of the season is on the seniors to make sure that they aren’t sagging or counting down the days until the end of the year. I know everyone is disappointed by not fulfilling expectations after last season’s great run but there has to be pride and leadership to make sure everyone is focused on what is needed to do to win.

JD: How can Tyrone Garland's 34 percent shooting be best explained? Is he being defended better this year, or is he just a streaky shooter?

JJ: Garland’s poor shooting is hard to explain. True, he is a streaky shooter but the opposition is taking into account that he’s the No. 2 scoring option on this team and working harder to stop his drives to the hoop. A lot about shooting is confidence and you can tell Garland has struggled with that phase of his game all season.

JD: Finally, if the Explorers can win two of their final three games going into the Atlantic 10 tournament, what would they have to do in Brooklyn to earn a spot in the CBI and/or NIT, and how far of a run can they realistically make?

JJ: It’s all about winning from here on in. I think they have no shot at the CBI because they can’t put a lot of people in the Gola, and how much will the fans be interested, anyway? For the NIT, they would have to win their final three games and at least two in the tournament. Following that blueprint, they would finish 18-15 and have a shot. The fact that they’re in the Philadelphia television market would work in their favor, but even then, it would be far from a slam dunk.

Terriers Send Bryant To Hard Fall Behind Amdy's Near Triple-Double

By Patrick McCormack

Going into St. Francis Brooklyn’s game against Bryant, Terriers head coach Glenn Braica chose to start sophomore Amdy Fall over senior Matt Milk because of matchups. Braica’s decision proved to be the right one, as Fall had a spectacular game scoring 21 points, 10 recording blocks, and brought in nine rebounds, including a monster dunk and free throw to put the Terriers ahead for good with 36 seconds left, in their 62-59 victory over the Bulldogs. 

"We decided to start Amdy and he did a great job. He set a good tone. He was unbelievable. I think his length bothered them and he is a high-level shot blocker. We got him the ball around the basket and he did a good job of finishing," Braica said. 

The Terriers started the second half on a 17-4 run, which was capped by a dunk from Fall, to knot the game at 40. The main key to the run was the Terriers, who shot 57.7% from the floor, made plays. 

Braica saw a change in his team after the half. 

“Guys made plays and that's why we turned it around. Brent (Jones, who had 15 points, 9 assists, and recorded zero turnovers) was great, and made every big shot and the big deflection and steal."

Fall was happy to get the start in the victory.

"Not that it makes a difference, but I was happy to get the start," Fall commented. "Honestly, we played hard as a team. Brent was great finding me in the post. I ran the floor and blocked shots the best I could. It feels good to get a close win like this."

The Bulldogs took the lead straight back after this run, but never led by more than six. 

With the score 23-19, Bryant went on an 11-0 rally, led by 10 points from Dyami Starks, who had 16 of his 20 points in the first stanza, to go up 34-15. The Bulldogs took a 36-23 lead into the locker room. Braica was not happy with his team’s effort in the first half. 

“We had to play harder. Our transition defense stunk, we weren’t guarding one on one, and we had to find a way to score," Braica said. "We weren't playing hard enough and we had to pick it up.”

The Terriers, who lost three of their last four contests by a combined four points coming into the game, have one game remaining. With a win against Fairleigh Dickinson, and either a Mount St. Mary or Bryant loss, St. Francis can be the #4 seed and host a Northeast Conference playoff game.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

VCU 85, Fordham 66: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Shaka Smart saw his VCU team dominate Fordham in second half en route to 85-66 victory at Rose Hill Gym. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"You can't let them beat you up on the offensive glass, and you can't let them turn you over. At halftime, we had six turnovers, held them to 34 percent from the floor, and they had nine offensive rebounds. I told the team (that) if we fixed our rebounding issues and kept the other two stats in that neighborhood, we had a chance to win the game. They went and got 24 offensive rebounds, and that was the difference in the game, 36 points in the paint, (Juvonte) Reddic was great, as a veteran frontcourt guy, he's very efficient in everything he does. You've got to match their intensity, match their toughness, and we didn't do that, so that's why they are where they are right now and we are where we are. So we've got one day to prepare for a good La Salle team that's coming off a win and 'NBA' practice will go on for about an hour tomorrow. I'm disappointed in the crowd. I thought we'd get a better crowd here tonight. You'd think people would want to see this team who was in the Final Four a few years ago. They're a gritty team, and we're not right now. That's our biggest problem. I thought we would get some grit from our frontcourt guys, but it's not happening, so we have to find that if we're going to find another couple (of) wins."

