Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seton Hall 78, St. John's 67: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard looks on during Pirates' matchup with St. John's. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Newark, NJ - In the Big East opener for both teams, Seton Hall defeated fifteenth-ranked St. John’s 78-67. The contest at the Prudential Center saw both teams post higher than average efficiency in a relatively (pace wise) pedestrian game. The pace/efficiency numbers:

Possessions: St. John’s 63, Seton Hall 61
Offensive Efficiency: Seton Hall 128, St. John’s 106

The Four Factors:
eFG%: Seton Hall 56, St. John's 48
FT Rate: Seton Hall 62, St. John's 27
OREB Pct: Seton Hall 41, St. John's 35
TO Rate: Seton Hall 15, St. John's 13

What Seton Hall did well: Several things. Shoot the ball well, get to the line and not commit too many turnovers. An enviable and tough combination to beat.

What St. John’s did well: Take care of the ball. The Red Storm had an excellent turnover rate, and actually had a 14-10 edge in points off turnovers. Other than that part of the game, Seton Hall enjoyed an advantage in the other factors.

St. John’s shot twenty three-point attempts, one-third of all their field goal tries. The result saw the Red Storm shoot just 16 free throws. Seton Hall shot 23 threes out of 50 attempts overall. The Pirates were able to shoot 31 free throws mainly by getting fouled in penetration situations. Penetration by the Hall also opened up the three, as St. John’s was slow to close out the perimeter. Sterling Gibbs (5-of-7) and Jaren Sina (4-of-8) were the prime Seton Hall beneficiaries from those three-point looks.

The three point shooting:
St. John’s- 5-of-20 (25%)
Seton Hall- 10-of-23  (44%)

Seton Hall’s ability to draw fouls can also be associated with rebounding, getting in position, getting fouled while rebounding or on a putback. In raw numbers, the Hall had a 37-32 rebounding (+5) margin. They also secured 13 boards on the offensive end.

Scoring/efficiency leaders:
D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s - 25 points, 20 efficiency
Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall  - 25 points, 27 efficiency

Gibbs shot 7-of-13 from the field while adding 8 assists against zero turnovers. Harrison had one assist and a turnover. 

Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado posted a solid 19 efficiency. The Pirate freshman had a game-high 12 rebounds while shooting 5-of-8 for 13 points. 

Seton Hall and St. John’s are now both 11-2.

This was a report card for us. Now, we have Butler in two days and Villanova in another two. In this league, you better bring your ‘A’ game, and even then that won’t guarantee a victory.” – St. John’s coach Steve Lavin

“We did not turn it over. That was big because St. John’s has been forcing people to turn it over.” – Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard

Seton Hall gets "masterpiece" in Big East opener, defeats St. John's 78-67

With 25 points, 8 assists and no turnovers, Sterling Gibbs vaulted Seton Hall to convincing 78-65 win over No. 15 St. John's in Big East opener. (Photo courtesy of the Newark Star-Ledger)

Leading up to the start of the college basketball season, St. John's senior guard Phil Greene famously proclaimed his Red Storm team, which featured his fourth-year classmate D'Angelo Harrison and sophomore point guard Rysheed Jordan alongside him, as the owners of the "best backcourt in the country."

Apparently, Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina got that memo, and then some.

Playing perhaps his finest game of the season in a virtuoso 25-point, 8-assist, zero-turnover effort, Gibbs was the biggest difference maker for a Seton Hall team playing without the injured Isaiah Whitehead. As it turned out, the Pirates (11-2, 1-0 Big East) did not need their talented freshman, as four other players joined Gibbs in double figures en route to an emphatic 78-67 victory over No. 15 St. John's (11-2, 0-1 Big East) at the Prudential Center.

"I think we could be considered, to be honest," Gibbs replied to the assertion that perhaps he, too, was a piece to one of the better guard stables in the Big East. "A lot of people had been questioning us. We just wanted to go out there and show what we could do."

Gibbs set the tone for the Pirates from the opening tip, scoring Seton Hall's first field goal of the afternoon after St. John's jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, then adding five more points later in the opening stanza during an 8-2 run to knot the score at 23 apiece.

"(Sterling) had one of the better performances any player has had against St. John's over the years," Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin assessed in what he termed a "masterpiece." "He was, clearly, the central nervous system for Seton Hall."

But it was not Gibbs alone who was responsible for an 8-0 spurt to close the first half. With Seton Hall trailing 35-32 entering the final two minutes before the intermission, Jaren Sina made his presence felt, first adding a layup to trim the Pirates' deficit to one point before knocking down his first of four three-pointers 44 seconds later to vault Seton Hall into the lead for the first time. A Gibbs triple on the ensuing possession, sparked by a Desi Rodriguez steal and offensive rebound by Brandon Mobley, sent Seton Hall into the locker room with a 40-35 lead, one the home team would never relinquish.

"Today, I came out with the mentality to have fun, really enjoy the game," Sina refreshingly stated. "For me, personally, there's no better time to come out (of a slump) than a Big East game."

Seeing significant minutes once again in Whitehead's absence, Khadeen Carrington chipped in with 11 points, while Angel Delgado and Brandon Mobley contributed matching double-doubles, with Delgado's 12 rebounds two better than Mobley's total on a day where both scored 13 points.

A Sina three-pointer gave the Pirates their first double-digit lead of the day when Seton Hall went up 53-43 with 12:30 remaining in regulation, but St. John's, bolstered by Greene and Harrison; whose 25 points led the Red Storm and tied Gibbs for the game high, fought back with a combination of timely shots and their defensive pressure, seizing momentum with a 10-2 run to pull within two points, at 65-63, with 5:21 to play.

Delgado, who; along with Mobley, did an underrated and excellent job of taking Chris Obekpa and Sir'Dominic Pointer out of the game for St. John's, inflated the cushion back to a four-point margin with a layup under the rim. Following a missed layup by Greene, Seton Hall took control of the ball, leading to a three-pointer by Gibbs that essentially served as a dagger for the Pirates, who were able to ice the game at the foul line in the waning minutes.

