Monday, December 31, 2012

Fordham 82, Monmouth 71: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Rose Hill Gym provided one last pleasant memory of 2012 tonight, with four Fordham players scoring in double figures in Rams' 82-71 win over Monmouth.  (Photo courtesy of Gary Moore via The College Hardwood)

Monmouth head coach King Rice after the game on Monmouth's radio postgame show: (Note: I was able to get this quote from Monmouth's broadcast booth being right next to me on press row) "When teams punch us in the face, we don't do a good job of answering it."

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"I think the difference was that we came to life in the second half.  We took care of the basketball, we only had five turnovers in the second half.  I told Chris (Gaston) at halftime that he had to take the game over.  One of our goals was to dominate the backboard, and we had 21 more rebounds than them.  I think that's what an A-10 team's supposed to do.  I thought the guys made great decisions after getting the offensive rebounds."

On Bryan Smith (18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and what he means to the team:
"When Bryan Smith makes shots, we win a lot of games."

On Mandell Thomas (12 points, 3 assists) and his progression:
"His numbers were great today, and you can see his explosiveness.  The more time he spends with Bryan (Smith) and (Branden) Frazier, and the rest of our guards, the more experienced he gets.  The guys will tell you in practice that he's a freakish athlete, he does things that make you say 'Whoa!' The key is doing it in games."

On his big men:
"They're a lot stronger than the guys they're playing against, but they've got to start dominating.  I told the guys, 'the gloves are off. Now I'm going to ride you until the middle of March, hopefully.'"

Bryan Smith on his confidence:
"I never lost confidence, I had to stay positive.  If I missed a shot, I knew I'd make the next one."

Chris Gaston (19 points, 10 rebounds) on responding to trailing at halftime:
"We had to protect our house.  We played a lot harder than we did in the first half.  We felt like we needed to win."

Pecora on his team in general:
"We're getting past the point of being freshmen.  Everyone's played enough minutes now."

Nuggets of Note:
- The double-double for Chris Gaston was his second of the year, and first since his 19-point, 14-rebound performance in a losing effort to Texas State in Fordham's season opener.  It was also Chris' 54th career double-double.

- The 18 points for Bryan Smith were a season high, and it marked the second straight home game in which his shot making helped propel Fordham to victory, as his outside shooting was an integral part of the Rams' 81-75 win over Siena eight days ago.

- The Rams had four players (Smith, Gaston, Thomas and Branden Frazier, who had 11 points) score in double figures tonight, the second time it has happened this season, with the first coming in a losing effort against Harvard on December 1st.  In addition to the aforementioned quartet, Jermaine Myers poured in eight points, four rebounds and three assists off the bench, while Ryan Canty had an underrated effort with 14 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive glass as Fordham outrebounded Monmouth 51-30.

- Just as Tom Pecora intimated in his postgame press conference, Fordham truly did come to life following a first half in which the Rams turned the ball over fourteen times and went into the locker room trailing Monmouth 33-28.  Following the intermission, the Rams shot 55 percent (17-for-31) from the field and 7-of-10 from three-point range down the stretch to close the Hawks out.  Fordham's pressure and ball movement was a stark contrast from a lackluster effort in the opening minutes, where Monmouth established themselves as the better team.

- Finally, Fordham was much better when it came to finishing possessions, especially down the stretch, where they outscored Monmouth 11-5 on second chance points and 19-10 overall on the night.  The Rams have one more nonconference game remaining, on the road against Mississippi on Friday night before returning to Rose Hill to open Atlantic 10 play against Jim Ferry and Duquesne on January 9th.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Midseason Valley Report Cards

Despite playing off the ball, Grant Gibbs' ball handling has helped Creighton stay near top of rankings going into Missouri Valley opener this weekend.  (Photo courtesy of Creighton University)

Missouri Valley Conference play finally opens Saturday night with a pair of games, and for the hardcore college basketball enthusiast, there truly is nothing like a Valley game.  As this site likes to do many times through the course of a season, we tend to offer Valley insight as much as possible, and will do so again by grading the ten members of arguably the best mid-major in the nation through their nonconference ledger.  Teams will be listed in order of our prediction from this past October, when we previewed the Valley and who posed the best challenge to reigning champion Creighton.
One sidebar before we go into our evaluations: Our friend John Templon from Big Apple Buckets recently stepped outside his Northeast Conference comfort zone with the return of his popular 10,000 simulation series, which profiled how the Valley season could ultimately play out heading into Arch Madness.  Here's what John's look into the future revealed:

Creighton: The 11-1 Bluejays have picked up right where they left off to start the season, going into their Valley opener at home on Saturday against Evansville as the 16th-ranked team in the nation, and junior swingman Doug McDermott is a big reason why.  McDermott's shooting percentage has dipped from last year's 60 percent clip down to a more modest 55, but the reigning Valley Player of the Year has maintained a 23-point average to go with the double-double threat of Gregory Echenique alongside him.  Senior guard Grant Gibbs, who was part of arguably the most underrated backcourt tandem in the nation last year alongside Antoine Young, has turned heads with his stellar ball handling despite not running the point; with 75 assists and 12 turnovers in twelve games, good enough for an astounding 6.25:1 assist to turnover ratio.  Not to be outdone, Austin Chatman has managed to average four helpers per contest as well, and Creighton has picked up contributions from sharpshooting substitutes Ethan Wragge and Avery Dingman that most programs in the country would kill for, despite a surprising home loss to Boise State early in the year.  Grade: A

Illinois State: At 9-3, the Redbirds have lived up to their high expectations as Dan Muller inherits a team that made a run in last year's NIT for his first season at the helm of his alma mater.  As expected, Jackie Carmichael has posted first team all-Valley-caliber numbers, shooting 59 percent from the field while averaging eighteen points and eight rebounds per game; with Tyler Brown living up to the massive hype we placed on the senior guard, managing seventeen points per night and shooting 38 percent from three-point range.  Carmichael and Brown definitely make the motor run, but it is Illinois State's cast of role players that help define this team.  Bryant Allen and Jon Ekey have continued to fill up a box score on any given night, with the point guard duo of Johnny Hill and Kaza Keane combining for nine points and nine assists per game on average.  Losses to Northwestern and Wyoming made us scratch our heads a little last month, but the Redbirds atoned for one of them last week with an impressive road win at Dayton that could work wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume.  Grade: B+

Northern Iowa: At 7-5, Ben Jacobson's Panthers haven't exactly set the world on fire through the nonconference season, but in their defense, UNI has had their share of challenges early and often, with a close loss to Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis chief among an ambitious schedule that also included meetings with Memphis and UNLV.  Following a season where only one player averaged double figures last season, the Panthers have four with averages of ten points or more going into their Valley opener, led by Deon Mitchell, who also leads the team in assists.  Anthony James, last year's scoring leader, has maintained his scoring potential despite missing three games; while Seth Tuttle continues to take high percentage shots alongside Jake Koch, whose ten points and seven rebounds only underscore his all-around capability.  Marc Sonnen once again has a high three-point efficiency, (44 percent) while reserve Nate Buss shoots 63 percent from the field and 57 from beyond the arc in just thirteen minutes per night.  Grade: B