On lack of team chemistry in second half:
"Well, that's residue of losing, you know what I mean? Teams that win find ways to win, teams that lose, they know how to lose; and as fired up as I try to get them, as gritty as I want them to be, you see heads go down, especially when they make mistakes, because they care. If they didn't care, their heads wouldn't even go down, they would run around saying 'it's just another day in the office.' They're trying, and they're just not making those plays. Bryan Smith had five turnovers. You're playing small so that doesn't happen, and that's the first game this year that he's had issues doing that. Part of that is that the guards weren't doing a good job freeing themselves, and in turn, Bryan was stuck on an island (on) a few occasions trying to get the ball in, so you look at those five and Travion Leonard's two when we had him playing at the four, and that's half of their turnovers. That's their game plan, they try to wear you down, they try to get you in the late rounds, you know?"

On whether consistent effort was a major issue:
"Oh, without a doubt, and I think that's been an issue for us throughout the season. There's been two major issues in my mind: One is getting that kind of team effort for 40 minutes consistently, and our offensive field goal percentage. We got some really good looks, and if you're going to beat VCU, you've got to make those shots. We got some wide open threes for our guys and we couldn't knock them down. Bryan doesn't make one and Jon (Severe) is 2-for-7, so those have been our two Achilles' heels, I think."

On Jon Severe:
"He's been up and down, but he's a freshman. You're not going to depend on freshmen, no matter who they are. I've had great ones. It's very hard to depend on freshmen to carry you through a season, but one of the reasons for that is the veterans are going through similar seasons. Look, Jon's going to be a fine player here, it's going to take time. It's hard when you have just one senior trying to teach a bunch of guys how to do things."

On Branden Frazier:
"One assist, four turnovers. It's unacceptable for anyone, especially for a senior. His erratic intensity is something I talk to him about all the time. You can't let that happen."

On what Frazier has meant to Fordham over his four years:
"He came with me, so I appreciate that. I feel bad that he's kind of Butch without Sundance, you know? If we had had another guy in that class that really progressed like he did, we could have turned this thing around. We're doing everything here except winning. Look where we're sitting, we've come a long way in three years, but obviously, the last step in the process; and what I get paid for, is winning basketball games, and that's what's got to happen as we move forward. I appreciate everything he's done, but I'm his coach. I want more out of him, I know how good he could be. I'm on Branden a lot about a lot of things, on and off the court."

On having won only three Atlantic 10 games in each of the past two seasons:
"The A-10 is better now than it's ever been. One of the issues is ever since we've been in the league, the A-10 just keeps getting better and better, and we're trying to leapfrog people and we haven't been capable of doing that, and it's an arms race. As a coach, I look at my team, and I look at their performance, whether we win or we lose, I mean, we played pretty well. We lost to Richmond here in a game we should have won, but I was proud of our effort. At VCU, we played pretty darn well. When we do turn the corner, when the talent level rises, those will turn into victories for us."

On the Atlantic 10 tournament:
"I still want to battle and not play on Wednesday night, and I've told those guys that. That would be a good achievement for this team, and for the sake of the league, I want to play on Thursday. It would be good for the league because it would generate some excitement. I've been down this road. My first year at Hofstra, we went into the CAA tournament and we knocked off George Mason, who was the 1 or 2 seed at the time, and all of a sudden the world changes, because the pressure's on your opponent. We've got to get three guys having huge games, Saturday and again Wednesday at Rhody, which could be a huge game. I haven't lost my grit, I haven't lost my competitive nature, and I still think that if these guys get their minds right, we can do this."

On his message to the team:
"I told them to man up. I told them this is not the worst thing that's going to happen to you in your life, losing basketball games. Your parents are going to die, you're going to have friends that are going to die, you're going to deal with real life issues, health issues, things like that. This is a college basketball game, but play it like a man. Don't play it like a little boy, and if you're not ready to come out and compete, stay in your dorm room. That's been my message to them for a long time. Some of them are responding, but they kind of get overshadowed by a few that aren't, and that's a postseason issue that I'll address. That's the bottom line, guys. You go out and you compete, you know? They're 20-year-old men, they could be on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan. You're complaining about playing college basketball? There's worse stuff going on in this world than college basketball, so come out and practice your a-- off every day and play your a-- off every time you step on the court."