"We let them do things they wanted to do," a blunt Harrison offered in regard to his team's defensive efforts. "We didn't play St. John's basketball today. That's why we lost. You could tell we weren't mentally ready because we didn't execute our game plan. I don't know what else to say."

St. John's must now recover as they return to Carnesecca Arena for a pivotal showdown with Butler on Saturday, one the Red Storm must win in order to avoid what could be a second straight disastrous start to conference play, a stretch they began last season with an 0-5 record. For Seton Hall, the momentum from today's victory must now be bottled and stored away in preparation for a meeting with sixth-ranked Villanova that was already circled on calendars across South Orange, and is now highlighted in the wake of this afternoon's result.

"We really kept our composure," Sina said of his team's response to St. John's rally. "Being able to take a punch from them, that was a game-changer. I think for such a young team, the way we responded is going to be important down the line, especially in the Big East. We've been through the wars. Just to tell the younger guys what it's going to be like, I think that can give us an advantage."

Seton Hall 70, Butler 65: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Seton Hall cheerleaders root on the Pirates during their 70-65 win over Butler. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

South Orange, NJ ­- It wasn’t a virtuoso performance, but it went in the books as a win. Seton Hall defeated Butler 70-­65 at Walsh Gym on Tuesday. The pace/efficiency numbers:

Possessions: Butler 75, Seton Hall 73

Offensive Efficiency: Seton Hall 96, Butler 87

The Four Factors:
eFG%: Butler 42, Seton Hall 41
FT Rate: Seton Hall 45, Butler 30
OREB%: Butler 37, Seton Hall 29
TO Rate: Butler 25, Seton Hall 12

What Seton Hall did well: Turn Butler over and care for the ball. Much like Sunday’s win over Georgia, the Hall forced turnovers (19 by the Bulldogs) while committing only 9 of their own. Once again, the Seton Hall offense was aided by a 23-­9 advantage in points off turnovers.

What Butler did well: Compete. It cannot be measured in a number how the Bulldogs stayed with it and basically kept this a two-possession affair for almost the entire game. In the numbers, the Bulldogs enjoyed an offensive rebounding percentage edge and outrebounded the Hall 50­-41 for the rebounding totals.

Scoring Leaders:
Daisha Simmons, Seton Hall 19 points, 23 efficiency
Loryn Goodwin, Butler 20 points, 18 efficiency

Daisha Simmons added seven steals and five rebounds to her point production. Goodwin was impressive, but her 5-of-20 from the field hurt the efficiency. The Butler sophomore guard did add 10 rebounds.

The Butler efficiency leader was Ijeoma Uchendu with 23. The 6-­1 senior had a game high 20 rebounds (6 offensive). Janee Johnson of Seton Hall checked in with an efficiency of 20, largely due to 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 8 boards.

Seton Hall, with a big game Friday night at St. John’s, is 13­-1. Butler came in winners in three of the last four, however the Bulldogs fell to 4­-9.

“This was a ‘trap’ game in a sense, but we did not overlook Butler. They beat us twice last year. They are well coached, ran their sets and had good preparation.” – Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Seton Hall 70, Georgia 51: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Daisha Simmons shot 3-of-13 and had six turnovers, but drew praise from Tony Bozzella for her outstanding defense. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

South Orange, NJ – Fourteenth-ranked Georgia fell from the ranks of the

unbeaten in a big way. Seton Hall ran away from the Bulldogs in the second half, scoring a convincing 70-­51 victory at Walsh Gym on Sunday. Both teams are now 12-­1 heading into the main portion of conference play. The numbers....

Seton Hall 74

Georgia 77

Offensive Efficiency:
Seton Hall 95

Georgia 66

The Four Factors:
eFG%: Seton Hall 46, Georgia 35
FT Rate: Seton Hall 38, Georgia 31
OREB%: Georgia 22, Seton Hall 18
TO Rate: Georgia 26, Seton Hall 16

What Seton Hall did well: Turn Georgia over while caring for the ball on their end. The Pirates harassed the SEC reps into 20 turnovers and an alarmingly high 26% turnover rate. On the other side, The Hall drew the praise of Georgia coach Andy Landers for their ability to care for the ball. Seton Hall put those Georgia miscues to good use with a 19-­6 edge in points off turnovers.

What Georgia did well: Rebound. Well, to an extent. Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella felt rebounding was a key. In raw numbers, The Hall had a 42­41 advantage. Georgia’s size allowed them a slight edge in offensive rebounding percentage. But not enough. As Landers remarked, “we missed a lot of shots. There were offensive rebounds to get and we did not come up with nearly enough of them.”

The scoring leaders:
Seton Hall: Tabatha Richardson-­Smith - 25 points, 26 efficiency
Georgia: Tiara Griffin - 16 points, 4 efficiency

Georgia’s efficiency leader was Krista Donald with 17. The senior forward was aided by a game-high 13 rebounds. Griffin scored, but saw the efficiency hampered by 6-of-15 shooting from the floor. Tabatha Richardson­-Smith shot 9-of-16 (5-for-11 from three) while adding 6 boards and not committing a turnover.

“Seton Hall is a team that shoots threes, penetrates and forces turnovers. Today, they did what they are known to do.” – Georgia coach Andy Landers

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mason, Wagner wise beyond their years

Despite 2-9 start, Bashir Mason and Wagner have played beyond their record, an encouraging sign entering NEC play. (Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Advance)

Picked seventh in the Northeast Conference preseason poll in October in the midst of a roster overhaul following the graduation of their experienced core, it was easy to see on paper why Wagner would be taken lightly entering the season.

"I think these guys have learned what it takes to compete at this level," head coach Bashir Mason said after his Seahawks fell to 2-9 on the season following a 76-71 loss to Rider Monday evening on their home floor at the Spiro Sports Center. "Now, they need to learn how to win at this level, and what I'm seeing, or the feel that I have, is that these guys just need to get one win under their belt. That excitement, that energy, that spark is going to be there, that hunger is going to be there."

