Monday, January 27, 2014

Fordham/VCU Preview

Shaka Smart and VCU are next up for Fordham as Rams hope to turn page from 38-point loss to UMass. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

After their first Atlantic 10 win of the season against George Mason, what followed for Fordham was a performance the Rams would like to forget, a 90-52 debacle in Amherst against Derek Kellogg, Chaz Williams, and No. 13 UMass.

Tom Pecora, who has come under criticism, (and justifiably so in the wake of Sunday's lopsided defeat) particularly in this piece from Gary Moore that goes so far as to profile Pecora's coaching inconsistencies even while at Hofstra, now faces yet another familiar foe for his next challenge, with Shaka Smart and VCU next up on the Fordham ledger.

Richmond's Rams are still riding high from their 2011 Final Four run, not to mention a banner year in their first A-10 campaign last season. Using their patented "Havoc" defense to force turnovers and seize momentum in every game, VCU is truly a college basketball brand unlike any other, and could be the toughest test that Fordham; who has already gone through Saint Louis and UMass on the road, have faced. In addition, let us not forget that the first of two games against the black and gold Rams takes place in the Siegel Center, also known not just as "The Stu," but also a place where homecourt advantage is a mere understatement.

VCU has already competed in the New York area, decisively handling Boston College at the Barclays Center last month, and they will invade Rose Hill Gym at the end of February before returning for the Atlantic 10 tournament. Until then, though, we preview the clash of two herds of Rams by welcoming Mike Litos to the site. A walking encyclopedia of all things VCU for several years, Mike is a more experienced version of yours truly in that he is a dual threat as both a broadcaster and writer; serving as the color commentator on VCU radio broadcasts while also maintaining his own website,, not to mention he holds a day job completely outside the college basketball industry the same way I do. Without any further ado, here is what Mike had to say about Virginia Commonwealth University: 

Jaden Daly: Overall, how well has VCU adjusted to Briante Weber starting full-time following the graduation of Darius Theus?

Mike Litos: I'd say it's been slower than many people wanted, but Weber is right on schedule. You can see his decision-making improve every night--when to pass, when to shoot, when to drive to the rim, when to stop at 10 feet. Those kinds of point guard decisions. And with those decisions comes confidence, and his confidence level is growing. He's making better plays in late shot clock situations.

What people forget is that a point guard is also responsible for getting four other guys in the right place, too. All of that stuff in the previous paragraph has to occur, but it is useless if the point guard isn't managing the other four players. The most telling outcome, for me: Treveon Graham scored 34 points and Juvonte Reddic scored 27 points in the LaSalle win, but it was Weber who had the team's highest plus/minus.

Weber is also coming along as a leader. He is getting comfortable with being unpopular at times, a key trait for a leader. That isn't easy for him because he's such a nice and fun-loving kid.

JD: With Fordham being as small as they are, would it be out of the ordinary to see Shaka Smart play a shorter lineup himself more than usual?

ML: That's a good question, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I'll answer the other side of it, because VCU goes four guards for extended periods of games. So no, they won't go smaller because Graham already plays the four spot often. However, I am interested to see if smart chooses to go big and give Mo Alie-Cox extended minutes alongside Reddic or Terrance Shannon; who is coming back from a knee injury, and I don't know as I write this if he will play or not.

JD: In your opinion, who creates the bigger mismatch for VCU: Treveon Graham, Juvonte Reddic, or someone else, and why?

ML: There is no question in my mind it's Graham. He is such a horse he can get into the lane and to the rim at will. At 6-6, 225, he has the strength and the ability to absorb contact on offense, and lean on bigger guys when he's playing defense. His nickname down here is The Freight Train.

However Graham also has some finesse to his game. He scored on multiple spin moves against LaSalle, and he can knock down threes with regularity. Who guards him? There's your mismatch, not necessarily because Graham is the mismatch, but because who you choose to cover him creates mismatches elsewhere.

Reddic, though, is the guy that can make a good team great. He can shoot out to the line and face up for 15-footers, and he can play back-to-the-basket post. He is an incredibly skilled kid that when he really brings it is tough to defend. He had 10 offensive rebounds the other day against La Salle.