Nuggets of Note:
- Juvonte Reddic was an X-factor for VCU, taking advantage of the huge size mismatch in his favor by going off for 22 points and 12 rebounds as Shaka Smart's Rams outscored Fordham 51-34 in the second half after only leading 34-32 at the intermission. VCU was also buoyed by a blistering 9-of-15 performance from beyond the arc after the break, making seven of their first eight on a night where they made 10 of their first 15 second half field goal attempts.

- Mandell Thomas, who had 25 points in Fordham's first meeting against VCU, only managed 14 points, and was visibly fatigued after halftime, as VCU tightened up their patented "Havoc" defense. Thomas, Branden Frazier and Jon Severe only accounted for 38 combined points on 12-of-35 shooting, despite VCU managing only eight steals. Even more surprising, Briante Weber only procured one theft.

- Despite scoring only two points, Ryan Canty was Fordham's best player on the defensive end, with 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in 21 minutes against the likes of Reddic and Treveon Graham, who only scored four points after coming into the game as VCU's leading scorer.

- Finally, what started out as a close Fordham game turned into a second half where the intensity just went flat faster than a bottle of soda sitting out on a kitchen table for four hours. As the second half progressed, both Rob Brandenberg and Bronx native Melvin Johnson continued to get uncontested looks from the three-point line, and neither disappointed on the way to a combined 7-of-11 showing on the night. Fordham will need to tighten that up on Saturday against the likes of Tyreek Duren and Sam Mills of La Salle, both of whom are marksmen who shoot the ball at a 40 percent clip from behind the line.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Xavier 65, St. John's 53: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEW YORK CITY --­ Tuesday evening, a Big East game at Madison Square Garden. The seven o’clock start means train connection, jostling for position among the 9 to 5 group using Penn Station to head home. Finally, the ’World’s Most Famous Arena’ in its splendor. 

Visiting Xavier had a little added excitement. The game was the program’s first at the Garden since December of 2002. An added incentive was to erase the memory of a one sided loss at Georgetown the previous Saturday.

The Garden, bright lights, television, if you can’t get up for this….regardless, it was one of those nights for the host St. John’s. They battled Xavier but their mistakes (shot selection and defensive breakdowns to name a few) ultimately were too expensive and caught up with them as Xavier posted a 65-­53 victory. 

St. John’s was also victimized by a freshman forward, Jalen Reynolds, enjoying one of those games to remember for a lifetime. He posted a career high with 17 points and 16 rebounds, both game pacesetters. Xavier coach Chris Mack predicts Reynolds will be a Big East star. Having your ‘introduction’ so to speak, on the hallowed MSG court assures a head start in the recognition department.

In the final analysis, Steve Lavin could only look at the things his team did not do right, as well as those you had to credit the opposition for doing. No time to lament however. Another game and opportunity looms Sunday with a visit from DePaul.

This time of year with March just ahead, get back to practice and make your adjustments. And be fully prepared and ready to face your the next opponent. The clock is ticking.

The view toward New York from the Secaucus Junction train station:
Approximately 5:30 outside Madison Square Garden, with commuters passing by:
Xavier's huddle after stretching and early warmups:
Officials Tony Greene, Michael Stephens and Jamie Luckie watch pregame activities:
St. John's coach Steve Lavin is ready as pregame introductions are being completed:
Sir'Dominic Pointer of St. John's in a stance, ready to receive a pass:
Xavier coach Chris Mack meets the media postgame:

Fordham/VCU Preview, Part II

Juvonte Reddic's double-double was one of several key performances in VCU's first win over Fordham this season. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

Fordham heads into their final four games of the regular season with their second of four back ends of home-and-home series, welcoming Virginia Commonwealth University into Rose Hill Gym for the first time since Richmond's finest joined the Atlantic 10 two years ago.

VCU handled the Rams in the first meeting between the two schools back on January 29th, a 76-60 victory at the Siegel Center that followed up last season's win against Fordham at the arena affectionately referred to by VCU fans as "The Stu." In that game, Melvin Johnson and Jequan Lewis led Shaka Smart's team with 13 and 11 points, respectively, off the bench, while Juvonte Reddic poured in 10 points and 10 rebounds to overcome a valiant effort from Mandell Thomas, who put Fordham on his back with 25 points in the losing effort.