In the absence of seniors Latif Rivers, Kenny Ortiz and Orlando Parker, three stalwarts that helped shape the future for the Seahawks when Mason and his predecessor, Dan Hurley, turned the program around with a meteoric rise before Hurley left for Rhode Island, are a group of two seniors, five freshmen and two sophomores, allowing Mason; no stranger to youth himself just six weeks away from turning 31, to mold the program even further into his image and impose his staunch defensive style.

"It's been tough," Mason admitted with regard to the rebuilding period and a nonconference schedule he conceded was a strong test for his up-and-coming roster. "I think these kids are fighters, they're not quitters. They're really battling hard and trying to do everything that we're telling them to do. Am I impressed? To a degree, especially with our younger guys, their fight, but I think they still have a lot more (to do)."

"I prepared myself for this all summer," Mason continued. "I knew all along it would be a year where we had to gain a lot of experience. This reminds me of the first year I came in with Danny, we had the four freshmen, and we just played. Those guys in their sophomore and junior years, they hit the ground running, and I could see it with this group a little bit earlier because they're playing a lot more."

The true examination for Wagner begins on Saturday, when the Seahawks open their Northeast Conference slate on the road against a rising program in its own right in Saint Francis University, a 6-4 team who already possesses a statement non-league victory against Rutgers. From there, it does not get any easier, with reigning NEC champion Mount St. Mary's, regular season winner Robert Morris, and three-time titleholder LIU Brooklyn making their way into Staten Island in succession to conclude Wagner's four-game start to conference play.

"I'm looking forward to maybe getting a win," Mason candidly stated when asked of his expectations entering the league slate. "I hope that we can win, but I'm just really excited to go into conference play. I'm jacked up about it. I know we were picked seventh, and I'm not using that as a rah-rah speech for our guys to say 'hey, let's go prove people wrong,' but I do think we're better than a seventh-place team, and I; along with my team, we want to show the conference that we're better than that."

Continued efforts like Monday night's showing will only accelerate that process.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Seton Hall 70, Georgia 51: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

South Orange, NJ­ - Once again, the atmosphere was electric. Excitement accompanied by the exhilarating sensation of something special happening. Electricity throughout Walsh Gymnasium. Con Ed and PSEG, you can take a temporary timeout.

The Seton Hall women raised their record to 12-­1 with a 70­-51 victory over Georgia. It was the SEC school’s initial loss against a dozen wins.

Tabatha Richardson­-Smith led the Hall with 25 points. The scorebook also shows Ka­-Deidre Simmons adding 17. Beyond those two standouts was a total team effort. Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella would be the first to praise the efforts of everyone, starters and contributors in relief. Beside competing on the boards (a 42-­41 edge) and forcing 20 turnovers, the Hall imposed their pace. Again, a team effort.

A rebuilding effort takes a great deal of work on the part of everyone, players as well as the staff. Often underappreciated, or discarded as an afterthought, is the maintaining of effort when you start winning. John Calipari often said success can be poisonous because it may allow complacency to creep in. Coaches must ensure that same degree of commitment and hard work is present, not just in games, but every day in practice. Right now, that is Bozzella’s challenge, to be certain that work ethic does not wane as the wins increase.

A huge matchup looms Friday at Carnesecca Arena against St. John’s. For Seton Hall, the first order of business is Butler on Tuesday, a team that swept the Hall last season.

In the basketball lounge just off the coaches offices, prominently placed was an advance scouting report for Butler. Each player was to take one on passing through. The Georgia box score was off to the side. Butler’s report was the priority.

The win over Georgia is savored, as it should be. The Butler report served notice there is work to be done. Realizing and meeting that demand is a challenge for players and coaches alike, a challenge this Seton Hall program welcomes.

Dennis DeMayo, who worked a number of NCAA finals, was on the game with Bryan Burnette and Ron Ledington:
Georgia coach Andy Landers in a somewhat relaxed and inquisitive pose:
Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella reacts to the situation:
Ka-Deidre Simmons of Seton Hall coming off the screen to penetrate:
Simmons in the defensive stance:
The Seton Hall men's team enthusiastically cheering the women on:
With victory in the books, The Hall celebrates:

Fordham 74, Howard 59: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"Well, I said a very solid second half, I was very pleased with it. All the adjustments we made, they were able to execute the game plan, which was to pound the ball inside against their zone, and we held (James) Daniel to four points in the second half, so that was big for us. We reached a bunch of our game goals, holding a team under 40 percent from the floor, they shot 37, not allowing anybody to score 20, I think Daniel had 19, a lot of good things, 37-24 on the glass, 12 offensive rebounds. We went from shooting 48 percent from the foul line last game to 92 percent this game, so their youth is making me old. Mandell, (Thomas) great job, you know, playing with poise, getting where he needed to get, Christian (Sengfelder) dominated the second half, which is the way he's capable of playing, 8-of-14 from the floor was huge. So, that's it. We'll take it."

On Fordham's 79 percent assist rate (22 assists on 28 field goals):
"Yeah! Well, once again, Manhattan extended the floor against us, that's something we talked about and worked on, and they (Howard) did the same today, so yeah, you've got to learn from your losses, that's for sure. It appears that we did tonight, anyway."

On Mandell Thomas' 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds:
"I told him he had to get 10, (rebounds) I told him I want 10 rebounds tonight because I know if he gets 10 rebounds, that means he's playing hard, he's not just floating around every now and then, teasing us with great athleticism. So he had five at the half, he only got one in the second half, so I'm mad at him. We can live with it tonight, but I expect him to go out...he's got the ability to go do that, to go fill up a box score and do everything that needs to be done, you know? He had seven assists too, and only two turnovers, so that's good. That's the kind of ratio he needs to have."

On this game and Wednesday's game vs. South Carolina State preparing Fordham for Atlantic 10 play:
"Yeah, well, you know, once again, we talked about that. I said 'we have to build off the second half,' I just said to them, and you know, we have to play back-to-back halves like we did in the second half tonight to beat South Carolina State and build off of that, and then go into A-10 play and go get some wins in the A-10, which I anticipate us doing. I expect us to do it. We continue to get better, and we just have to keep working on the little things, and we'll be okay."