Evansville: We admit that we expected great things from the Purple Aces this season as Marty Simmons' roster looked to move further up the Valley ladder.  What we forgot to account for was how much Evansville would miss Kenny Harris and Denver Holmes.  Without those two, Colt Ryan has seen a dropoff in his offensive output, averaging just fourteen points per game this season while Ned Cox has made a very positive transition from sixth man to starting guard, averaging nearly twelve points per game to complement a 43 percent shooting clip from three-point range.  Sixth man DJ Balentine has been a pleasant surprise for the Aces with his eleven points per game and 44 percent rate from beyond the arc, while Troy Taylor has made up for his offensive struggles by leading the team in assists and rebounds, also ranking second in steals.  By the way, Ryan is just 269 points away from becoming Evansville's all-time leading scorer, needing only to average fifteen points per game the rest of the way in the regular season to break the record.  Evansville's schedule has been modest but somewhat heartbreaking, with four of the Aces' five losses coming by nine points or less.  Grade: B-

Wichita State: Just as we may have overvalued Evansville, we may have underappreciated the rebuilding job that Gregg Marshall has done with the Shockers this season in the wake of an NCAA Tournament appearance and the loss of each of Wichita State's top five scorers from last season.  What's even more impressive is that the Shockers haven't missed a beat since Carl Hall went on the shelf with a broken thumb after starting the year with averages of fourteen points and over seven rebounds per game.  In Hall's absence, Cleanthony Early has become the latest junior college transfer to become a diamond in the rough for Marshall, averaging thirteen points and five boards per contest while Demetric Williams and Malcolm Armstead have effectively combined to replace the underrated point guard ability of Joe Ragland.  Wichita State's offense continues to be one of the better ones in the Valley, but it is their defense that has won them games to start the year.  In twelve games, the Shockers have yielded just 59 points per game and have yet to allow 70, with their season high for points allowed being 69 in their lone loss of the season against Tennessee.  Grade: A

Missouri State: The 2-10 Bears have been among the more misfortunate teams in the nation, starting with the news that sophomore guard Jarmar Gulley would miss the season with a torn ACL following a sensational freshman campaign.  Aside from fellow guard and leading scorer Anthony Downing, Missouri State has struggled, with only two other players (Christian Kirk and Marcus Marshall) averaging more than nine points per game.  It was going to be a year of adjustment for Paul Lusk and the Bears anyway following the departure of Kyle Weems and Caleb Patterson, but the one positive is that Missouri State can get some much-needed experience in the hopes of returning to their recent success next season.  Grade: D

Bradley: On the other side of the coin from Missouri State is a Bradley team that has made more than just a few strides under second-year head coach Geno Ford.  At 8-4, the Braves have been the biggest threat to No. 2 Michigan so far this season, nearly defeating John Beilein's Wolverines on their home court, just falling short in a hotly contested 74-66 matchup.  The Braves also have a stifling defense to match Wichita State, yielding just 62 points per game on average while three double-figure scorers get it done on the other side of the ball.  As expected, guards Walt Lemon Jr. (12.4 points per game) and Dyricus Simms-Edwards (10.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and a 2.32:1 assist to turnover ratio) anchor the Bradley attack, while Tyshon Pickett has impressed in his first season as a starter, with numbers of twelve points, seven rebounds and 50 percent shooting.  Also up front, Will Egolf has returned to his former productivity level he sustained before tearing his ACL last season, with 6-9 Jordan Prosser backing him up with averages of nine points and five rebounds per game.  On the Braves' bench, Jalen Crawford has shown stretches of looking like a star in the making in his limited action, with the younger brother of former Xavier standout Jordan Crawford averaging nearly six points in just nineteen minutes.  Grade: B

Drake: Mark Phelps' Bulldogs are 6-5, but have played at a high level against far more talented opponents, and have played each one close.  Ben Simons has once again paced Drake offensively, and has also benefited from the return of Seth VanDeest, whose season last year was compromised due to a shoulder injury.  All the 6-11 VanDeest has done is average nearly twelve points per game while shooting an eye-popping 61 percent from the field.  While senior Jordan Clarke may be Drake's best all-around threat, as the forward has a 56 percent shooting clip to complement averages of almost ten points and nine rebounds per game, it is Richard Carter that has been the Bulldogs' biggest contributor.  Already a solid contender for Valley Newcomer of the Year honors, the junior college transfer has averaged nearly ten points per game, and leads the team in assists as well with an average of four helpers per contest.  Drake wasn't expected to win a conference title, but the Bulldogs clearly have the talent and pieces to secure a top six seed in "Arch Madness" this year, giving fans the gift of not having to endure another play-in game in St. Louis.  Grade: B+

Southern Illinois: Barry Hinson has guided the Salukis to a 7-4 record in his first season in Carbondale, and returns to his old haunt for SIU's Valley opener, traveling to Missouri State to take on a Bears team that has been bitten by just about every bug under the sun through the nonconference season.  Wyoming transfer Desmar Jackson has been a huge difference maker right out of the gate for the Salukis, averaging sixteen points and six rebounds per game while shooting 41 percent from three-point range, with Jeff Early also helping to pick up the offensive slack created by a lackluster start to the year for Kendal Brown-Surles.  In fact, Early's seven rebounds per contest lead the team.  Dantiel Daniels has proven himself as a high percentage shot taker, shooting a stellar 67 percent from the field and averaging eleven points per game while freshman guard Anthony Beane leads a promising young core, averaging nine points per game and taking advantage of immediate playing time in Hinson's starting lineup.  The Salukis have a somewhat questionable loss to UC Davis on their ledger, but have managed to compete for the most part.  Grade: C+

Indiana State: Again, we admit we dropped the ball on preseason ratings here, as the Sycamores have already exceeded expectations before their big Christmas night win in Hawaii against Jim Larranaga and Miami.  Larry Bird's alma mater has once again received more than they could have asked for out of Jake Odum, as the do-everything junior point guard is averaging over fourteen points and five rebounds per game in a season that has seen him return to the form he displayed as a freshman, guiding the Sycamores to the NCAA Tournament that season.  For all the talk of Richard Carter possibly being the Valley's Newcomer of the Year, Indiana State has a contender of their own in Manny Arop, their second-leading scorer with an average of thirteen points per game that complements a team-leading six rebounds per contest.  A big concern going into the season was how Indiana State would replace the long-range proficiency of Jordan Printy, and the Sycamores have not only done that, but upgraded as well; with R.J. Mahurin shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc, not to mention the 51 percent clip of junior guard Lucas Eitel.  Before defeating Miami, Indiana State took likely NCAA Tournament team San Diego State to the wire in Hawaii, proving that they are a deceptive foe that we completely underestimated at the start of the season.  Grade: B-

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Gifts For The Local Teams

With Christmas morning upon us, we'll channel our inner Santa (or Homer) and bestow some holiday cheer upon the local college hoops programs and their personnel.  (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

To celebrate Christmas Day, we're doing something a little different on this site.  Suggested to us by our friend and play-by-play announcer extraordinaire Ralph Bednarczyk last week, "The Dose" will play the role of jolly old Saint Nick and open the big bag of presents to spread tidings of great joy to the local college basketball teams and figures; all of whom could certainly use a pick-me-up to some degree, by chronicling what each would almost certainly love under their tree right about now, even if it ultimately isn't in the cards:

St. John's: For starters, a positive ruling on the classification and eligibility of big man Orlando Sanchez, and a repeat of 2010-11 going into Big East play, when the Red Storm knocked off six ranked opponents in their miracle run to the NCAA Tournament.