At 20-7, and 8-4 in Atlantic 10 play, VCU is playing for NCAA Tournament seeding as well as a top four seed in the upcoming conference tournament at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, while Fordham is merely hoping to avoid the opening round play-in game, which seems to be more of a distinct possibility after the Rams' loss to Saint Joseph's this past Saturday, one in which Langston Galloway buried Fordham with ten three-pointers in an incredible display of long distance marksmanship.

Two herds of Rams go to war yet again, this time in the Bronx, and to get a feel for what the invaders have done since their last showdown with Fordham, we are pleased to reintroduce the portal of all things VCU that contributed to the Q&A of our most viewed preview this season. Without any further ado, here is what VCU radio color analyst Mike Litos, who also operates, offered us in regard to the black and gold, whose "Rowdy Ram" fan base will almost certainly sell out Rose Hill tomorrow night:

Jaden Daly: Catch us up on VCU since they beat Fordham at the Siegel Center. What has changed, better or worse, since January 29th, and what has been the biggest improvement over the last month?

Mike Litos: Well, not much to be honest. This is really the same VCU team, just a little bit better version. There are still moments where they can't shoot straight, or get sloppy with the basketball, but really they've been slowly getting better all season. The offense under Briante Weber has made great strides. The biggest difference is that Terrance Shannon left the team. His role had been reduced as the season wore on, so the biggest impact is that Shaka Smart won't have as many options when he goes to the bench. If Smart wants to go with a big lineup, he's reduced to Mo Alie Cox (who is playing MUCH better) or Jarred Guest (who is skinny).

It's an interesting season for VCU. After we got back from Puerto Rico, there haven't been a ton of ups and a ton of downs. We've just progressed a little like flowing lava--slowly but surely. There have been hiccups but no disasters.

JD: Tell us a little more about Melvin Johnson, who will have a homecoming of sorts Thursday night after he turned down Jim Larranaga to play for Shaka Smart. He seems like the anti-Jon Severe in that he is way more efficient on both sides of the ball. What makes him so dynamic as the sixth man?

ML: Johnson is an incredibly dynamic offensive player, and I mean a game-changing offensive player. Smart has given him the neon green light to shoot any open three, which is great for confidence, but Johnson is not a one-dimensional player. He's got all the moves, including a running floater he calls The Melvin. He's a fun player to watch because he has that guard cocky you love to have on your team. VCU is a much better offensive team when who I call "SwagMel"  is in the gym.

That offensive ability is what makes him a game-changer. He subs in just as the opponents starters are getting a little rubber-legged, so he is able to create more opportunities. Johnson is still coming along as a defensive player, which is code for he isn't a very good defensive player, but his offense alone demands he plays as many minutes as possible.

And "turned down Jim Larranaga to play for Shaka Smart" has a certain ring to it.

JD: Even though VCU came up short against Saint Joseph's, Saint Louis and UMass, they may very well have been the better team down the stretch in each game. Good, bad , or indifferent, what was most revealing from those three games about VCU?

ML: VCU played four top 40 RPI teams in a row, and three on the road. Nobody, in any conference, has faced that gauntlet this year. I think what we learned is that it takes a complete effort to win against very good teams, especially on the road. Smart calls it focusing on the details of the game plan but his instructive point is clear: you can't take possessions off, you have to guard ball screen well, and you have to take advantage of opportunities. That layers on top of scouting report detail.

You can't shoot poorly from the foul line, or try to hit a home run in a one-possession game, and you have to box out…those kinds of things that make you drift across that line from winning to losing. We are seeing the things that drives coaches crazy come to life. Many times you can't really see what a coach is referring to when he is displeased with the minutiae of a team's play in any game. We saw those things with this team during that stretch.

The very encouraging part is that I don't think anybody would grade the VCU performance against SLU or UMass higher than a B, and in both games we had a shot in the air with a chance to lead with less than two minutes to play on the road. Quite frankly that's exciting to me as we barrel into March.

JD: With the Saint Louis rematch coming up Saturday night, how early will we see a more aggressive (if that's even possible) VCU, one who will look to take care of business quickly against Fordham, and what would be Tom Pecora's best chance to keep the proceedings from getting out of hand?