On veteran leadership:
"Yeah, and even Rhoomesie! (Ryan Rhoomes) Rhoomesie has 11 and 9, and Mandell has 17 and 6 and seven assists, and that's what we need. That's the leadership we need. It's great, and we have Christian, and we have Eric, (Paschall) you know, playing big roles as freshmen, as Antwoine (Anderson) is, but you know, nine assists, one turnover, Antwoine, that's a great line, and I don't think he played very well. I was on him about defending Daniel better, so, you know, we need to have that veteran leadership. That will lift up these young guys tremendously, and it will allow them to play with less pressure on them to make shots, and I expect it from Mandell and Ryan and Bryan Smith, who was solid tonight as well."

Mandell Thomas on his performance:
"I just think it's important for me to get the freshmen going, get them comfortable, because I've been out there, I'm a veteran, and I think I could ease my way into the game, but I've also got to stay aggressive, though, let the veterans know I've got their back, and that's what I did tonight. Overall play, rebounds, because I know Coach always gets on me on rebounds, but I think I did a better effort trying to get more rebounds tonight."

Pecora following up:
"Yeah, well, you know, once again, we've talked about this earlier in the year, you have good balance. We have a number of guys that are scoring double digits, you know, I talked to Ryan Rhoomes about four points at the foul line, four points on offensive rebounds, and a couple in transition in the course of offense gets him his double-digit points. I know him and Christian are going to battle and rebound the basketball, and I mean, yeah, that's what good teams are. Good teams have four, five guys in double digits, and it's a brush fire, you know? You can't put it out, somebody's always picking somebody else off, so that's a good thing, obviously. Balance is a good thing."

On Fordham's transition game:
"Well, we had nine turnovers at the half, three on ridiculous alley-oop decisions, you know? It's like 'man, just be solid and get us a layup, you know?' We're trying to get separation, 12 or 14 points. We don't do it in practice, so I don't know what goes through their minds at times, they think it's going to happen during games. There's a time and a place for it, I understand that, but it's got to be a good decision and the time has got to be right, so I was happy with only five turnovers in the second half. Our goal is 12, 13 tops each game. I thought the zones were good, we just put some of that new stuff in, and we're going to continue to do it. We need to do that in conference especially, we've got to take teams' legs away, you know? We've got to slow down the pace a little bit and be able to run out of the zone, and I think we did a decent job of that tonight too. Weak side rebounding wasn't great out of it, we still have guys turning and going and rebounding instead of going to put a body on somebody, but we'll work on that."

Christian Sengfelder on his acclimation to the offense:
"Yeah, I think so. I think I'm adjusting every day, every day I practice, because we compete really hard, especially like, on our positions and with Rhoomes, so yeah, I think I'm adjusting every day and I'm getting better, and trying to feel more comfortable, especially with the leadership we've got from Rhoomes, Smitty (Bryan Smith) and from Mandell. They bring us into this game, they give us advice to feel more comfortable, to make the right decisions."

Pecora on Fordham's 4-6 start:
"Well, look: You can't , you know, live with a rear view mirror, but obviously, we're upset about the two games we lost at home earlier in the year, (to UMass Lowell and Maryland Eastern Shore) we'd like to have those back, you know? I said we should be 6-4, not 4-6 right now, and maybe even better than that, so, but once again, if we learn from some of those experiences and it makes us a better team and allows us to win more games, starting with South Carolina State and then moving to conference play, that's what it's all about. I think, you know, if you look at the youth of this team, I mean, Bryan Smith's the only guy that won't be with us next year, and Ryan Canty comes back and joins us next year, so you know, it would be foolish to think we're not going to grow and become a better team as we move forward."

Pecora on shortening his rotation:
"Yeah, well, one of the things with the young guys; and it's not an issue with Christian, it's not an issue with Eric or Antwoine as often, but some of the other guys, they didn't have a good week of practice, so, you know, you're not going to get what you want, you're going to get what you deserve, and what you earn. So, a couple of the guys came through and they, you know, the holiday blues and, you know, you're in high school a year or so ago and all of a sudden, they think 'oh, it's Christmas practice, we're going to screw around, I'm not going to come in and be ready to go,' so maybe they learned a lesson, and, you know, it's amazing how that can be a motivator if guys are sitting on the pine for a while, you get them going more in practice maybe."

(In the Manhattan game) "The foul shooting was bad, I thought, our lack of aggressiveness in the second half bothered me immensely. One of the terms we use all the time is 'first to the floor,' and that, you know, when you look at certain statistics, when you look at offensive rebounds and when you look at, you know, those 50/50 plays when you watch tape, the rebounds, when two guys have it and that ball's rolling on the floor, when guys are genuinely giving up their bodies to get it as compared to guys who are diving because they know Coach wants them to dive. Thosse are the plays that tell the tale, and in the second half, I thought Manhattan, their veterans played better, obviously, and you know, that was part of the issue, but they played harder than we did, you know, for a good stretch of that game, and you're not going to win...we're not this crazy talented team that's just going to beat people on talent every night. It's going to be a grind."

Nuggets of Note:
- Christian Sengfelder scored all of his 19 points in the second half in what was, by far, one of the German freshman's best games in a Fordham uniform. After being rendered a non-factor over the first 20 minutes, Sengfelder broke the ice on scoring after the intermission and scored all of the Rams' first 11 markers after the intermission.

- With 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds, the crowd of 1,568 at Rose Hill Gym, and those watching at home, were treated to the Mandell Thomas of old. The junior guard, whose explosive style took on a life of its own around this time two years ago, came close to what would have been the Rams' first triple double since the 1990-91 season, and set the tone for an offense that shot 54 percent (28-for-52) from the field tonight, and 65 percent (17-for-26) in the second half.