JD: Fordham has struggled defending the three-pointer in recent games after a brilliant start to the season in that category. As a result, how much more will VCU try to get in transition and turn Fordham over?

ML: I don't want to weenie out of the question, but this is the truth. Turning teams over and getting into the open court is VCU's M.O. They already do it for 40 minutes. No more, no less.

JD: From a VCU standpoint, has the Atlantic 10 season gone as expected? What would Ram fans like to have back, if anything?

ML: Ah, another good one. If you are talking strictly A-10 season, I don't know that there's anything we would take back. Obviously, we would prefer to have beaten GW to be 5-0, but I don't want to say that because it isn't honoring your question. Besides, that was a game that VCU didn't play its best, and GW was good enough on that night to win the game. I think they learned a lot about where they truly were as a team that night. Sometimes the results are no what you want when a team is growing and getting better. Sometimes the results don't reflect progress, and I think progress was made that night in Foggy Bottom.

If I had anything to take back, it would be the officiating in the Georgetown game. That affair lasted 2:45 in regulation, and nobody, win or lose, should sit through that.

JD: Finally, for those still unfamiliar with "HAVOC," what exactly is it in a nutshell, and can you really put a tangible value on its effects?

ML: Simply put, it's pressing the opponent all over the floor, baseline to baseline, opening tip to final buzzer. There are man traps and zone traps, and they will blitz the ball for traps in the frontcourt. It's constant pressure, everywhere, and that includes on offense. It's designed to turn teams over and get quick strike layups and threes, but it's also attacking constantly on offense, putting a defense on its heels. Smart will talk about energy, enthusiasm, and sparks as the most important aspects to havoc. The end result is to get VCU more shots than its opponent. Keep your eye on field goal attempts--that's the second most important statistic when tracking the effectiveness of havoc. (Turnover differential is the first.)

We speak of the cumulative effects of havoc; that is, teams may withstand it for awhile, but eventually legs get tired, tongue's start dragging, and then you look up and the press is still there. And then you look to the scorer's table and there's three subs ready to enter the game. It's as much mentally taxing as physical.

There's so much more to it, but I won't bore you any longer.


  1. Pecora is one stubborn coach. He will double and triple down on his "system", which consists of one guard chucking up a shot as the shot clock winds down, while the rest of the team either stands around or goes through the motions of setting a meaningless high ball pick. Pecora is so desperate that he has apparently given a freshman carte blanche to shoot whenever he wants, no matter how ill advised the shot. What's Severe shooting now, 30% from the field? While taking a huge number of shots. Severe will not improve unless he is coached well, and that will not happen under Pecora. Fordham is a train wreck.

  2. All this talk about Pecora and the 4 guard offense is missing the boat....Pecora is playing 4 or 3 guards since THERE IS NO SMALL FOWARD ON THE TEAM THE 3 BIG MEN DO THEIR BEST AT CENTER WITH BACK TO BASKET AND ARE LIMITED AS POWER FOWARDS. This limits Pecora's options no small foward deserving of playing time and three bigs who are not power fowards. When Pecora adds Paschal or another to team you wont see the four guards. Pecora brought this situation on by recruitng a limted roster.Right now it comes down to who you would rather have on floor a Thomas or a Leonard..If your stuck playing four guards you need your guards to be quick to take opponenent out of his offense Rams do not have that quickness. Pecora has also dissapointed allowing Severe to play out of control. Severe is unquestionably talented and could wind up among Rams all-time best but needs to change approach. There is hope on the horizon with Severe, Paschal few others

  3. I watched Pecora's press conference after the loss at VCU. Have you ever seen a D1 coach less troubled by all the losing he has produced? Pecora is preparing for his post Fordham career, which will be doing college basketball telecasts and commentary. And TP will be very good at that. Much better than he has done as Fordham's coach. His poor handling of Severe is going to set that kid, and the Fordham team, back substantially. Severe was given carte blanche to do whatever he wants all season, up to the VCU game, and the result has been a) terrible shot selection, b) awful shooting %, c) selfish play, d) pissed off team mates, and d) Severe moping, pouting, and faking a limp after bricked shots or blown defensive assignments.

    Paschell is nuts if he doesn't revoke his NLI at Fordham.