ML: I don't think you will see anything different from this team. The one area that VCU has been very consistent with this year is that they've been aggressive and attacking and playing hard from day one. Some games they have the energy and enthusiasm better than others, but generally speaking the effort level has been high all season.

As I mentioned before, there are the little things that may be different, but you won't suddenly see VCU play a 1-3-1 zone or a new offensive wrinkle. 

Fordham has to shoot a high percentage, especially from three point land. So much of this game is about confidence. VCU will have it, and I think Fordham's best chance is to match VCUs confidence level. They will then be strong with the basketball, and strong with the shot. Severe, Thomas, and Frazier start knocking down shots and not turning the ball over and feeling good about themselves will go a long way.

JD: At the moment, VCU would need a total meltdown to keep them from the NCAA Tournament, so with that being said, where do you see their ceiling as far as seeding is concerned; and ultimately, how many teams do you think represent the Atlantic 10?

ML: From what I can tell, VCU is in that 7-9 range for their seed. If things go well at the end of the season and in Brooklyn, a 6 and maybe even a 5 is not out of reach. Things go poorly and a 10 is in the picture. The one thing I love about this team is that they take the court believing they can beat anybody. So the whole "avoiding the 8/9 gamer to avoid the #1 seed in the second round" is more of a fan's take than one for the players. I'll peg them at an eight seed.

I'm going with five A-10 teams, and possibly six. SLU, UMass, and VCU are going to make it. GW and St. Joseph's are on the cusp. That leaves Richmond and Dayton. There is a lot of carnage to occur that will hurt those two teams as we go down the stretch. Dayton's road is especially tough, and they play each other in Dayton to end the season. That game may be an elimination game. But certainly one of those two can sneak in with a good finish and good performance in Dayton.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Xavier's D too much for distracted Johnnies

By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19
Xavier came into Madison Square Garden and got the upset against the surging St. John's Red Storm, 65-53 on Tuesday night. 
The Xavier defense was superb, especially in the second half, where they held St. John's to 32 percent shooting. St. John's shot just 36 percent for the game, mainly because they had issues scoring inside.
It was a pretty tight game in the first half, which resulted in a Xavier 31-30 lead at the break. Towards the end, tensions reached a fever pitch and there was a scuffle between St. John's Rysheed Jordan and Semaj Christon, with each receiving technicals.

As a result, before the second half, there was something I and probably others had never seen before. Each team was brought to halfcourt by the referees (right). Christon said after the game that the referees told them to cool it, that it was a nationally televised game, (on FOX Sports 1) and that they didn't want to give out anymore technical fouls.
The second half was all Xavier, as they opened up a 49-39 lead on a Jalen Reynolds three-point play with 7:18 remaining. The Red Storm got back into it, cutting it to 55-51 with 2:38 left on a JaKarr Sampson jumper that had the crowd of 6,707 sound like a lot more than that.
Xavier put the game away at the free throw line, making eight free throws in the final 1:20 to pull away.
Xavier was led by Jalen Reynolds, who had 17 points (7-13 FG) and 16 rebounds. Entering this one, Reynolds averaged 3.0 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Semaj Christon had 15 points and 6 assists. Along with Reynolds, they got a lot of production out of their frontcourt, with Matt Stainbrook scoring 13 and Isaiah Philmore chipping in 11.
Christon said of Reynolds, "He played like a monster today. We needed that. Matt Stainbrook got in foul trouble and (Reynolds) came in and stepped up for us and he helped us out a lot. I think we all expect that from Jalen."
Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said of the win, "It's really hard to win in this league on the road. We had great respect coming in for St. John's, especially the way they've been playing here as of late. They are as talented as anybody in our league. I thought our defense was exceptional tonight; it needed to be. We did a great job for the most part eliminating their transition opportunities and keeping them off the glass as best we could. They still got 14 offensive rebounds.
Mack said of Reynolds, "For us, I thought we had good play all around, but obviously Jalen Reynolds was a monster tonight. He was the best big on the floor. You got a freshman out there getting 17 points and 16 rebounds. We know he's capable of it, he's got a lot to learn, but he played very well for us tonight."
St. John's was dealing with a lot of distractions heading into the game, with Orlando Sanchez's wife giving birth to a baby girl on Friday and a family member of Rysheed Jordan was murdered over the weekend in Philadelphia. Jordan and Sanchez both played and did well under the circumstances, with each scoring 11 points.
Phil Greene IV said of the off-the-court issues and if it produced a disconnect, "There was a lot going on with this team, with Orlando and his baby and Rysheed and his family. It's just a lot, but there's no excuse, biggest game of the year, just back to defense." On how they played, Greene IV said, "Given the situation they were in, they played well, a lot of passion, you know, pride. We just came out flat...It wasn't the same team as we've been on the streak that we've been on."
D'Angelo Harrison (11) looks to gain position.
The shocking stat of the night was that D'Angelo Harrison shot just 1-for-11 from the field and finished with four points. St. John's Head Coach Steve Lavin mentioned in his postgame comments that they had trouble getting any transition offense going, so I asked if that hurt Harrison, like an easy transition basket could have sparked something. Lavin said, "That's one of the important things, defense creates some easy baskets for you and offensive rebounds gets you some easy baskets. There was one sequence we had five or six shots at the rim. That offensive rebound number (14) is a little misleading, like five or six came on one possession, take that away, we had around eight. You don't know, were we pressing a little bit,  was the disjointed week we had, those things a factor? Defense is something you can still being in terms of ball pressure. Our interior defense was not up to the standard we expect."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free NEC Analysis