Fordham: A new arena to replace the iconic and venerable Rose Hill Gym might be a bit of a stretch, so we'll go with renovations to the oldest venue in the nation, as well as a few home games at the Barclays Center in the next couple of seasons, another year of Chris Gaston, and an elite point guard to team up with Branden Frazier in the backcourt.

Manhattan: George Beamon to return and Ashton Pankey to become eligible, giving the Jaspers their best roster since the glory days of Bobby Gonzalez.

Wagner: A signature win to give Bashir Mason the testimonial he deserves for keeping his program among the NEC's elite despite his tender age, not to mention the return of Latif Rivers and offensive evolution of Naofall Folahan in the paint and post.

LIU Brooklyn: Julian Boyd to get a sixth year of eligibility, and more home games so that more people can experience the dulcet tones of public address announcer David Freeman.

St. Francis College: The return of Stefan Perunicic to help their outside shooting, plus some backcourt stability between Brent Jones, Ben Mockford and Dre Calloway.

Columbia: A second scoring option so that Brian Barbour won't be so underrated.

Iona: Just like St. John's with Orlando Sanchez, a ruling on Norvel Pelle.  A one-night return of Scott Machado wouldn't hurt either.

Hofstra: One day with a full roster again, just so everyone could see how talented Mo Cassara's team is.

Seton Hall: A point guard was on the list before Tom Maayan showed his flashes of brilliance, so we'll go for more frontcourt depth now that Kevin Johnson is on the shelf and Patrik Auda is out for the year.

Rutgers: Twelve clones of Jonathan Mitchell.  Well, that and a home game against every Top 25 team in the Big East, since the Scarlet Knights have a knack for pulling off upsets in that scenario.

Stony Brook: A run deep into March similar to the one their baseball team went on, because they truly are a diamond in the metropolitan area rough.

Saint Peter's: More high-level talent to make their way into Jersey City to further illustrate how much of a genius John Dunne is.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fordham 81, Siena 75: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Bryan Smith broke out of his shell today, scoring 15 points in Fordham's 81-75 win over Siena.  (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

Head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"These are trying times in that I'm not accustomed to winning games when you let your opponent shoot 54 percent from the floor.  We showed them we were immature because we thought the game was over when we were up sixteen. (in the second half) We let them back into the game.  This is the reason why we won: (points to Chris Gaston and Branden Frazier, both of whom were alongside him in the press conference) Our veterans stepped up.  That, and the home crowd."

On what he can take away from the win:
"We have to get one of our bigs playing at a high level.  Our margin for error is so small because of our lack of experience.  When you attack zones, you can't let them put you to sleep."

On what he thought were the turning points in the second half:
"The things that won the game for us were Mandell's (Thomas) Jordan-esque block and Branden's back tap."

On Mandell Thomas: (8 points, 4 rebounds)
"He's earning minutes, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him in the starting lineup shortly."

On Bryan Smith: (15 points on 6-of-10 shooting)
"He was good, he was really good.  When you look at the big wins we've had, Bryan Smith scores, and we need that third option."

On Siena in general:
"They're better than their record, and I told Mitch (Buonaguro, Siena's head coach) that."

Chris Gaston (25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists) on Siena's adjustments against him in the second half:
"They doubled down on me, so I tried to play more of an overall game."

On playing at Rose Hill Gym:
"I love it here.  It's a great experience, always has been."

Branden Frazier (20 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds) on his performance and clutch mentality:
"I felt like they wanted to double me off the screens.  Basically, I was just feeding it to Chris.  I want to be the guy who goes to the free throw line and makes it.  That's my mindset."

Nuggets of Note:
- First and foremost, guard Khalid Robinson suffered a sprained MCL this week in practice; and will be out 2-3 weeks according to Pecora, which will sideline him at least through the end of nonconference play, and possibly through the Rams' first two Atlantic 10 matchups against Duquesne and Massachusetts as well.

- Today's win was Fordham's first wire-to-wire victory of the year, and a big reason why the Rams never trailed was their astounding 69 percent shooting from the field in the first half and 59 percent for the game.  Fordham also had a plus-2 assist to turnover margin, (20 helpers versus 18 miscues) and scored 19 first-half points off just eight Siena turnovers.

- The 47-point opening half for Fordham obliterated their previous season high of 37 over the first stanza, and Chris Gaston scored 20 of his game-high 25 in the opening half.  Conversely, Branden Frazier continued to shine in crunch time, with fourteen of his twenty points coming after the intermission.  Frazier's ball handling was also spectacular, with ten assists against just three turnovers.

- The Rams allowed four Siena players to score in double figures, but Fordham really made O.D. Anosike, Siena's MAAC Player of the Year candidate who is usually a walking double-double, uncomfortable early and often.  The senior forward from Staten Island finished with just 16 points and six rebounds, but was double-teamed in the paint frequently as Chris Gaston got the better hand of his defensive matchup.

- Finally, Bryan Smith came out firing from the opening tip, knocking down a wide-open three from the left corner for the game's first basket, and ended the day with a 15-point effort on 6-of-10 shooting, a far cry from his enigmatic and somewhat inconsistent recent performances.

Fordham hits the road after the Christmas holiday, taking on Georgia Tech Saturday in Atlanta before returning to Rose Hill for a 4pm New Year's Eve tipoff against Monmouth.

Scott Machado Makes NBA Return

Shown here in NBDL, Scott Machado made second NBA appearance last night in Houston Rockets' 121-96 win over Memphis.  (Photo courtesy of

Lost in the shuffle of last-minute holiday shopping and several big games over the weekend, fans of Iona College received a somewhat unexpected Christmas present when the Houston Rockets recalled Scott Machado from their developmental league affiliate early yesterday afternoon.  Even better than that, the former Gael made his second appearance as a Rocket, scoring two points in four minutes in Houston's 121-96 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Machado also added two assists, a rebound, and a steal in his limited action after rejoining the Rockets following yet another successful stint with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers; for whom he averages twelve points and over seven assists per contest, seeing the court in a Houston uniform for the first time since his November 28th debut, when he picked up two points off a pair of free throws in a losing effort against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The reigning MAAC Player of the Year's night began when Machado replaced Carlos Delfino with 4:08 remaining in regulation and Houston leading 114-90.  Nearly two minutes later, the rookie grabbed his aforementioned rebound off a missed three-pointer by Jerryd Bayless, and picked up his two points on the ensuing possession for the Rockets, forcing a steal off former Kansas star Josh Selby before finishing for a transition layup he spent four years perfecting in New Rochelle.

With the win, the Rockets improved to 14-12, and Machado's next chance to see live game action will come on Christmas night in Chicago, as Houston takes on the Bulls from the United Center.  The game can be seen at 8pm Eastern on ESPN, and A Daly Dose Of Hoops will continue to have further updates on Scott throughout his rookie season.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Previewing Fordham/Siena With 4 Guys In Blazers

Now in his third game back from torn meniscus, Chris Gaston will hope to be X-factor for Fordham as they host Siena in Sunday afternoon matinee at Rose Hill Gym.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

What had been considered as an intriguing nonconference matchup at the beginning of the year has since become a battle of 2-9 teams looking for a big nonconference win going into league play, but that has not managed to take some of the luster away from Fordham's return to Rose Hill Gym for just their second home game of the season, a noon tipoff with Siena tomorrow afternoon.

