Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fordham/Monmouth Preview

Now 6-3, Fordham heads to New Jersey, where freshman point guard Justin Robinson and overachieving Monmouth await. (Photo courtesy of the Asbury Park Press)

Fordham has had two games to shake off their 104-58 drubbing at the hands of Steve Lavin and St. John's nearly two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden, and the Rams have responded well, with a come-from-behind victory at Colgate and a win at home against Howard that fits the definition of taking care of business.

Now just six days removed from the Christmas holiday, Fordham faces a matchup that is not to be taken lightly, as they renew the third game in a four-year series with Monmouth, who is playing much better than their 5-6 record lets on. Picked to finish last among eleven MAAC teams, King Rice's Hawks are the epitome of a scrappy team who fights on every possession, catching many opponents off guard with their young roster. Monmouth may not have a senior in their rotation, but guards Andrew Nicholas and Deon Jones are as good a set of leaders as any other team in the area.

After our Q&A took a brief hiatus for the Howard game due to the lack of a full-time media member who covers the Bison, we are back with our traditional preview tonight, enlisting the services of the great Josh Newman to help us get to know the Hawks. In addition to his stellar work covering the Knicks and Nets for our friend Adam Zagoria's ZagsBlog and SNY, Josh also replaced a local legend this season when he took over the Monmouth beat at the Asbury Park Press from the immortal Tony Graham. Here's what Josh had to impart regarding the residents of the Jersey Shore as they welcome Fordham into West Long Branch.

Jaden Daly: At 5-6, Monmouth is already playing much better than expected and continuing to overachieve. What do you feel has been the biggest oversight from everyone who predicted the Hawks would struggle this season?

Josh Newman: I don't know if I would call it an oversight, but maybe more of simply the unknown. Monmouth struggled, mightily at times in the NEC and now, it has moved to the MAAC and has eight freshmen on the roster. Based on just those factors, it's understandable why someone would pick Monmouth to finish last in the MAAC, which is obviously a tougher group of teams than the NEC. As the season has unfolded, it's become clear that King Rice not only has talent, but that this group of players has really bought into what he and his staff are preaching on both sides of the ball. 

JD: Fordham has been among the best in the nation this season at defending the three-point line. Will this defense inspire a change in tactics from Andrew Nicholas, or should fans expect him to take up his usual residence beyond the arc?

JN: Nicholas will not be changing what he does, and King Rice will not ask him to either. Nicholas is a gunner, which can be a good thing or a bad thing for Monmouth depending on the day. Nicholas is averaging 6.5 3-point attempts per game this season and hitting at 39.4 percent from deep, both of which are career-highs. He had an abysmal three-game stretch against Seton Hall, St. John's and Penn State; in which he shot 1-for-14 from 3-point range, culminating in a benching at Penn State, but has been pretty solid otherwise. 

JD: In a lot of ways, Deon Jones is very similar to Mandell Thomas, most notably in style and the ability to slash inside to the basket. What is the biggest key to this matchup for both players?

JN: I think Jones simply needs to stay out of foul trouble and on the floor, which hasn't always been easy for him as he likes to play an aggressive, high-energy brand of basketball, especially on defense. A lot of the focus regarding Fordham has been on Jon Severe, but Thomas and Branden Frazier are capable of hurting Monmouth, so Jones, Nicholas and Josh James are really going to have to be up to the task defensively.

JD: In their win over St. Francis, Monmouth essentially rendered Ben Mockford into a non-factor. How much more of an effort will it take to do the same to Jon Severe?

JN: With what Severe has done so far, he will obviously be the focal point of Monmouth's defense, but keep in mind that other than Mockford, the Hawks have effectively defended George Beamon, Michael Alvarado, Jalen Cannon and Jordan Reed. Trying to slow down an opponent's No. 1 option is nothing new, but Severe, who has a bright green light on offense, will likely be an entirely different animal. Deon Jones seems to be the likeliest candidate to start out defensively on Severe, who has struggled recently against St. John's, Colgate and Howard.

JD: Finally, King Rice's three 6-10 freshmen are becoming more confident with every game, and the improvement is noticeable. Which of the three has the potential to make the biggest impact against Fordham's four-guard lineup, and will foul trouble be an issue?

JN: Foul trouble is unlikely to be an issue, mostly because Monmouth is deep up front and King Rice likes to mix and match with his post players. Zac Tillman will get the start at the 5, with Tyrone O'Garro at the 4, but Rice will not wait long to go to Chris Brady and Greg Noack off the bench. Foul trouble has been rare for Monmouth's big guys. As for the biggest impact on Saturday among the three freshmen, I think Brady is beginning to harness his athleticism and has really looked like a true rim protector and defensive presence in the lane. He has at least two blocks in three of the last five games. If Fordham decides to penetrate, they'll be running into Brady at the rim. 

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