NEC Player of the Year contender Karvel Anderson leads NEC's best offense at Robert Morris. (Photo courtesy of Nelson Castillo and Bob Dea via Blackbirds Hoops Journal)

No surprise at the top. Looking at conference games through Saturday, we have a tempo-free read on the Northeast Conference. Teams are listed in order of efficiency margin:

                            Record          Efficiency Margin

Robert Morris             13-­1                        12

Wagner                       9-­4                         8

Bryant                         9-­4                         2

St. Francis(NY)             7-­7                         5

Mount St. Mary’s          7-­6                         2

FDU                            6­-7                         0

St. Francis(PA)             7-­7 ­                       -3

Central Connecticut     5-­9                         -­8

Sacred Heart              1-­12 ­                      -12

LIU Brooklyn              3-­10 ­                       -13

Best Offenses:
1.  Robert Morris                               113

2.  Bryant                                         112

3.  FDU                                            111

Best Defenses:
1.  Wagner                                        97

2.  Robert Morris                              101

3.  St. Francis (NY)                           104

Fastest pace:
Mount St. Mary’s - 72 possessions per game (NASCAR pace)

Most deliberate:
Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA) - 65

Wagner is the only team holding opponents under a 100 efficiency on defense. Robert Morris’ defense is highlighted by an opposition TO rate of 21%, best in the NEC. 

Robert Morris has a league leading 16% TO rate on offense. Little wonder why Andy Toole’s club sets the pace in conference standings. 

FDU’s offense is fueled by an outstanding 52% eFG mark. The Knights are showing a conference leading 41% mark beyond the arc. FDU’s offensive efficiency is a vast improvement over the 93 posted a year ago. 

Mount St. Mary’s utilizes the fastest pace in the conference. They are anything but careless with the ball showing a 17% TO rate, an above average mark (under 20.5) for that category.

Seton Hall 90, Marquette 86: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Excuse the Seton Hall faithful for exiting Walsh Gym on Saturday with a little added ‘bounce’ in their step. It wasn’t the sunny weather and mercury flirting with 50, a climatic delight. Chalk it up to an exciting 90-­86 Pirate victory over Marquette in overtime.

Seton Hall trailed by as much as 17 early in the second half. They did what they could to hang around and slowly crawl back into it. A loose ball gathered here, three pointer there, defensive stop, etc. All came into play, and down the stretch put the Pirates in a position to first compete, then pull the contest out.

Beyond the necessary X’s and O’s, teams need something else to emerge victorious in games like this, toughness. It can be shown in Ka­-Deidre Simmons hitting the deck on a penetration, yet going on to make crucial plays in the stretch.

Toughness can be displayed in the duo of Bra’Shey Ali and Janee Johnson. Combined, zero points and a wealth of hard nosed plays expressed on the stat sheet in rebounds and steals. Tabatha Richardson-­Smith, a school record 38 points, virtually willing that last-second trey to go down and force OT.

Interestingly, Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella felt Marquette was the early aggressor. Part of the toughness asks you to respond and get back in it when the deficit is double digits.