Coming in off an 88-73 loss to UConn last night in which the Rams allowed 57 first-half points to the Huskies, but managed to make the game and score closer than they let on thanks to a 26-point performance from junior guard Branden Frazier, Fordham will be playing its second game in three days after having played back-to-back twice earlier in the season as part of their participation in the preseason NIT.

Frazier, whose team-leading points per game average has ballooned to 16.5 to go with his near-five assists per contest, will once again team with freshman Jermaine Myers and sophomore Bryan Smith in the backcourt, while Ryan Canty and the now-healthy Chris Gaston fight off a Siena front line anchored by MAAC Player of the Year candidate O.D. Anosike.  While that is going on, the Ram guards will have their hands full with Evan Hymes, the Saints' explosive sophomore point guard who seems to get better every time he steps onto the court.  Siena comes in reeling under Mitch Buonaguro, and will be well-rested, playing their first game in exactly two weeks after taking a hiatus for final exams shortly after the Saints' 75-55 loss to Manhattan at Draddy Gym.  To shed further light on the Saints, our friends at 4 Guys In Blazers have offered to break down the state capital's college team just a little more as Siena and Fordham fulfill the second year of a four-season obligation to play one another.  Visit 4 Guys In Blazers for all things Siena throughout the season, and even in the offseason as well, either on their website (the link is above) or on Twitter at @4guysinblazers.

Jaden Daly: How much of a concern will the two-week layoff from the Manhattan game be?

4 Guys In Blazers: In most seasons, you'd be concerned with rust and a loss of offensive rhythm. However, this isn't your typical Siena season, and the team's offense had little rhythm going into the layoff. While the team used this time to focus on improving its offense, it hopefully also served as a bit of a mental break from the rough beginning to this season. Coming off a seven game losing streak, this break feels more like a much needed reset button.

JD: What are the biggest reasons for Siena's 2-9 start?

4GIB: While you can point to several factors, I'll focus on two areas: free throws and turnovers.

While no Saint has shot exceptionally well from the free throw line, the team is shooting 58%. O.D. Anosike has experienced the toughest struggles, shooting 39%. That number is compounded by the fact that Anosike has attempted over 30 more free throws than any other member of the team. Five of Siena's nine losses have been by six points or fewer, and those missed shots weren't throwaways, but game-changers.

As for turnovers, Siena is averaging fifteen a game. Point guard Evan Hymes has had a very hard time on this front, averaging a team high 4.8 per game. While a portion of these are due to broken down plays and a young roster still learning the multiple options in its playbook, others are a product of Hymes trying to do too much with the ball. As the game progresses and the Saints find themselves down in the second half, Hymes tends to try to force his way to the basket in an effort to jumpstart the offense. Too often, this leads to the 5'8" Hymes running into a sea of hands resulting in blocked shots, or at best a tough, off-balance attempt.

One final note, (I know i said two areas) Siena has struggled to hit its shots. In multiple games, the team has gone cold from the field in at least one half, missing open shots. Simply correcting this one area would go a long way to changing the conversation on the team this season.

JD: Other than O.D. (Anosike) and Evan, (Hymes) who else should fans pay attention to?

4GIB: Two players come to mind here, Rakeem Brookins and Rob Poole. Brookins is likely more well known to your audience. The redshirt sophomore started 25 games at the point as a freshman in the 2010-11 season before missing all of last year due to a back injury. With the emergence of Evan Hymes last year, Brookins has played primarily in the two guard spot this season. He has appeared in only five games this season, missing the first three games due to suspension and an additional three games due to a reaggravation of his back injury, but can be a difference maker when he plays. He has a team-high scoring average of 13.2 points, possessing the ability to get to the basket or hit the pull-up jumper.

Rob Poole has really begun to emerge as a sophomore this season. He has shown an improved ability to get to the basket and no longer displays any hesitation to put up his shot. His versatility has been an asset to the team, having played in both guard and forward positions depending on the team's lineup. He is averaging 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game and is certainly looking to be the team's most improved player over last season.

JD: Going back to Evan Hymes, what has been his biggest improvement as a sophomore?

4GIB: He looks to be continuing to grow as a leader on this young Saints team. He clearly has a deep desire to be on the court. In the first game of the season, he left the game in the second half on a stretcher due to severe cramping only to return late in an effort to push the Saints to victory. In addition, he remains one of the team's primary scoring threats, averaging 11.6 points a game.

JD: I know it's probably too early for this, but is this game a must-win given what's coming up on the schedule for Siena?

4GIB: It's hard to call any game in December, especially a nonconference matchup, a must-win. That being said, a win would go a long way in beginning to restore the team's confidence as we head into the meat of the conference schedule. A seven-game losing streak can begin to eat away at the confidence of any team and I think that has shown itself to be true in this case.  A win would be a great way to restart the season.

Fordham and Siena tip off at noon tomorrow afternoon, and if you can't get to WFUV's radio call or the YES Network broadcast with WFAN update anchor Rich Ackerman and former Duke legend Jim Spanarkel on the call, feel free to follow us on Twitter.

UNC Asheville 72, St. John's 65: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Bruce Hornsby's son Keith proved that he couldn't make St. John's fans love him, as UNC Asheville's sophomore guard scored 14 points, including game-winning three-pointer in Bulldogs' 72-65 upset of Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena.

St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison (24 points, 4 rebounds) on St. John's second-half collapse:
"We're definitely frustrated because we had a 17-point lead.  We should have capitalized on that.  This one hurts.  We're going to get back to the drawing board.  We've got Villanova first, (in Big East play) and our job is to take care of them."

Guard Phil Greene (4 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) on the collapse:
"We had to come together so we could put those guys away, and we just didn't.  We missed assignments.  All the little things it takes to win, we didn't do."

Head coach Steve Lavin's opening statement:
"We knew we had our hands full.  We just didn't handle prosperity well.  They did great things...they attacked the rim well, they were opportunistic.  It's a painful way for us to learn, but there are a lot of takeaways from this one."

Lavin on not being able to close the game down the stretch:
"If we could sustain, we'd be 11-1 and probably ranked 15th in the country.  We didn't expect to be up 17 on these guys.  I was pleasantly surprised, but concerned when we couldn't put them away.  Even though we built a 17-point lead, I never felt comfortable.  We never found a rhythm defensively.  You've got to finish, whether it's Mariano Rivera or the two-minute warning in football"

On UNC Asheville:
"We knew coming in that this team took Syracuse to the wire. (as a No. 16 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament) In fact, we watched that game before the tip tonight.  They have a winning championship culture, they expect to win, they expect to compete in the postseason."

On possible adjustments before St. John's Big East opener against Villanova at The Pavilion on January 2nd:
"We're 8-4, but I think we've learned a lot through our nonconference schedule.  I think with the way we play, we need to rotate bodies.  I think we're doing a better job, but it's just across the board.  There really isn't one aspect of play from A to Z that we don't need to work on."