- As it usually is for Fordham, it did not come easy. The Rams led wire-to-wire, but allowed Howard to tie the game on several occasions late in the first half before taking a slim 28-26 cushion into the locker room, allowing the possibility of another letdown similar to the aforementioned UMass Lowell and Maryland Eastern Shore games to conclude November. To Fordham's credit, however, and specifically Christian Sengfelder, the Rams took care of business in the second half for some of their best basketball of the young season. The transition defense was spectacular as well, registering 23 points off 14 Howard turnovers.

- Finally, with one more game before Atlantic 10 play starts, South Carolina State may not necessarily be a trap game for the Rams, but their Wednesday matchup at noon must not be taken lightly, even with VCU coming into Rose Hill to open the A-10 portion of the schedule Sunday afternoon. Should Fordham not get out of the blocks in their final non-league tuneup, it could send the downward spiral that has plagued Pecora over the years into a continued frenzy.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Iona/Drexel Preview

Damion Lee leads Drexel into battle with Iona Sunday in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Mark Jordan via City of Basketball Love)

Iona's next-to-last nonconference game before MAAC play resumes is a deceptively strong tilt, as the Gaels head down to Philadelphia to face Bruiser Flint and the Drexel Dragons Sunday afternoon from the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Following back-to-back losses against Arkansas and Monmouth, Tim Cluess' Gaels have rebounded to win three of their last four, the most recent of which being a convincing 86-67 victory over Florida Gulf Coast at the Hynes Center this past Tuesday, one in which Iona really never let the inhabitants of "Dunk City" get out of the box. Led by four double-figure scorers that include first team all-MAAC honorees A.J. English and preseason conference Player of the Year David Laury, the Gael offense, which averages 86 points per game, is a tall order for anyone, let alone two teams in three days, as evidenced by Iona's final non-league tuneup on Tuesday against Massachusetts.

Awaiting the Gaels is a 2-8 Drexel team that has had a rough go of things through the first two months of the season, most notably a 54-52 loss to Division II University of the Sciences on December 4. Regardless, Damion Lee has rebounded well from a torn ACL that sacrificed most of his season last year, averaging nearly 20 points per game for a Dragons squad already down two men in Major Canady and Kazembe Abif, both of whom are injured in what has seemingly been a continued stretch of misfortune when it comes to head coach James "Bruiser" Flint being able to keep his team healthy for a full season. Regardless, junior swingman Tavon Allen and burgeoning sophomore forward Rodney Williams, the latter of whom is a double-double threat on any given night, have managed to keep Drexel in most games this season to ensure that the lackluster start is, in some regards, an aberration.

Nonetheless, to help set the table for Sunday afternoon, Dan Crain, who covers Drexel for Dragons Speak, was gracious enough to join us for our pregame preview, wherein Dan enables us to get to know the Dragons a little better. (Side bar for friends of the site Jerry Beach, Gary Moore and Mike Brodsky: Dan didn't exactly reveal how much he had to Google in preparation for this one)

Jaden Daly: Drexel looks a lot younger than they've been in recent years, or at least that's how it seems up here. Does that help in explaining the Dragons' 2-8 start? On that note, are Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat seriously no longer around? It really felt like they were there forever. Who has taken on their role as the team leader(s) and voice(s) of experience?

Dan Crain: Drexel had 6 guys out there for Senior night last year, so this team is much younger, and with the coaches spending their days trying to find ways to keep the two oldest guys - Freddie Wilson and Sooren Derboghosian - off of the court, it's even younger. That said, both junior captains, Lee and Allen, have redshirted, so there are two very vocal guys who are in their fourth year leading the team. The dilemma then is that Allen took a knock in the preseason and has been absolutely awful thus far this year.

JD: How is Bruiser Flint able to withstand what is basically a season-ending injury every year at this program? It feels like he never gets enough credit for the job he's done.

DC: I can go off on Bru for a few days, but the short answer is no. He hasn't taken the team to the dance in 13 tries, and number 14 isn't looking great either. For the first decade or so of his career we didn't see injury problems like this, his teams just regularly underperformed in the conference tourney in Richmond. Moving to Baltimore would help, but Bill Coen (at Northeastern) can coach absolute circles around Bru and that was the problem at the end of last year. People want to talk about the Lee injury last year, but a team with 6 seniors including Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat went .500 in a bad conference and didn't get out of the first round of the conference tourney. With or without Lee, Bru deserved all of the credit - negative - that he received last year. To be honest, he plays one defense and has three offensive plays. He's not outcoaching anyone, ever. He is bringing in good kids and running a clean program, and for that he deserves and gets credit. But his lack of flexibility kills him as a basketball coach.

JD: Following up on that, was that University of the Sciences game more an aberration than a "you can't make this stuff up" type of game?

DC: Jumping ahead to the Sciences game question, they rested Allen for that game, and also had no Austin Williams; who dressed vs Penn State and might be available for the Iona game. For what it's worth, I never printed on the Sciences game because I wasn't there and I thought the coaches took it as a glorified scrimmage and a chance to give guys a rest/ other guys a chance. That game didn't concern me in the least. Lee stumbled at the Penn State game, but has been outstanding this year and will compete for conference POY in the CAA.

JD: Is the lack of a true interior presence outside of Mohamed Bah more of a concern for this game, considering the Dragons will have their hands full with David Laury?

DC: The interior presence that we all expected was Rodney Williams. A little undersized but he showed some serious talent and athleticism last year. He has good hands and can run the pick and roll well, but he has vastly underperformed this year. Not sure if he's just been struggling, if he is banged up, or if its just tough sledding - DU has faced some elite front lines already this year, and Bru's offense never gets the ball to the big men so it's tough for them to feel involved. While Bah is the bigger body and has been drawing some tough defensive assignments, his lack of quickness gets him in trouble. I'm hoping we see Austin Williams (no relation to Rodney) soon as he showed some explosive athleticism as well. If he shows, and Rodney starts playing, DU will be fine up front.

JD: Aside from defending Laury, where do you see the other keys to victory for Drexel?