The record for Seton Hall is 7-­8 in conference and 16-­10 overall. Yes, February is again meaningful for the Pirates. They are buying into coach Bozzella’s philosophy. The fans, for their part, just love it.

Referee Denise Brooks chatting with Seton Hall head coach Tony Bozzella before the game:
Bozzella is fired up as a timeout is granted:
Ka-Deidre Simmons setting the offense:
Marquette's Brooklyn Pumroy setting up a play:
Marquette coach Terri Mitchell goes over some points during a timeout:
The scoreboard tells the incredible result, but not the whole story:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Seton Hall 82, Georgetown 67: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEWARK, NJ --­ For Georgetown, it was the ’lost week.’ Besides cruel weather, the New York metropolitan area was not too kind for the visitors. After being dismantled by St. John’s on Sunday, the Hoyas were handled 82-­65 by Seton Hall at the Prudential Center on Thursday.

What is in a number? Excuse coach John Thompson III if ’23’ leaves him in a cold sweat. Rysheed Jordan of St. John’s wore that number, came out and buried a few perimeter shots to spark the Red Storm and adoring fans, and the rout was on. At the Rock, Fuquan Edwin, another 23, hit a few early, getting the Hall off and rolling.

As we wind down and the schedule gets busier, Seton Hall had some opportunity to get a few days off. What a wonder a rest can do especially at this time. A break to refresh the mind, body and game. A three-day off stretch was followed by an very good practice on Monday before Georgetown. A day later, the Pirates had a three hour workout and “our best practice this season,” per coach Kevin Willard.

The results were out there for all to see in an excellent forty-minute showing on Thursday evening.

Seton Hall cheerleaders get ready to take the floor prior to the game:
Anna Negron can sing the anthem, interview players, and host "Pirate Trivia." Here, she consults with a media member:
Sterling Gibbs during a free throw follow-through:
Flag Man made it around 18 times on his birthday:
Victor Cruz of the New York Giants and a fan of Seton Hall and North Carolina, who obviously had a gratifying evening:
A tough week for Georgetown coach John Thompson III, who explains the latest Hoya setback to the media:

Fordham/Saint Joseph's Preview

In addition to Phil Martelli's Saint Joseph's team, Fordham may also have its hands full with ubiquitous Hawk mascot as well at Hagan Arena tomorrow. (Photo courtesy of Saint Joseph's University)

Fordham has had a full week to prepare for their first of five final regular season games, and at 2-9 in Atlantic 10 play, the Rams find themselves fighting to avoid the conference's opening round play-in game as they enter Hagan Arena tomorrow afternoon to take on perennial league championship threat Saint Joseph's.

At 18-7, this year's Hawks team is enjoying its trademark stay in the top half of the conference, as head coach Phil Martelli is making up for a lost season in which his team was expected to dominate the A-10 a year ago, yet exited March with a buzzer-beating NIT loss at home to St. John's. This year, leading scorer Carl Jones is gone due to his graduation last May, but his absence has not caused the Hawks to miss a beat, with four double-figure scorers led by senior marksman Langston Galloway, as well as a starting five that is no stranger to extended minutes, with each averaging at least 32 minutes per game.

As a team, Saint Joseph's shoots 38 percent from three-point range, which could turn this game into a track meet or a one-sided affair in the opening minutes, depending on how disciplined Fordham starts the game. In addition, the revenge factor will be in play in the form of senior forward Halil Kanacevic, the Staten Islander who leads the team in assists and rebounds, and played for Tom Pecora as a freshman at Hofstra before the coach's departure to Rose Hill, joining UMass' Chaz Williams as Hofstra expatriates in the Atlantic 10.

Martelli's Hawks have a lot to lose here with a misstep, most notably their status on the NCAA Tournament bubble, something Saint Joseph's radio color analyst Joe Lunardi (yes, THE Joe Lunardi) will no doubt expound upon before the game, but to get to know the Philadelphia natives further, we turn it over to James Hill; one of the fine members of the outfit that friend of the site Aaron Bracy does an exceptional job of helping manage, and this is what James had to share about the team who, just a decade ago, was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Delonte West and all-time leading scorer Jameer Nelson:

Jaden Daly: This season's Hawks are playing more like the team picked to win the Atlantic 10 than last year's team, which was picked first in the preseason poll, was. What has been the biggest change for Phil Martelli this season, and how much more has the group improved as a whole?