Nuggets of Note:
- This loss was eerily reminiscent of past St. John's second-half meltdowns, such as January 2008 at Carnesecca Arena against DePaul, where the Red Storm allowed a 16-0 DePaul run midway through the second half that decided the game, January of 2010 at Madison Square Garden against West Virginia; and most notably, the December 2010 upset loss at Rose Hill Gym in which Fordham erased a 21-point lead with two 16-0 runs in the final stanza.

- UNC Asheville's run was a 23-4 spurt in a span of 7:37, starting with the Bulldogs trailing 54-42 with 12:10 remaining in regulation and culminating with a breakaway dunk from Keith Hornsby (son of the great pianist Bruce, who ended the night with 14 points) to make 65-58 Bulldogs with 4:33 to go in the second half.

- After St. John's scored seven unanswered points to tie the game at 65, Hornsby struck again with 1:30 left on the clock, knocking down a three-pointer straight away to give UNC Asheville the lead for good, putting the Bulldogs ahead 68-65 before using four free throws to provide the final margin of victory after St. John's two chances to tie and pull within three resulted in turnovers on each possession.  As the Bonnie Raitt song that Hornsby's father played piano on and eventually covered numerous times live goes, he can't make you love him if you don't.

- Hornsby wasn't the biggest thorn in St. John's side, as his teammate Jeremy Atkinson exploded for a career-high 31 points, 23 of which came in the second half.  Atkinson, the Bulldogs' leading scorer, also finished with nine rebounds as the Red Storm gave up a big game just as they did with Joel Smith in last year's upset loss at home to Northeastern.

- UNC Asheville's win was their first against a Big East program, coming in their 15th attempt.

- On the bright side for St. John's, D'Angelo Harrison's team-high 24 points marked the ninth contest of the twelve that the Johnnies have played in which the sophomore from Texas has eclipsed the 20-point plateau.  Speaking of the Lone Star State, the Red Storm finally welcomed former Texas A&M guard Jamal Branch into the fold last night after the sophomore had sat out the first semester after transferring at the beginning of the calendar year.  In fourteen minutes, Branch showed several flashes of brilliance despite finishing with just two points and two assists.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't Count Saint Peter's Out In MAAC

Last night's 80-67 victory over LIU Brooklyn demonstrated just how strong a coach John Dunne is, and if his Saint Peter's team can get a few more, Peacocks may be a threat in wide-open MAAC.  (Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

Just one month into the season, no conference has shown itself to be as unpredictable as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.  Of the ten schools in the MAAC, an astounding eight are 1-1 through their first two conference games, each program has seen its share of big wins and puzzling losses; a Canisius team that finished near the bottom of the standings before making a coaching change has now started 8-2, and the three teams expected to contend for the conference championship have dealt with injuries to their stars and a highly touted newcomer not being eligible until tonight.  Lost in the shuffle in all this is a school just two years removed from emerging victorious as MAAC champions, a team still looking to shake off any doubters from last season's rebuilding.

Saint Peter's University may not always be the most exciting team to watch, but the Peacocks put together arguably their best and most impressive win of the season last night, shooting 55 percent from the field against an LIU Brooklyn team coming off two consecutive Northeast Conference championships, defeating the Blackbirds by the final of 80-67 on Saint Peter's home court at the Yanitelli Center.  Led by their three-guard attack of Desi Washington, (28 points) Yvon Raymond, (14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and Blaise Ffrench, (12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) the Peacocks were able to blow by LIU and get inside the paint seemingly at will as the game went on.

"I thought our team played with really good focus," Saint Peter's coach John Dunne said after the game.  "We slowed them down by going zone in the second half and taking the ball out of (Jason, LIU Brooklyn's point guard) Brickman's hands."

Brickman managed ten points and seven assists in the losing effort for the Blackbirds, but the night clearly belonged to Saint Peter's.  After starting the game in their methodical, grinding style, LIU sped the game up midway through the first half, and Saint Peter's responded by beating the visitors at their own game, led primarily by the sophomore Washington.

"He's meant a lot to us," Dunne said of his star guard.  "If I wasn't preaching 'share it, share it, share it,' he could average twenty-something (points) a game.  We've competed every game.  Coming back off a five-win year, that's what you want to do."

Saint Peter's also took advantage of the absence of LIU forward Julian Boyd, the reigning NEC Player of the Year who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, outrebounding the Blackbirds 23-15 in the second half despite allowing a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) to Boyd's fellow NEC first-team selection Jamal Olasewere.  The Peacocks' transition game was an overlooked star last night, outscoring LIU 10-2 on fast breaks and converting fourteen Blackbird turnovers into 21 points, prompting a very satisfied reaction from their coach when asked about his team's efficiency.

"I wish we would have settled down a little more early," Dunne said, "but we did a great job of not turning the ball over." (Saint Peter's ended the night with just eleven miscues) "When you play defense the way we play and you don't give easy baskets, and you make teams earn points, it slows the game down."

Not only did Saint Peter's University make LIU Brooklyn earn points last night in Jersey City, the Peacocks also earned more respect and credibility that they can proudly carry with them into their next game, a Saturday affair against Loyola (Illinois) and even further into MAAC play, which resumes against Manhattan on January 4th.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Iona 87, Liberty 69: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

With 23 points and seven three pointers, Sean Armand was once again an integral part of an Iona win, as Gaels defeated Liberty 87-69 to win second straight and improve to 5-4.  (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Iona guard Sean Armand (23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) on Iona's mindset:
"We're above .500 now.  We want to go on a (winning) streak from here.  We're going to have more pieces and we're going to be rolling."

Guard Momo Jones (24 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) on Iona's strengths:
"I think we've got a great backcourt, we have guys who complement each other pretty well.  A.J. (English) had two great games in a row.  Welcome back, David Laury, that's all I've got to say."

Guard Tavon Sledge (6 points, 3 assists) on his role on this team:
"I still feel like a freshman.  Having guys like Momo (Jones) and Sean (Armand) in front of me gives me confidence."

Guard A.J. English (17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) on being Iona's third scoring option behind Jones and Armand:
"It doesn't matter to me.  As long as I'm open, I just try to make shots and get it going.  I think everybody can do it.  I go out there and try to win because they (my teammates) put a lot of confidence in me."

Head coach Tim Cluess on A.J. English:
"He's been playing great for a freshman, he's grown up a lot with the help of our seniors.  He could be really special.  With Sean Armand mentoring him, he couldn't be in better hands."

On last night's win:
"I think the win (Saturday) over Georgia and the second half against Rutgers helped our confidence.  I thought we shared the ball better in the second half, that's who we are and where we need to be."

On forward David Laury, who is expected to make his Iona debut tomorrow night:
"We're hoping he could give us some inside scoring, but that might take a little while in all fairness to him."

On guard Tre Bowman, who scored 13 points off the bench:
"We were hoping to get him back and give him good minutes."

On Tavon Sledge and what he brings to the team:
"He's working his tail off.  His energy is contagious to the other players."

On Momo Jones and his offensive improvement from last season:
"We've been able to use him in a lot of different spots, on the ball, off the ball, and diversify him more because of (Tavon) Sledge and A.J. (English)"

Nuggets of Note:
- In the win, Iona tied a school record with 18 three-pointers, previously set against Albany in November of 2010.  The Gaels also broke their previous record of three-point attempts with 41 shots from beyond the arc last night.