DC: The concern for Drexel with Laury, and as a key to win too, is how well they match up. DU will try to run a three guard/two forward set against a team that is running a four-guard set. Every time, (see Brandon Taylor's 4-for-9 from three in the first half for Penn State last game) the DU big that has to cover the guard gets beaten to shreds on the perimeter. They were able to adjust in the second half of the Penn State game and shut down Taylor, but odds are they blow it again in the first half of this one (again, rigid coaching). Drexel's constant man to man is usually fine in shutting down the guard vs. guard matchups behind the arc, so expect the game to hinge on Laury and the big vs guard matchup for Iona. If those guys abuse the Drexel D, the Dragons will be in trouble, but if they show up flat, it'll be a much lower scoring game for Iona than they anticipated.

JD: Going back to the first 10 games, it looks like the Dragons have competed in almost all of them. With that said, how close is this team to potentially turning the corner in CAA play?

DC: The devil has been in the turnovers. DU lost point guard Major Canady before the season, and freshman Rashann London has been learning the hard way, and he's backed up by Freddie Wilson who absolutely no one wants to see running the point (Kevin WIllard at Seton Hall where Wilson transferred from: "Freddie is a bonehead"). London is a fine ball handler, but gets beat on high school level passing, he still doesn't understand the speed of the defense and will throw a lazy bounce pass that gets picked off for a dunk a couple times a game. Last year with Massenat, the Dragons turned the ball over on 13 percent of their possessions, this year it's over 20 percent. That's five less shots a game, and they're all possibly leading to fast breaks the other way. That was absolutely the difference in the USC loss, and had a big part to play against La Salle as well. It's a point of emphasis within the team right now and for the final 35 minutes of the Penn State game, they only turned the ball over five times. If the Dragons clean that up, along with Tavon Allen looking much more healthy the last two games and getting Austin Williams back, yes, they can turn the corner come conference season, especially in a weak CAA. All of that is why this game is important to DU. This is where we learn if they have turned the corner going into the season.  This game would have been a blowout a month ago, but with some good signs already happening in the Penn State game, I think this is suddenly very winnable.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Q30 Sports' Hot Hoops

Earlier in the week, yours truly had the honor of being the debut guest in the newest venture from our friends at Q30 Sports in Hamden, Connecticut; that being the "Hot Hoops" podcast hosted by none other than the legendary Jon Alba, who calls and covers Quinnipiac men's and women's basketball for Q30.

Jon and I shared our thoughts on the Bobcats' start to their seasons under Tom Moore and Tricia Fabbri, respectively, and delved into what lies ahead later in the conversation. Take a listen below:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Indiana State 73, St. John's 67: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

QUEENS, NY ­- Nothing is guaranteed in this game. There are no ‘sure things.’ Case in point, the holiday tournament. Host teams are entered in a field of four. The home club’s objective is to advance and face a formidable opponent in the final. Momentum and home crowd assisting in the tournament hosts raising the trophy. That is the way it is designed, but does not always happen.

In the Chartwells Holiday Classic, the St. John’s women found that out. They advanced past the semifinal opponent, Auburn, and were matched up against Indiana State for the championship.

The visitors from the Missouri Valley Conference showed confidence and talent. In a game with 13 ties, 11 lead changes and two overtimes, the visiting Sycamores of the Hoosier State prevailed.

The 73-­67 setback did see Aliyyah Handford (27 points) and Danaejah Grant (18 points) earn all­-tournament distinction. As a team, St. John’s did battle back from seven points down at halftime and a five-point deficit in the first overtime, a fine showing of resiliency.

The will to dig in and battle back could not offset the transgressions of missed free throws and turnovers. They ultimately proved to be St. John’s undoing.

St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella, naturally disappointed, chalked this up to a teaching moment. Something to learn from. Not dwell and commiserate, just learn, make corrections and move on. Indiana State gave St. John’s a style they will see in the Big East this year. In that regard, it was a teaching moment for the Red Storm. It also served an important reminder, nothing in the game is iron clad certain.

SMU coach Rhonda Rompola makes a point with an official:
The postgame line between Auburn and SMU. Auburn prevailed 56-43 for third place:
Indiana State coach Joey Wells is upbeat, as is his team:
The St. John's dance team entertains during a timeout:
St. John's coach Joe Tartamella and assistant Priscilla Edwards (left) focused on the action:
Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford earned all-tournament honors for St. John's. On the far left is St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch, on the far right is Vice President for Athletics Kathleen Meehan:
The victorious Indiana State team:

Indiana State 73, St. John's 67: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

The Carnesecca Arena video board tells us even overtime has a sponsor. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

QUEENS, NY ­- A double overtime thriller saw Indiana State capture the Chartwells Holiday Classic at St. John’s. The Sycamores downed the host St. John’s 73­-67 in a game featuring 13 ties and 11 lead changes.

The numbers.....

St. John’s 86

Indiana State 84

Offensive Efficiency:
Indiana State 87 
St. John’s 78

The Four Factors:
eFG%: St. John's 38, Indiana State 36
FT Rate: St. John's 71, Indiana State 35
OREB%: Indiana State 32, St. John's 30
TO Rate: St. John's 29, Indiana State 18

What St. John’s did well: Get to the line. A total of 40 free throws against 56 field goal attempts yielded an excellent 71% free throw rate. The Red Storm dribble penetration was largely responsible for drawing fouls. On the flip side, St. John’s did not use the charity stripe to their advantage. They shot just 24-of-40 for a 60% mark. Definitely a major factor in this two-overtime affair.

What Indiana State did well: Care for the ball. The turnover rate was an above average 18%. By contrast, St. John’s coughed the ball up 25 times with a 29% turnover rate.

Stat that jumped off the page: Bench scoring saw Indiana State with a 54­-0 edge. That is no misprint. St.John’s starters went from 36 to 49 minutes playing time. Crystal Simmons, with 16 minutes of action, led St. John’s reserves in playing time. Not one reserve got in the book for a point. The Sycamores utilized their reserves. In fact, the leading scorer was Jasmine Grier, with 21 points in a relief role.