James Hill: I think this team’s chemistry is far ahead of what it was a season ago. Martelli has been talking about it all year – the guys on the team care about each other and want to do whatever they can to win. The team has taken on the personality of its three senior starters – Langston Galloway, Halil Kanacevic, and Ronald Roberts – and it’s been for the best. I know that’s a vague answer, but comparing last year’s team to this year’s team, it’s the one thing that stands out the most.

JD: Saint Joseph's shoots 38 percent from three-point range as a team, and Chris Wilson has been a better complement to Langston Galloway than some may have expected. With Fordham's four-guard lineup, how much more will outside shooting be part of Martelli's game plan?

JH: Outside shooting will always be a part of the game plan for the Hawks – they take nearly 19 of them a game, but I would imagine the St. Joe’s will start the game by getting the ball into Ronald Roberts or Halil Kanacevic in the post in order to play an inside-out game. That’s been their recipe all year. Once the defense starts collapsing, Galloway, Wilson, and DeAndre Bembry will spot up along the outside, but I definitely don’t expect the Hawks to change the inside-out approach because of the four-guard look they will see.
That doesn’t mean they won’t change personnel. You might see a few more minutes for guys like Isaiah Miles or Daryus Quarles, two bigger guards, in order to better match up defensively, but count on the ball going into the post early and often.

JD: Going back to Wilson if we may, how seamless has the transition been for him in replacing Carl Jones?

JH: The Hawks definitely have a different look this year, as much of their offense went through Carl Jones and CJ Aiken last season, but Wilson did start in all but three of his games played last season and played 30 minutes a game. So he had plenty of experience running the team coming into this season. He does have a different role at the point than Jones had. Jones was much more of a “me-first” scorer, and made sure to get his shots. Wilson, on the other hand, is much more passive, and gets his shots within the flow of the offense. I think the offense flows a lot better this season with Wilson running the show and the introduction of DeAndre Bembry. The team is much more balanced and unselfish this season, with all five starters averaging at least 9 points.

JD: For those who haven't seen DeAndre Bembry, what can we expect, and how much more of an impact does he make in the departments that don't show up in the box score?

JH: DeAndre Bembry has been a lot of fun to watch this season. He is the Hawks’ most versatile player. He can shoot, handle the ball very well, defend, and he seems to be the only guy who can take his man to the rim off the bounce. The only issue is, as a freshman, he has yet to find consistency. He could go for 18 one night and four points the next, but, despite his somewhat inconsistent production, he does have a maturity level you don’t typically find in freshmen. DeAndre’s impact on the defensive end is definitely something that doesn’t show up in the box score – at least not in terms of steals, blocks, etc. Martelli usually assigns Bembry to check the opposing team’s best perimeter player, and he’s been able to do that very well this season. Just like on the offensive end, there have been some lapses, (see Tyreek Duren’s eight-point spurt at the beginning of the La Salle game) but he’s drawn that top defensive assignment every game since the opener and has done a good job.

JD: Considering the Hawks have no layups in their final four games, how crucial is this game in terms of sustaining momentum going into the Atlantic 10 tournament?

JH: This game is huge for Saint Joseph’s. They cannot afford a loss on their home floor to a team ranked 187 in the RPI. And, as you said, the rest of the schedule does not do them any favors with Dayton, St. Bonaventure, George Washington, and city rival La Salle still to play. If they lose to Fordham in Philly, their already small margin for error probably evaporates. They need this one – more for the damage a loss would bring than for the benefit a win would provide.

JD: On that note, where do you ultimately see Saint Joseph's finishing, and how much more work is needed to secure an at-large berth?

JH: To secure an at-large berth, I think the Hawks can afford one more regular season loss – preferably at George Washington. I suppose if they lost at St. Bonaventure but then won at George Washington, they’d still be ok as well – but the Bonnie loss would look much worse to those around the country, even though those around the A-10 know how hard it is to win in Olean. After all that, a win or two in the conference tournament would certainly help.

In my opinion, the Hawks will make the Tournament. Most projections have them in as of now, and I think the remaining schedule offers enough opportunities to bolster their position within the field. Saint Joseph’s has won 14 of its last 17 and has been one of the better teams in the conference since Atlantic 10 play started. This senior-heavy squad has been talking about the Big Dance since October. Now that it’s within their grasp, I don’t imagine them stepping off the pedal.