- With his 24-point effort to lead all scorers, Momo Jones has now scored 20 or more points in seven of Iona's nine contests, and continues to be the Gaels' leading scorer.  Sean Armand's 23 points brought his season average back to 20 points per game as well.

- A.J. English's 17 points matched his career high, set in Iona's previous game, an 81-78 overtime win this past Saturday at Georgia.  The freshman also broke the game open midway through the second half, with eleven points in a 19-5 Iona run that turned a tenuous 51-45 advantage into a comfortable 70-50 cushion for the Gaels.

- Iona turned the first half into a track meet by allowing Liberty to shoot 52 percent from the field in the opening stanza, but clamped down defensively after the intermission, limiting the Flames to just 30 percent (9-of-30) from the field in the second half.

- Highly touted recruit David Laury is expected to make his debut tomorrow night for the Gaels on the road against La Salle, and is also expected to make an immediate impact on the front line as Iona continues to search for a replacement for former all-MAAC forward Mike Glover, who graduated this past May.

- Finally, the road game against La Salle, Iona's first against an Atlantic 10 opponent since the Gaels defeated Richmond last December, starts a stretch of four games featuring three A-10 opponents to close out 2012.  Following a home date with Norfolk State on Sunday, Iona travels to Saint Joseph's on December 28th before celebrating New Year's Eve in western New York against reigning A-10 champions St. Bonaventure.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Boeheim Wins 900th As Syracuse Tops Detroit

Jim Boeheim adds one more milestone to Hall of Fame career tonight, as longtime Syracuse mentor's Orange team defeated Detroit 72-68 to give him career win No. 900, third-most all time.  (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight can make room for one more in their exclusive fraternity after tonight.

After leading by 19 points at halftime over a Detroit team that nearly upset Kansas in last year's NCAA Tournament, Syracuse nearly coughed up their double-digit lead at the Carrier Dome, but held off a pesky Titans squad by the final of 72-68 to give head coach Jim Boeheim his 900th career win, joining the two aforementioned coaches as the only men in history to reach that storied plateau.

"I've stayed around long enough," said Boeheim, now in his 37th season as the head coach of his alma mater.  "I was a little nervous."

After Detroit pulled to within four points late in the second half, Boeheim had every right to be, but watched as his Orange team held serve and closed the Titans out behind 22 points from James Southerland, as well as 12 points and 10 assists from point guard Michael Carter-Williams, the sophomore's sixth consecutive double-double.

For Boeheim, who has endured more than his share of criticism in his career, as well as the allegations surrounding former assistant coach Bernie Fine; not to mention Syracuse's impending move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, the win was more than just another on his ledger.  It was a testimonial for a misunderstood coaching genius that continues to be one of the best in his field in an ever-changing college basketball landscape, one that was completely different when the coach picked up his first victory back on November 26, 1976.

Whether or not the 68-year-old Boeheim will stay around long enough to claim his 1,000th win (he would most likely need at least another four years) remains to be seen.  Hopefully he does, but if not, his career will go down as one of the greatest in the sport despite what some may think.

Congratulations, Jim.

Jim Boeheim's Hall of Fame enshrinement speech: (Video courtesy of the Basketball Hall of Fame)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Obekpa becoming block machine as St. John's gets past SFC

By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19
The St. John's Red Storm beat Brooklyn's St. Francis Terriers 77-60 in the Winter Festival on Saturday night, led by Chris Obekpa, who is establishing himself as a block machine.
Obekpa had nine blocks, nearly matching the 11 he had againt Fordham last Saturday, which is a St. John's record. Obekpa now has 58 blocks on the season in 11 games.
JaKarr Sampson (14) putting up a shot and Chris Obekpa (12) boxing out down low. Photo by @JESchott19.
He also had four points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
St. Francis jumped out to a 16-9 in the first six minutes, and the Red Storm rebounded with a 20-6 run in the next six minutes to lead 29-22.
They never looked back, and a Phil Greene jumper made it 40-31 St. John's with 2:59 left in the first. They took a 45-35 lead into the half.
They pulled away in the second half, and opened up a 68-51 lead with 7:26 left on a JaKarr Sampson jumper.
D'Angelo Harrison led St. John's in scoring again, with 25 points on 9-for-17 from the field and four 3-pointers. He also had six rebounds and five assists.
JaKarr Sampson had 21 points on 9-for-20 shooting with 12 rebounds.

WATCH St. John's Head Coach Steve Lavin talk about Chris Obekpa:  

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Fordham 63, Princeton 60: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Ryan Canty continues to make most of newfound playing time with second straight double-double (12 points, 15 rebounds) in Fordham's 63-60 win over Princeton.  (Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe)

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"Obviously, we're a team desperate for a win.  Getting Chris (Gaston) back was a big part of it.  This is uncharted territory for me...I had never been 1-8 before.  We're not a bad 2-8 team, we're getting better every minute.  We can build off this, and I'm excited about that."

On Chris Gaston: (16 points, 5 rebounds in 32 minutes)
"He gave us good minutes."

On the Barclays Center and what it means to the program:
"This building has got to be special to Fordham, and it is, with our conference tournament being here.  We're excited about playing games here."

On Princeton:
"This was a smart Princeton team, they adjust quickly to things you can do.  They're a beautiful team to watch play.  Mitch (Henderson, Princeton's head coach) is doing a great job with them."

Branden Frazier (19 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) on his performance tonight:
"I can tell you that last four minutes where we played so hard came from practice.  I just tried to attack them as much as I could and get to the lane.  Ryan Canty bailed me out on that last one." (more on that later)

Ryan Canty (12 points, 15 rebounds) on his performance against Princeton's front line:
"I go up against Travion (Leonard) in practice all the time and he's 6-9, 250.  I missed a dunk and an easy layup, so I was just trying to make sure I made that one." (the layup that turned out to be the game-winning shot)

Nuggets of Note:
- For the second straight game, Ryan Canty picked up a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds.  Also for the second straight game, Fordham enjoyed a double-digit rebounding advantage, outrebounding Princeton 39-28.

- The Rams closed the game on a 17-4 run, and Branden Frazier scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, including 13 straight before feeding Canty inside for the layup that put Fordham ahead 61-60.

- Fordham's frontcourt was very efficient from the field, shooting 13-of-24, while the Ram guards were 9-of-31.

- Fordham's transition game picked up a much-needed boost as well, scoring 15 points off eleven Princeton turnovers, while their ability to attack the glass paid off to the tune of an 11-4 advantage in second chance points.

- Finally, in his first game back from a torn meniscus suffered on November 13th against Robert Morris, Chris Gaston did not disappoint, ending the day with 16 points and five rebounds on 5-of-12 shooting.  Gaston's 32 minutes were somewhat surprising, as Tom Pecora told us earlier in the week that he was expected to see 20-25 minutes.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Catching Up With Glenn Braica

Now in his third year at St. Francis, Glenn Braica will have de facto homecourt advantage as Terriers face St. John's at Barclays Center tomorrow.  (Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

Tomorrow's tripleheader at the Barclays Center includes a traditional New York program as its opening act and the third-ranked team in the nation as its main event, but sandwiched in the middle is a clash of Brooklyn and Queens; one in which the head coach of one program faces the school he was once an assistant at, as Glenn Braica and St. Francis make the ten-minute trip from their Brooklyn Heights campus to meet Steve Lavin and the 7-3 St. John's Red Storm.