The scoring leaders:
Indiana State: Jasmine Grier 21 points, 14 efficiency
St. John’s: Aliyyah Handford 27 points, 23 efficiency

The Sycamores’ efficiency leader was Joyce Marshall with 15. Marshall was aided by a 7-rebound, 12-point performance. And, to little surprise, she came off the bench to log 27 minutes. Grier earned tournament MVP honors. Both Indiana State and St. John’s are 10-­1.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Manhattan 71, Fordham 57: 5 Observations

Emmy Andujar and Steve Masiello address the media after Manhattan wins Battle of the Bronx over Fordham. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)

Just a handful of observations and nuggets of note from tonight's Battle of the Bronx, a 71-57 Manhattan victory over Fordham:

  • Manhattan's pressure defense hasn't looked better all year.
The Jaspers put on a clinic on how to suffocate the opposition, taking Fordham out of the game with a 48-17 run that spanned the middle of the first half to the middle of the second half, erasing a 10-0 and 16-4 start for the Rams. Head coach Steve Masiello declared his team a "borderline nightmare" to play when the Manhattan defense is firing on all cylinders, adding that the old ways that guided the Jaspers to a MAAC championship last season have started to come back over the last three games to dispel the notion that Manhattan is a paper tiger as they defend their conference crown.

  • Emmy Andujar is not just Manhattan's MVP...
He might even be the player of the year in the MAAC. With all due respect to A.J. English, David Laury and Zaid Hearst, neither of those three have the impact on their respective teams that Andujar has on and off the basketball. When he's not scoring, Andujar is rebounding, hustling for loose balls, doing everything that doesn't show up in a box score. When his offensive skills are called upon, the 6-6 senior gives you a little bit of everything, and the results so far this season have been nothing short of impressive despite his team's 4-7 record.

  • It was a total team effort on both sides.
For Manhattan, everyone except Jermaine Lawrence scored tonight as the Jaspers made nine three-pointers for the second straight game and third time this year. For Fordham, it was a night where most players struggled. While Mandell Thomas led the Rams with 14 points and the interior duo of Ryan Rhoomes and Christian Sengfelder had solid efforts, Eric Paschall had one of his worst nights of the year, with only seven points on 2-of-8 shooting and just 3-of-7 at the free throw line. As a whole, Fordham was 12-for-25 at the charity stripe, a statistic Tom Pecora lamented by addressing his focus on foul shots in practice, and not leaving until the Rams shoot a collective 80 percent.

  • Barclays Center was not as much of a letdown as some may have thought.
In fact, Steve Masiello particularly enjoyed it. Some may argue this belief was influenced by Manhattan emerging victorious, but the Jaspers' head coach spoke from the heart in addressing the Battle of the Bronx. "I'll go play at Rucker," Masiello proclaimed. "It doesn't matter to me. What I want to do is get more brand recognition for this rivalry. I think it's one of the best rivalries in college basketball, I really do. We've got to make it bigger than just the Bronx."

  • The difference in coaching on both sides revealed itself once more.
Coming in, most fans, regardless of allegiance, would have admitted that Steve Masiello had the edge in tactics over Tom Pecora. Such a line could not have been drawn bigger or bolder than tonight, when Fordham could not sustain their 16-4 run to start the game. While Masiello made adjustments and continued to rotate his personnel in and out of the game, decisions that contributed to Manhattan's game-changing 48-17 run, Pecora stubbornly neglected to change his strategies until late in the second half, after the Jasper outburst effectively decided the game. With all due respect to Pecora, who has tried to turn the Fordham program around, tonight was yet another step in the wrong direction for a coach whose team was listless when trailing UMass Lowell and Maryland Eastern Shore last month, and overmatched when subjected to Manhattan's arsenal.

Emmy gives another award-winning performance as Manhattan wins Battle of the Bronx

Emmy Andujar accepts Mike Cohen MVP Award after his 14-point, 9-rebound outing reclaims Battle of the Bronx title for Manhattan, who defeated Fordham 71-57. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)

In his first three years in a Manhattan uniform, Emmy Andujar may have been overshadowed, but his contributions to the Jaspers' success were on par with those from the better-known names of George Beamon, Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado.

Now a senior, Andujar is the most recognizable name on the roster in Riverdale, but as his familiarity with the common fan has increased, the same versatility and "glue guy" status he has carried with him from his first game has not only remained, but grown in direct proportion to his legacy.

Already in the midst of a Player of the Year-caliber season just six weeks into the year, Andujar provided another solid game against a rival of the Jaspers, leading the way with 14 points and nine rebounds as Manhattan (4-7) won its second straight game, defeating Fordham (3-6) by the final of 71-57 at Barclays Center, taking the 107th edition of the Battle of the Bronx on a night where each of their three top scorers ended the night in double figures for the first time all season.

"I thought our team really showed great poise," head coach Steve Masiello proudly beamed as Manhattan won its third game against Fordham in his four-year tenure. "We got back to our defensive mindset, started getting stops, (and) got some easy baskets in transition."

The win was not a complete cruise control effort for the Jaspers, who spotted Fordham a 10-0 run to start the game before Ashton Pankey broke the ice on the scoreboard after a scoreless first 4:35. The Rams' opening salvo eventually reached 16-4, but the eagerness of their opponent to establish a large lead did not faze the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions.

"I thought we were a little tentative," Masiello admitted, "but we kept our poise. We never got rattled, we didn't get too up, we didn't panic. We got our rhythm going, and just kind of got back to doing what we do."

What Manhattan did was pressure Fordham into oblivion, as their suffocating full-court press kicked into high gear during a 48-17 run that carried over into the middle of the second half, something the Jaspers' coach was particularly pleased with.

"You know," Masiello revealed, "I think we're a decent team when we're not pressing. I think we're a borderline nightmare when we're in our press, and not so much that we're going to have our way, but we're just not going to let you do what you practice, and we're going to force your guys to make plays."

One player who did make plays, and got somewhat lost in the shuffle due to the balanced scoring efforts of the Jaspers as a whole, was Andujar; whose near double-double won him the Mike Cohen Most Valuable Player award, and earned him glowing praise from the man who made the Bronx native his first recruit back in 2011.

