Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fordham/Loyola Preview

Fordham may need Mandell Thomas at full strength tomorrow to bounce back from loss to Monmouth.

Now 6-4 after a devastating loss to Monmouth that saw the Hawks erase a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes, Fordham has to regroup quickly as they play their second game in three days for the first of two times this season, with Loyola University making the trip to the Rose Hill Gym from Chicago.

In their first season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference after leaving the Horizon League, the Ramblers and forward Christian Thomas will take on a Fordham team that has yet again been ravaged by injuries, with Mandell Thomas leaving the Monmouth game in the first half and only playing ten minutes, not to mention apparently pulling a hamstring in the losing effort as well. On the positive side, the Rams did welcome Ryan Canty back to the team for the first time since November 15th after the 6-9 junior missed six games for personal reasons, and will have Jon Severe coming off a career day against Monmouth, whom he scored 32 points and connected on eight three-pointers against.

For today's Q&A about Loyola, we welcome in Jesse Kramer, who covers the Ramblers for The Catch And Shoot, a former New York-based website that has now shifted its focus to Chicago with Jesse now basing himself at Northwestern University. Here is what he had to say about the Ramblers, who take to the Bronx for one of their final tuneups before Valley play:

Jaden Daly: Through the first two months of the season, how would you grade Loyola's season as they prepare for Missouri Valley play?

Jesse Kramer: To set a scale, let's say the average Missouri Valley team is a B. By that standard, I'd say Loyola is in the C/C+ range. When at their best, the Ramblers look like a middle-of-the-pack MVC team, but at their worst, there is nothing stopping them from finishing in last place. Loyola has really struggled holding on to leads in the second half. Earlier this week against Northern Illinois, they blew a 15-point lead at home and lost. They also blew double-digit leads in losses to Tennessee Tech, Tulane, and Portland State. Where the Ramblers do excel is sharing the ball and working to find good shots in the halfcourt offense. They just need to learn to consistently execute and convert.

JD: After Christian Thomas, who gets most of Loyola's attention on the offensive end, and what does Fordham need to do to stop him?

JK: So far, no one has really been able to stop Thomas. He is crafty enough in the post to reach double figures every night, but he's also not a big threat to dominate a game with only three games in his career of more than 20 points. Despite being 6'5", that craftiness and strength at 220 lbs. can neutralize the size advantage of Fordham's big men.
Thomas gets a lot a lot of help from sophomore Matt O'Leary, a versatile forward. (For you New York folks, he's similar to Manhattan's Emmy Andujar with a couple of extra inches.) O'Leary is a great passer out of the high post, and Loyola loves to run some high/low action with him and Thomas. In general, O'Leary has been great for Loyola with 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He is great at finding cutting teammates from the high post and is also capable of putting the ball on the floor and going to the rim. He can also knock down a three-pointer or two if left open on the perimeter.
Two other guys that can do a lot of damage are Milton Doyle and Jeff White. Doyle originally committed to Kansas but then transferred before appearing in a game for the Jayhawks. Now a redshirt freshman, he he has won MVC Player of the Week once and Newcomer of the Week twice. Against Campbell on December 13, he went off for 32 points. He does a tremendous job driving to the basket, and he is great at drawing contact and finishing through it. Doyle is not a great three-point shooter, but he keeps opponents honest at 34.8%.

JD: The Ramblers shoot 48 percent from the field as a team. How much of that is attributed to efficient shots, given they only shoot 34 percent from three?

JK: One of Loyola's biggest strengths is finding efficient shots in its halfcourt offense. As a team, the Ramblers shoot 53.4% on two-point field goals, which ranks in the nation's top 50. This is in large part because the Ramblers share the ball very well and also have guys like Doyle and White who can break down a defense on their own and get to the bucket. When the offense is gelling, Loyola is consistently getting good looks in the paint.
Also, that high/low offense I mentioned earlier with O'Leary and Thomas produces a lot of high-quality shots. Thomas does a great job of sealing off his man, and at 6'8" O'Leary has the size to make a pass over the defense if Thomas is fronted in the post.

JD: Porter Moser only plays a seven-man rotation, but none of the regular players average more than three fouls per game. Against a Fordham team that is prone to foul trouble, does Loyola's discipline give them an advantage?

JK: As a whole, Loyola definitely does a good job of staying out of foul trouble, and it could be an issue for Fordham since the Ramblers also get to the line more than 21 times per game. However, sometimes Loyola's lack of foul trouble comes as a result of poor defense. The Ramblers rank only No. 262 on Kenpom in defensive efficiency.

JD: Touching up on our first question, what are Loyola's biggest strengths and weaknesses heading into MVC play, and what are their keys to victory Monday night at Fordham?

JK: As I mentioned earlier, Loyola's biggest weakness has been holding on to large leads. It's something that has obviously really frustrated Moser. If the Ramblers could realistically be 9-2 right now if they had executed just a bit better in the second halves of those games. I'd say Loyola's biggest strength this year has been its patience and unselfishness on offense. The Ramblers are No. 3 among MVC teams in assist rate and No. 62 nationally. Another bright side for Loyola is that this team is very young. There are only three seniors on the roster, and they barely play. Moser starts two juniors, two sophomores, and a freshman, so there is good reason to believe this team will grow as the year goes on.
For Monday's game, Loyola should look to follow its usual game plan and try to do most of its damage inside with Fordham's defense being subpar this season. The Ramblers also have to get Doyle going. He is Loyola's best athlete and the only guy really capable of taking over a game on the offensive end, but in Loyola's last game against Northern Illinois, he scored only 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.

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