Braica and the Terriers will be looking to avenge a 63-48 loss to the Johnnies last season at Carnesecca Arena, and just as I did yesterday with Fordham coach Tom Pecora, I had the honor of meeting with the reigning Northeast Conference Coach of the Year prior to the next game on his ledger.

Jaden Daly: Eight games in, and 2-6 is not exactly the greatest start, but it's been a pretty strong schedule.  What is your impression of the team so far?

Glenn Braica: We're doing some very good things, but we haven't gotten payback, and we need to get better.  There's things we're doing well that we're probably ahead of last year, but there are still some things we've got to clean up and get better at to have success the rest of the way.  I do think that even though we haven't gotten much payback, we are doing some good things.

JD: Has losing Stefan Perunicic and Justin Newton, but still bringing back most of the team and adding two newcomers changed the team dynamic?

GB: Well, there's always struggle...I don't think you get where you need to go without struggle, but the teams always change.  Guys leave, new guys come in, and teams just evolve.  I think we're going to be fine, we have a lot of potential, but it's one thing to say that and another to go out and do it.  Those guys (Justin and Stefan) had a lot of games under their belt and they obviously helped us win a lot of games, but I still think we're fairly talented, and have a chance to have more upside than the team last year.  Right now, we need to lock in and just get better in a lot of different ways.

JD: Talk about the continuity in guard play, having Dre Calloway back for another year, Brent Jones, and even some of the guards on the bench.

GB: We have guys in different roles.  We had a lot of guys play last year, but they were in different roles, so there's still somewhat of an adjustment period because they're asked to do a lot more this year.  With Dre, he got back after the summer, was healthy and playing great in the preseason, and then got hurt, was out a month, then came back and got hurt again, so he's been kind of interrupted a little bit in his recovery process.  It's kind of hurt us as a team because we haven't had continuity at that position, but it's something you have to deal with.  It happens and you move on, and as he gets healthier, we'll be better off.

JD: How much of an improvement has Kevin Douglas made from his freshman season?

GB: He's played very well, and that position was a concern for us coming into the season.  He's done a great job with it, taking that spot and doing well.  His shot selection has improved from last year, his skill level has improved, and he's athletic and defend guys at a pretty high level in this league.  We're looking for him to just get better and better, and he has to work every day in order to do that.

JD: You look at some of the big rebounders in the Northeast Conference, (Ike) Azotam and (Ousmane) Drame at Quinnipiac, (Julian) Boyd and (Jamal) Olasewere at LIU, and now you have one of your own in Jalen Cannon.  How much progress has he made, and as far as some of the great players in this conference, where might he rank?

GB: He has a knack to get the ball, offensively and defensively off the glass.  He's just a very good rebounder, has great hands.  Some guys just have a feel to do it, and he does.  The early season results have been very good, he's putting up big numbers on the glass, he's being very aggressive offensively; which we're happy with, and he's just continuing to improve as a player.

JD: Against St. John's tomorrow, a team that's a lot more athletic from when you and I were there, (Glenn's first year as Norm Roberts' top assistant was my freshman year there as a student) what do you expect from St. John's and what challenges do they present for you?

GB: Well, they're very good in transition, they really push the ball up the court.  They have a great shot blocker, the freshman (Chris) Obekpa, who's putting up ridiculous numbers as far as blocked shots are concerned.  He changes the game in that way.  I think you've got to limit their transition opportunities, you've got to limit their turnovers, because they're very good at converting turnovers into baskets, then you've got to guard their ability to go off the bounce.  (D'Angelo) Harrison's a great scorer, and they have a lot of other guys that can score in different ways, so we just have to go out and play our game, be aggressive, and just try to outwork and outplay them in any way we can.

JD: How much has the success of both the Nets and Knicks helped the college game here in the city, and how will the Barclays Center help expand that?

GB: To have a place like that in Brooklyn, if you brought people back from years ago, most people would be shocked, especially in that area.  It's just transformed the whole area, and I think that's a result of Brooklyn getting better.  It's a different place, a totally different vibe in the area, and it's a great opportunity for kids to play there and for people to experience games there.  We're very fortunate to play there and our guys will be jacked up.  It's just outstanding to have something like that in Brooklyn.

JD: Does having played at Madison Square Garden last year against LIU Brooklyn with most of that team coming back help them in terms of possibly getting past the jitters of a larger venue with a bigger crowd than they're used to?

GB: I don't know, we'll see tomorrow.  I never know how that's going to play out.  We played in the Prudential Center last year against Seton Hall and played very well in a similar environment, but this is a whole different deal.  You just never know how kids are going to react, if they react the right way, but hopefully we're successful.

St. John's and St. Francis will unfortunately not be televised tomorrow, but we will have updates throughout the day on Twitter.

Lavin talks Big East break-up (VIDEO)

By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19
St. John's Red Storm Head Coach Steve Lavin was at Barclays Center Thursday night to preview their game with St. Francis in the Winter Festival this Saturday, but the focus was on the drama in the Big East Conference.

Earlier in the day, it was announced that the seven non-football Catholic schools- St. John's, Villanova, Georgetown, DePaul, Seton Hall, Marquette, and Providence -will break away from the Big East.
They will bring their rivalries into a new league focused on basketball and centered in the northeast.

WATCH Coach Lavin comment on the end of the Big East:

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Catching Up With Tom Pecora

At 1-8, Tom Pecora hopes to right ship Saturday, when his Fordham team takes on Princeton to open Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival tripleheader at the Barclays Center.  (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Through the first nine games, it's safe to say that Tom Pecora hasn't enjoyed the unexpected start that the third-year coach has had this season at Fordham.  Through close games, heartbreaking losses, and the injury to senior forward Chris Gaston just three games into the year, Pecora has already dealt with more adversity this season than any coach should be subjected to, but it hasn't stopped his magnetic personality and eternal optimism from shining through.

Pecora and the Rams open this Saturday's tripleheader at the Barclays Center against Princeton in the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival, and before the pride of the Bronx comes over the Whitestone Bridge and across the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I had the privilege of speaking with Pecora earlier this afternoon, having this to say:

Jaden Daly: I know it's not really the best start you could have hoped for, but there are a lot of positives early on this season.  Talk about how far this team has come so far this year, and what you're looking forward to the rest of the way.

Tom Pecora: Obviously, a 1-8 start is not what any of us wanted.  It's the first time in my career I've ever dealt with this kind of a start.  I think it's really a reflection of our schedule, having to play away and having to play some real good opponents, one of our first eleven games at home.  Another thing is the injury to Chris Gaston.  Having one senior who's an all-conference player and having him out for a month obviously doesn't help the process.  We'll get ourselves back on track hopefully this weekend and once we get Chris back, and he should start playing again on Saturday, then we get ourselves back home a week from Sunday.  That'll be good.  This team is obviously loaded with freshmen and sophomores, and we need to just keep them up and try to keep their confidence level where they can go win basketball games.  I don't want them to have their hearts torn out by this tough start, so every day we're really trying to be positive with them and continue to let them know that we're better than a 1-8 team.  If we had played a softer schedule and played more home games, our record would be better, but we're getting better every day.  They continue to work really hard in practice and get better each day, and I think we've been in a lot of close games.  We've competed, and that's a bright spot.  I think the future is bright, I think our frontcourt, especially with our three big young guys, (Ryan Canty, Travion Leonard and Ryan Rhoomes) is in good shape.  We're happy with the recruits we have coming in, so there's definitely more talent here.  Whether it's reflected in our win total this year, we'll see in time.  We could end up similar to where we were last year unless we really get it going in conference, but I think without a doubt that the program continues to move forward.

