Brad Stevens makes first visit to Rose Hill tomorrow night as Butler meets Fordham. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
Fordham returns home following an uneventful two-game road trip, taking on Butler University at Rose Hill Gym tomorrow in what is by far the Rams' biggest home game since their upset of St. John's in 2010. A sellout crowd is expected in the Bronx tomorrow as the Rams entertain a Bulldog team that is of course known for their consecutive national championship game appearances before last year's trip to the CBI in what was Butler's final season in the Horizon League before joining the Atlantic 10 last summer.
For 6-19 Fordham, who comes in on a five-game losing streak after their January 23rd victory against Rhode Island, the game is more about proving they can still compete rather than a must-win for Tom Pecora's Rams. Chris Gaston is expected to make his return tomorrow following a seven-game absence from lingering knee problems stemming from his November arthroscopic surgery, a plus considering the unknown status of Butler's Andrew Smith, who is a gametime decision according to head coach Brad Stevens as he recuperates from an abdominal injury that held him out of the Bulldogs' loss to Charlotte this past Wednesday.
In addition to potentially holding a frontcourt advantage that becomes magnified should Smith miss his second straight game, the Rams are getting much-needed contributions from their backcourt. Branden Frazier has now gotten back on track following a handful of lackluster games since his 24-point effort against Saint Joseph's in January 30th, while freshman guard Mandell Thomas has scored in double figures over nine of Fordham's last twelve games, the most recent of which being a career-high 23 in a losing effort to Xavier Wednesday night. Ryan Canty and Travion Leonard also loom large up front for Fordham, who will need all the help they can get on the boards against a physical and offensively gifted Butler squad that yields an average of just 29 rebounds per game to their opponents.
Five Bulldogs average ten or more points per game, led by sharpshooting guard Rotnei Clarke, he of this buzzer-beater to beat Marquette in the Maui Invitational:
The aforementioned Andrew Smith is Butler's second-leading scorer, and Roosevelt Jones backs him up with an average of 10.6 points per game. In addition, Khyle Marshall and sixth man Kellen Dunham also average ten points per night for a nine-man Butler rotation.
Before the season, we had the chance to ask Stevens about Rose Hill and the homecourt advantage it presents, and the coach believes his first time in the Bronx will be a similar experience to his past Horizon League battles in smaller gyms at schools like Loyola (Illinois) and Valparaiso. He gets to live it for himself for the first time tomorrow.