Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fordham/Penn State Preview

Eric Paschall returns for first encore following his 31-point debut as Fordham travels to Penn State. (Photo courtesy of Five Borough Hoops)

If Eric Paschall's first impression is any indication, Fordham should be a lot better than the experts' 14th-place prediction in the Atlantic 10.

Yes, the Rams played a Division II opponent in NYIT, but the 94 points and offensive efficiency rating of 136, (1.36 points per possession over 69 trips down the floor) not to mention nine turnovers and a 65 percent assist rate, suggest a harbinger of satisfaction for Tom Pecora and the fans in the Rose Hill Gym stands, with Paschall's 31-point, 10-rebound record-setting double-double an integral part in any talk of a supposed renaissance. Five Rams scored ten or more points in Fordham's 94-77 win Friday night, and to enhance the offense even more, sophomore guard Jon Severe will return after being suspended for a violation of team rules.

In their first of two consecutive games against Big Ten opponents, Fordham invades the Bryce Jordan Center to meet a Penn State team that won its own opener, defeating Morgan State 61-48 behind 40 total rebounds and 17 points from senior guard D.J. Newbill. In his fourth season, head coach Patrick Chambers is still looking to break through in the Big Ten, and with a roster featuring underrated players the likes of Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis in addition to Newbill and Pittsburgh expatriate John Johnson, the Nittany Lions are a deceptively strong roster that truly can catch some teams in their conference off guard.

Our pregame question and answer session returns tonight, and to give us a better idea of how the state of mind in University Park is, we welcome Austin Lederman into our preview segment. Austin covers Penn State for Josh Verlin's phenomenal City of Basketball Love site, (for those who don't know CoBL, it's the Philadelphia version of our site, only with triple the staff because it's just that amazing) and had mounds of information to share with us in advance of tomorrow's matchup:

Jaden Daly: Tim Frazier is gone, but D.J. Newbill and John Johnson return as the senior anchors of an experienced backcourt that also adds Devin Foster. Will this season be another year where as the guards go, so too will the team?

Austin Lederman: Well, Pat Chambers elected to start true freshman Shep Garner yesterday, and he had a really nice debut with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Newbill led all scorers with 17, and Johnson was very aggressive when he was on the court. Foster didn't see any playing time yesterday, but it's still early and unfair to guess that he won't be in the rotation. Newbill is obviously the guy that will make this team go, but going into the season, the main question was who would help him out. Garner certainly seems capable, but he's just a freshman and will have his ups and downs. Thorpe was a huge plus Friday night, scoring 11 points in just 20 minutes. He was saddled with foul trouble, which likely won't be much of an issue moving forward, but he's a young kid that has loads of potential. The Nittany Lions return all of their starting frontcourt in Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis and Donovon Jack. Don't be shocked to see those guys shoulder the loads on some night because they'll certainly have to at some point.

JD: To follow that up, Patrick Chambers has had a much better recruiting record than some give him credit for, adding Geno Thorpe and Shep Garner among others. Now in his fourth season in State College, with everyone on the roster being his own players, just how much progress can be expected?

AL: You mentioned recruiting, and before we even get to this season, let's take a look at what Chambers was able to haul in for his 2015 class. It's a top-30 ranked class with two four-star prospects in Mike Watkins and Josh Reaves and a three-star in sharpshooter Davis Zemguilis. Chambers has really opened up the Philly pipeline, starting with convincing Newbill, a Philadelphia native, to transfer to Penn State. Johnson, Julian Moore and Watkins are from Philly, Taylor and Thorpe both played for Team Philly, and Garner has ties to the City of Brotherly Love. What Chambers has done in recruiting should be reason enough for him to have his contract extended. This is a pretty major season for Chambers. People know this is his fourth season and that his contract runs out at the end of the year. With a roster made of entirely his guys, it's expected for this team to make another leap like they did last year. Losing Frazier obviously hurts, but Penn State returns nearly everyone else from last year. Everyone has an extra year of experience under their belt and this team played in a bunch of close games last season that just didn't go their way whether due to the wrong bounce of the ball or a lack of execution down the stretch. Those situations should bode well moving forward and this team should win more games than it did last year.

JD: Is this finally the year that Ross Travis breaks out and establishes himself as one of the premier big men in the Big Ten?

AL: That's a great question, Jaden, and it also happens to be the one Penn State fans and media have been asking for the past two years. He's an absolute terror on the glass and at 6-7, he really uses his athleticism to grab rebounds that seem out of reach. The issue is Travis seems to think he's a capable jump shooter, which he clearly isn't. He's at his best when he's crashing the offensive boards and living around the rim in the 5-10 foot range. If he decides that will be his domain this year, there's a chance we'll see a Jeff Brooks-type of breakout senior season, but if he falls in love with the jump shot, it will be another frustrating season watching a talented player not live up to his potential.

JD: Early in the season, Fordham tends to be reliant on the three-point shot, something Penn State struggled to defend last season. How much has the perimeter defense improved, and is it still a work in progress?

AL: It's definitely a work in progress, and it's tough to tell after one game. Morgan State was one of the worst long-ball shooting teams in the country last year and while Penn State held them to just 3-of-18 from deep, a lot of that can be attributed to the Bears simply being a poor shooting team. They have the athletes to get out to the 3-point line after collapsing into the paint to defend, but Chambers emphasizes protecting the paint, where Penn State was one of the best teams in the country at doing so last year. It will be a challenge when Big Ten play starts, as most teams have multiple 3-point threats, but it's too early too truly know how this team will defend the 3-pointer.

JD: Two-part question here: First, what are the Nittany Lions' keys to victory on Sunday, and from more of a big picture perspective, where will they ultimately shake out in the Big Ten?

AL: One thing they have to do is make sure Newbill is always involved in the offense. There were stretches Friday night where Newbill was on the court, but you could hardly tell. That can't happen for the best player on this team if they want to be successful. Also, limiting turnovers will be key as the Nittany Lions committed 18 of them Friday. Some of that is because they're still adjusting to playing a new offense without Frazier, who had the ball in his hands most of the time, while some of it is Garner and Newbill adjusting to having the ball a lot more. The defense will likely be there, but getting off to a quick start would be beneficial. Penn State has so often fallen behind early and had to fight and scrap its way back into games before running out of gas at the end to finish it off. 

As for Penn State's conference standing, I think a 7-10 range in the Big Ten is a good estimate. I personally don't think there's much of a difference between the bottom half of the Big Ten, so if at the end of the season, Penn State is 7th or 10th, I wouldn't be surprised with either finish. Winning close games in conference will determine whether they're at the top of the lower half of the conference or the bottom.


  1. Believe this is Fordham's first trip to State College, Pa. J Severe will return and Rams have best front court player in A-10 in Eric Paschall. Go Fordham!!!

  2. A real return to earth for Fordham after celebrating their victory over a weak D2 team. I watched the game, and Fordham's program is downright embarrassing. After 4 years Pecora's teams still have no clue on offense. They look like 5 guys that met up in the parking lot to play that night. Pecora is already turning up the excuse machine with his post-game references to "7 freshman". Here's a hint Tom, you are responsible for the composition of the roster. And your problem last night was not primarily the play of your freshman. Pecora is a terrible coach. What was Eric Paschall thinking?