JD: Is Chris 100%? What's the update on him?

TP: I wouldn't say he's 100%, but he's probably going to be able to play 20-25 minutes.  His conditioning isn't where it needs to be, and he's still going to be getting some swelling, so what I'll probably do is play him Saturday and take Sunday off.  We're just going to have to pamper him a little bit as he gets going, and then the following weekend we play Friday/Sunday, (at UConn and home vs. Siena) so we'll see how the knee responds to that.  The operation was a success, so we're hoping for the best.

JD: Talk about Ryan Canty and how he has come around.  What can you say about him and where he projects the rest of the way, not just starting, but also staying in the rotation and seeing considerable minutes?

TP: I think his development has been tremendous.  He's a hard-working kid who plays with reckless abandon.  He's got a little bit of a back issue, so he's another guy we have to take off the floor in practice on occasion.  We'll address that in the spring and see how severe that is.  He comes from a great family of basketball players, his dad and his mom both played at Providence, his grandfather played at Harvard.  He continues to work on his game and his competitive nature, he's really fun to coach.  Those are the kind of kids I love coaching.

JD: And Travion and Ryan also for that matter?

TP: The commitment that Travion has made to his body, for a young guy to lose 60 pounds in five months has affected his conditioning.  He's a four, five minute at a time guy, but as we move forward and he gets more accustomed to playing at 270 instead of being at 340, he's going to continue to get better.  For him and Ryan, everything's happening a little bit too quick, they're half a step behind some plays, but that's the case for most freshmen.  The minutes that they're getting now and the minutes they all logged when Chris was out is going to make us a better team as the year goes on, and it will make them mature quicker and have better careers in my opinion.

JD: You said before the season that Branden Frazier was expected to become more of a leader.  With Chris on the shelf, that process has obviously been accelerated a little more.  Comment on how he's carrying the team through this stretch.

TP: Well, he has, and at times he tries to do too much, and I think that's why his field goal percentage numbers are so poor; he forces shots feeling like he has to make every play for us, and that's something he's working on.  Getting Chris back will make that an easier process for him, but he's done everything we've ever asked him since he came here.  He was going to come with us to Hofstra, and when I took this job, he didn't hesitate at all.  He's just a quality kid.  He plays great with the ball in his hands as well as  without, his assist to turnover ratio is excellent, he's gotten bigger and stronger.  As we get settled in with our starting lineup with Chris back, you'll see his numbers increase as time goes on, especially with his field goal percentage.

JD: Last year, Bryan Smith had more big games than he has so far this season, and it's had a noticeable effect on the team.  How much has his inconsistency concerned you and the staff?

It concerns us greatly.  That's really the only thing I've talked to Bryan about all year, is that "you have to be more consistent and you have to be more confident.  You're a scorer.  If you get a good look, you take it.  I have confidence in you that you'll knock it down, and if you don't make it, you're going to make the next one."  That's the key with Bryan Smith. Consistency has to be the difference, and that's the difference between young players and veteran players.  Veteran players are consistent, you know what you're going to get each night, and that's something that Bryan really has to work on.

JD: Has anything changed in the backcourt with Fatty (Devon McMillan) having left?

TP: We might get a few more minutes from Mandell Thomas.  Branden Frazier will be our point guard, and I'm really confident with the ball in his hands, so we're really looking now at Frazier, (Jeff) Short and Jermaine Myers, then Smitty (Bryan Smith) and Mandell, so we have five guys playing three spots.

JD: Take a look at Saturday's Princeton matchup and some of the challenges it presents, as well as some of the opportunities you may have.

TP: Mitch (Henderson) is doing a good job coaching them, they have a very high basketball IQ, they move the ball well, they understand their roles.  It's going to be a good challenge for us with a young team to go figure out how to impose their will on them.  We haven't played at the Barclays yet, so how we respond to playing in a new arena the first time is always a concern for a young team, and it's a good basketball game for Fordham.  We like to be mentioned with schools like Harvard and Princeton, so I think it's going to be a good game.  It's as much about us as it is any opponent we play right now, and we have to go out and play with a swagger.

JD: You're very adamant about using the Barclays Center to sell to recruits and establish Fordham's presence in the city.  What do you see this weekend doing to help you later down the line?

TP: Having that venue in town along with the Garden elevates basketball collegiately and professionally.  Having the opportunity to play in the Garden last week and now the Barclays is great for Fordham.  I'd like to play a couple of games each year in Barclays, and by doing that, make it feel like a home court for us when we do get an opportunity to play in the conference tournament at the end of the year.

JD: Fordham has done that (second home court) before, most notably at the Meadowlands.  How much more of a difference would having a second home court make compared to always playing at Rose Hill?

It's huge, because as you know, in recruiting, what we get killed for is our home court and our facilities.  It offsets the negative that's thrown at recruits when people say "it's a great school, it's a great place, but that old gym."  I love the old gym, I think certain games playing here are a huge advantage for us, but to be able to play games at Barclays will help our recruiting tremendously.

JD: You've mentioned on multiple occasions that the local schools should play each other more often.  Do you feel that the impending Big East separation puts you in more of a favorable position to schedule those schools more often?

TP: I don't know if it will affect scheduling as much.  A lot will be "where do they go to fill out their league?" if indeed they do separate.  It will be those seven schools, but do they go to the Midwest and try to raid the A-10 and go pursue Saint Louis, Butler, Xavier and Dayton, schools like that; or do they want to expand here in the East, and if so, is Fordham with home games at the Barclays Center in the Big East an option for them?  Is St. Joe's with home games at the Palestra an option for them?  What direction do they go if they expand?  The crazy thing with this conference affiliation is that common sense goes out the window.  You just never know.  There's no rhyme or reason to what's taking place right now.

JD: Going into Atlantic 10 play, with a couple of winnable games, do you still think making the tournament is a realistic option even though this conference has become significantly better?

TP: Oh yeah, without a doubt,  We're going to get better as the year goes on, there's no doubt about that, and we're playing games at Rose Hill.  Every game at Rose Hill is a winnable game, I don't care who we're playing.  You look at the Xavier game that went down to the wire, the Dayton game went to overtime here, Charlotte went to overtime, and we were able to beat Rhody and GW here, and La Salle.  Once we get into conference play, hopefully we're healthy.  We're a more talented team this year than we were last, so with that said, the league has gotten better and so have we.  Now it's time to put your money where your mouth is when you get into conference play and find a way to win basketball games.

Fordham's contest with Princeton this Saturday is one that will be televised beginning at 2:30 on YES.  If you can't get to the game either live, or on TV/radio, follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the afternoon.