"This kid," Masiello raved about Andujar, "is what college basketball is all about. What he's been through, how he handles himself. He's a coach's dream."

In addition to Andujar, Shane Richards added 12 points in his second consecutive game with four three-pointers, and Ashton Pankey contributed 12 points and five rebounds to a cause where every Jasper except Jermaine Lawrence cracked the scoreboard. Mandell Thomas was Fordham's leading scorer with 14 points, while highly touted freshman Eric Paschall was held to just seven markers on 2-of-8 shooting.

"We started hot and we ended cold," a brutally honest Rams head coach Tom Pecora conceded. "We didn't make those effort plays in the second half, and they did."

While Manhattan gets the rest of 2014 off before resuming MAAC play with their annual road trip to western New York to play Niagara and Canisius, Fordham gets two more games before the start of Atlantic 10 play, with Howard and South Carolina State coming to Rose Hill Gym. All in all, though, Manhattan's leader, who has been through the wringer both on and off the court over the past few months, was satisfied with his product tonight.

"It's just a really good win," Masiello surmised, "because I started to see the old Manhattan team and our ways start to come back, which is what I planned on as we got healthy and guys came around. I'm very happy for these guys, and we'll go from here."

Manhattan 71, Fordham 57: Quotes from Tom Pecora

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement:
"Well, I said, we always give the team three keys to the game, and number three is generally the most important, we underline it, and it was 'the tougher team will win this game,' and they did. I think, you know, the worst thing you can do at times with a young basketball team is jump out and get an early lead, because they start thinking 'oh, we're better than these guys, the game's over,' and they just kept grinding and grinding, as I knew they would, and they would come back. The other thing we talked about is the veterans stepping up for us. With seven freshmen, it's really important that the veteran players step up and have big games, and we knew (Emmy) Andujar was a key for them, you know, we talked a lot about Shane (Richards) being able to shoot the basketball and (Ashton) Pankey around the baskets, so their three veterans, I thought, stepped up and did a really good job. Our guys struggled at times, they were up and down, but it's hard when you look in a timeout or you look at the bench or just now speaking with them and you have, you know, you're looking at freshmen and you're trying to get freshmen to make plays to win you games, and it's not an excuse, it's just the way it is right now, but I thought they did a good job. I thought their energy, obviously we come out 20-8 and they go on a 22-5 run, I think, to end the half, and then the first five minutes of the second half when they came out and hit two threes, and God, we shoot free throws in practice every day, and we don't leave until we shoot 80 percent as a team, so to come out and shoot 48 percent and miss 13 free throws in a game where you lose by 13 or 14 points can be challenging. So, as I've said before, their youth is making me old. We talked about ball security, and we turned the ball over 18 times, and that's obviously not acceptable too, but that's it. Back to work, we get a couple of days off here for the holiday and we'll be back and practice a couple of times on the 26th."

On what he sees from his team:
"Well, I think at the end, it gets a little different. They have a lead, so they're defending a little differently. We played small at the end to try and come up and go after them defensively, we didn't do a great job with that, but we did string a bunch of stops together, so the difference was stops, you know? It's a lot easier to score off misses than it is after they get organized in their defense after a made basket, but I think that was a big part of it at the end, you know? We opened the floor up a little, but that's the way they want to play, but God, I think we had it at 10 and Eric (Paschall) missed a dunk and a free throw, and then Nemanja (Zarkovic) missed two free throws at ten, you know? You want to break that 10-point barrier, and then things get a little dicey, and the pressure goes to your opponent, you know, all of a sudden they're giving up the lead, but at 10, they still feel pretty confident, but I think those were the big differences. We started hot and we ended cold, that's for sure, especially in the first half."

On whether Manhattan's depth wore Fordham down:
"Not a whole lot. I think we played eight, I mean, we throw some guys in there early, you know? Dekeba, (Battee-Aston) Manny Suarez, but you know, Bryan Smith, Mandell Thomas and Nemanja all played, so I guess we played an eight man...a seven or eight-man rotation, which is what we usually do. I think, look: There's a timeout every four minutes, we're all using most of our timeouts. College basketball now, you're playing three or four-minute spurts, and we're in good enough shape to do that, so I don't think the fatigue factor wears you down as much as it used to, but yeah, I mean, we won the battle of the backboards, we, you know, we both went to the foul line an equal number of times, so I thought in the second half, though, there would be effort plays that we had talked about: Being the first to the floor on loose balls, 50/50 rebounds, stepping in, (and) taking charges to protect the basketball. We didn't make those effort plays in the second half, and they did."

On free throw shooting:
"Yeah, like I said, look: We're pretty good free throw shooters, I mean, we have a couple of guys that aren't, but guys like Eric Paschall shooting 80 percent from the foul line, he shoots 3-of-7, you know what I mean? So I don't think, check with me in February. If we keep shooting 48 percent, I'll call you, I promise."

On defending Manhattan's three-point shooting:
"Yeah, well more so, I thought, in half court with the zone trap. We didn't have a ton of backcourt turnovers that led to layups, but in the frontcourt we talked about...when they extend like that on you, what you need to do is not try to run offense, you need to basically rip the ball and try to go by someone. It's similar to what Georgetown did for years, they just come out and take you out of offense, so you know, the guys needed to turn and get the ball in the lane, and when we got the ball on the baseline, I thought we did a good job. We did a poor job with Richards, and that was, you know, 4-of-6 from three, that's the whole game for them. The term we use is 'X-ing someone,' which means you don't help off of them, you stay with them. We were in a defense where we switch assignments on screens and dribble handoffs, twice he got really good looks off of those, another time, one of the guys ran at a non-shooter when he was open in the corner instead of just staying disciplined and running to him, and look: That's the best they've shot from the perimeter. Obviously, we came out zone, and our goal was to make them beat us over the top with the exception of Richards. I thought (Rich) Williams' two threes were huge. I think he had great confidence, and he made those two threes and that really extended their lead at the beginning of the second half."