Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fordham/Furman Preview

While Stephen Croone (left) gets most of Furman's looks offensively, casual fans will recognize point guard Aaron O'Neill (right) for his Major League Baseball lineage. (Both photos courtesy of Furman University)

One week removed from a thrilling come-from-behind win in the 106th Battle of the Bronx, Fordham returns to the court tomorrow night, welcoming the Paladins of Furman University into Rose Hill Gym tomorrow night.

At 3-3 on the season, Furman's resume may not look like much to the avid observer, but their one-point loss to reigning Sweet 16 participant Florida Gulf Coast suggests that the Paladins are not a team to be taken lightly. Sophomore Stephen Croone shoulders most of the offensive load with an average of 22.2 points per game, while a pair of sharpshooters in Larry Wideman and William Gates Jr. shoot a combined 44 percent from beyond the arc for a team that connects from long range at a collective 35 percent clip, something that should make for enjoyable basketball if either decides to engage freshman sensation Jon Severe in a shootout.

To help get to know the residents of Greenville, South Carolina, we continue our tradition of a pregame Q&A session with someone who covers the visiting team, and tonight's information is brought to you by Scott Keeler; who covers Furman for the Greenville News, and was gracious enough to take some time to tell us all about the Paladins as they make the trip to the Big Apple:

Jaden Daly: What has been the biggest impact Niko Medved has made through his first six games as head coach?

Scott Keeler: Probably the biggest impact early on is the positive energy that he's brought to the position. He's tried to sort of relaunch the program and have the team more accessible to the community. Despite inheriting a team that went 7-24 last season and losing two projected starters (Charlie Reddick and Jordan Loyd) for extended periods before the season even started, his enthusiasm seems to have rubbed off on his players.

JD: What can we expect to see from Furman offensively, and besides Stephen Croone, who else should we look out for?

SK: Medved strives for an uptempo, motion offense with a lot of moving without the ball. He wants his guys to drive to the basket and get to the foul line. At times it's hard to look at anybody but Croone. He's a terrific player, who's really responded to playing in this style of offense - he's 41-of-45 on free throws this season. Larry Wideman is their second-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game and a good outside shooter. True freshman William Gates Jr. - son of the Hoop Dreams star - averages 10.8 points per game off the bench, despite missing nearly all of the preseason with a knee injury.

JD: Charlie Reddick is the one senior on the roster, yet has not played in any of Furman's first six games. Whatever it is keeping him out of the lineup, (injury, suspension, etc.) how far along is he from returning, and how much does he mean to this team?

SK: Reddick broke his foot in the preseason and is out until January. His experience certainly is missed. He averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game during an injury-plagued junior season last year.

JD: Despite the young roster, the Paladins nearly beat an NCAA Tournament team in Florida Gulf Coast. Are there enough words to describe just how much of a confidence builder that game can be?

SK: While Medved was pleased with the effort against a bigger, more experienced team, I didn't get a sense of any type of "moral victory" that night. Furman led that game 38-31 at the half and 63-54 with less than six minutes to play. After Florida Gulf Coast took the lead on two free throws with 5.2 seconds left, Croone's long 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed off no good.

JD: Casual fans will recognize Aaron O'Neill for being the son of former New York Yankee Paul O'Neill, but what will they see on the court that sets him apart from his famous father?

SK: That's difficult to say. While a starter, he doesn't log a lot of minutes, but when he's out there he seems as focused and hard-working as his father was. He was part of a great story this offseason. He came here as a walk-on. In his first two seasons, he played a grand total of 50 minutes and scored 6 points (two 3-pointers). Based solely on the work he put in this summer, Medved awarded him a scholarship before preseason practice began and now he's a starter because of that work ethic. He's also 6-of-10 on 3-pointers this season.  

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