Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fordham/Siena Preview

Following 86-point losing effort against Harvard, Fordham heads upstate for second game in three days, with Jimmy Patsos and Siena awaiting at Times Union Center. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)

For the second time in as many weeks, Fordham completes a stretch of two games in three days, and does so on the heels of a hard-fought game against Harvard where; despite falling behind by 15 points late in the first half, the 7-5 Rams battled the Crimson during the final minutes, only falling short by the final of 94-86 behind 31 points from Branden Frazier and 29 from Jon Severe, the third time this season in which the freshman sensation has scored at least 28.

Up next for Fordham is a Siena team that is much like the Rams in terms of relative youth, as well as personnel in their first year under Jimmy Patsos, who arrived in April from Loyola University as the successor to Mitch Buonaguro. At 4-8, the road to redemption has not been smooth for the Saints, but Patsos is slowly improving this team and molding it into a contender with the resumption of MAAC play on the horizon. Siena also has the advantage of having played Fordham close last season, overcoming a 47-point explosion by Fordham in the first half to only lose by just six in an 81-75 decision at Rose Hill Gym.

Siena only has one double-figure scorer in Rob Poole, (14.3 points per game) but 5-8 guard Evan Hymes and freshman forward Lavon Long are averaging nearly ten per game in their own right. Not to be outdone, Brett Bisping joins Poole by managing a team-leading six rebounds per game on average, with big man Imoh Silas not too far behind at 5.8 boards per contest as the Saints attempt to replace program legend O.D. Anosike.

With both teams looking much better going into conference play than they have in recent years, tomorrow night's matchup at the Times Union Center makes for an interesting one on both ends, and with that said, we welcome Andrew Santillo; who covers Siena for the Troy Record, in for our pregame Q&A to help us get to know the Saints a little better.

Jaden Daly: With wins in two of their last three games, does it look like Siena is buying further into Jimmy Patsos' system? How much more has this team come together in the eight weeks following the season opener against Albany?

Andrew Santillo: The team is certainly starting to buy in to Coach Patsos. Jimmy is a very enthusiastic coach, and wants guys to work incredibly hard in practice. His style has taken a little adjusting to, but this team is certainly playing harder than they were last year. A perfect example is Brett Bisping. The sophomore has really come alive since the Purdue game down in Orlando, when he went into the starting lineup. He is averaging 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds over the past nine games and doing a lot of the dirty work, playing the power forward position.

JD: Replacing O.D. Anosike hasn't been easy, but if you had to grade Brett Bisping and Lavon Long on their efforts, what grade would they receive?

AS: You can't replace O.D. Anosike. He led the country in rebounding two straight years and was such a cerebral player. That being said, Lavon Long has been incredibly good in his first few collegiate games. He is big and bulky like a forward, but also has a smooth mid-range game. He's really a wing type player, but his body suggests a true post man at this level. I would say so far his biggest downfall is his fouling, as he's committed a team-high 52 fouls and fouled out of six of the team's 12 games. He will be a good one though. The other player who is really "filling" Anosike's spot is Imoh Silas. He's shown a lot more on the court this season, even getting the game-winning basket against Cornell, on an offensive rebound putback. He's really been working on his post moves, has one that he uses extensively and is getting better around the basket.

JD: For fans who haven't seen Marquis Wright and Maurice White, what can they expect from the two freshmen, and how much of an impact have they had on Rob Poole and Evan Hymes in the backcourt?

AS: Marquis Wright has been so good. After the Hofstra win, I wrote about how this team has been good in close games, despite having so many young players playing a lot. Wright really is the key there. He's running the offense and been the starting point guard since he stepped onto campus this summer. He's averaging 5.8 assists per game, which puts him among the leaders in the country. Maurice White has been more of a sparkplug type player. He really gives a lot of effort and can score in bunches, as he led the team in scoring in his first career game -- 17 points against UAlbany. He can score in bunches and puts pressure on the defense, as he attacks the rim.

JD: How much more of a premium will rebounds be held at for Siena, especially with the four-guard outfit Tom Pecora brings into Loudonville Monday night?

AS: This team isn't exactly a terrific rebounding squad, as it is somewhat undersized. They had been playing without freshman Javion Ogunyemi, who missed seven games after spraining his ankle against St. Bonaventure. This is a team that will need its guards, like Rob Poole and Maurice White, to help out in rebounding. White had a career-high eight boards against Hofstra, all of which came in the first half. This could be a game where whichever team has the edge on the glass wins the game.

JD: Last year's contest between these two teams at Rose Hill Gym saw a second half in which Siena ran the floor much like they do now in Patsos' offense, a much more uptempo style than that of Mitch Buonaguro. With that experience playing fast against virtually the same Fordham personnel, does this matchup favor the Saints despite their much younger roster, and what are the keys to victory?

AS: The Mitch Buonaguro era was supposed to be about speed and going up and down, which never really materialized for one reason or another. Jimmy Patsos has made no bones about how his team will get up and down, despite having young players who typically make mistakes when things are moving too fast. I'd have to say that has been one remarkable thing about this team so far, other than the game against Purdue at the Old Spice Classic, this team hasn't really made too many rookie mistakes in close games. Now, that may change come league play, where opponents know much more about personnel. Rob Poole will be one key for the Saints. He has played well in his junior season and without any scholarship seniors, he's the unquestioned leader. Patsos said that Fordham's Jon Severe and Branden Frazier are the two best scorers in this game, but that doesn't mean his team can't win. Siena has traditionally, and this season, played much better at home; where they often draw 6,000-7,000 per game in Albany, and I expect this to be a close game because of that.

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