Sunday, December 21, 2014

Battle of the Bronx Preview: Manhattan vs. Fordham

Steve Masiello looks for third win in four tries against Fordham when Jaspers and Rams renew their annual rivalry in Monday's Battle of the Bronx. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

The early season tournaments have come and gone, and conference play resumes in another week or two, but the rivalries in college basketball remain very much alive.

Look no further than Monday night, when Manhattan and Fordham, two programs with very different storylines surrounding them through the first two months of the season, take the court against one another for the 107th time, reprising the annual Battle of the Bronx at 6 p.m., this time with an unusual twist.

This year's tilt between the Jaspers and Rams will be contested at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, a move on the part of Fordham head coach Tom Pecora, who would have had the home game at Rose Hill Gym otherwise, to raise the profile of his program and potentially draw a greater crowd for what will be the front end of a doubleheader also featuring Miami and Providence. Whether or not Pecora is proven prophetic remains to be seen, but this will be the first time since 2001 that Fordham and Manhattan compete on a floor other than those at Rose Hill or Draddy Gymnasium.

Manhattan enters at 3-7 on the year, and will be two days removed from a resilient and hard-fought 73-69 victory over a Morgan State team that head coach Steve Masiello predicted would be "dangerous." In the win Saturday night, Shane Richards added his name to Jasper history with his 166th career three-pointer, eclipsing the school record previously held by Devon Austin. Senior forward Emmy Andujar added 16 points of his own, continuing a start to his final campaign in Riverdale that Manhattan fans have come to appreciate more than usual, because without his contributions, things could be a lot worse for the Jaspers on top of having played one of the nation's most difficult schedules in a year where the target on the backs of Masiello and his players has never been bigger or bolder as Manhattan attempts to defend its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship.

Across the court, Fordham comes into their annual meeting with their borough rivals at 3-5, and is the more rested team by virtue of what will be seven days off since their most recent contest, a 74-53 defeat at the hands of St. John's at Madison Square Garden. In what has been a trying fifth season for Pecora at the helm of a program that has faced perhaps the steepest uphill climb of any school in the country, the Rams have had flashes of solid basketball in wins over Siena and Monmouth to go with inexplicable home losses to UMass Lowell and Maryland Eastern Shore. In the absence of Jon Severe, who is still out after taking a leave of absence from the program, and Ryan Canty, who is redshirting following offseason back surgery, Fordham has played a multitude of freshmen alongside upperclassmen Mandell Thomas and Ryan Rhoomes to gain experience for the younger players, and it has yielded mixed results through the first eight games of the season.

With that being said, you have the background information on the two teams, so now here's a recap of the recent history between the Jaspers and Rams, along with a "tale of the tape" for each side in a game that has amounted to a local Super Bowl of sorts:

All-Time Series: Manhattan leads, 55-51

Last 5 Meetings
November 26, 2013 at Manhattan: Fordham 79, Manhattan 75
Jon Severe introduced himself to the Battle of the Bronx with a then-career-high 30 points, 22 of which came in the first half. Manhattan fought back after a George Beamon three-point play put the Jaspers up 73-71 with 4:07 remaining, but Fordham closed the game on an 8-2 run, taking the lead with a minute to go on a spinning layup from Branden Frazier, who saw the lane part like the Red Sea after breaking Manhattan's press in the open court. Beamon once again pulled the home team within two in the waning seconds, but Jermaine Myers' outlet pass for a streaking Travion Leonard was emphatically dunked to seal the win for the Rams.

"You know what I liked about this game? It's a bunch of New York kids playing against each other. You look at both of our rosters, they're basically 75-80 percent New Yorkers, so the kids know each other and that adds to it." - Tom Pecora

November 29, 2012 at Fordham: Manhattan 65, Fordham 58
Rose Hill Gym was filled almost to capacity for a game that was Fordham's home opener after enduring what Tom Pecora later went on to call a "brutal" nonconference schedule, one that included the likes of Pittsburgh and Connecticut on the Rams' ledger. The return to familiar confines proved to be beneficial to Fordham most of the night, fighting their way to a 52-49 lead late in the second half. However, as he did many times over the course of his career, Michael Alvarado took over down the stretch. Then a junior, the Bronx native scored seven points during a 13-2 Jasper run to give Manhattan the road win, as four Fordham turnovers in the closing minutes proved to be the Rams' demise.
"What we spoke about was, 'don't give them the second shot,' and we got every loose ball in the last six minutes." - Steve Masiello

December 7, 2011 at Manhattan: Manhattan 81, Fordham 47
Steve Masiello's first experience of the Battle of the Bronx was a straight-up annihilation of Fordham, who committed 20 turnovers, half of them by Devon McMillan himself, on a night marked by a torrential downpour. As the rain fell outside in Riverdale, the shots fell inside Draddy Gymnasium for Manhattan, who placed five players in double figures, led by 15 points from George Beamon.

December 8, 2010 at Fordham: Fordham 73, Manhattan 59
The precursor to what would be one of the best weeks of Tom Pecora's first season at Fordham was this 14-point win at Rose Hill Gym, one where the Rams took control on an 18-5 run leading into the intermission, and never looked back from there. Senior Brenton Butler scored 21 points en route to his second career Mike Cohen Most Valuable Player award, and Kervin Bristol contributed an 11-point, 16-rebound double-double three days before Fordham shocked the area with a resounding 84-81 upset of eventual NCAA Tournament participant St. John's. For the Jaspers, a star was born in then-freshman Rhamel Brown, whose first matchup with the Rams produced nine points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots, only a small sample of what would eventually come for the Brooklyn native.

November 28, 2009 at Manhattan: Manhattan 68, Fordham 44
Manhattan led wire-to-wire in this one, holding Fordham to 26 percent shooting from the field. Despite outrebounding the Jaspers and getting 15 points and 16 rebounds from Chris Gaston, the Rams were shut out from the three-point line, missing each of their eleven attempts from beyond the arc, and 21 turnovers forced by the Manhattan defense lifted Barry Rohrssen's squad to the easy win.

The "Tale of the Tape":
Point Guard: Tyler Wilson (6-2 So., 5.8 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 52% FG, 61% FT) vs. Antwoine Anderson (6-1 Fr., 8.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 53% FG, 53% FT)
Manhattan could very well end up starting RaShawn Stores instead of Wilson, who has displayed the better numbers in his sophomore season while Stores continues to work his way back to full health. Either way, the Jaspers will have a steady hand guiding their ship in the backcourt, albeit one whose true scoring prowess remains a backup option at best. For Fordham, Anderson has been a blessing since his insertion into the starting lineup in lieu of Nemanja Zarkovic. His turnover totals tend to climb higher than they should, but his take-charge style on offense, especially when his teammates cannot get open shots, should be vital against the Manhattan press, which should feast on a Fordham backcourt that has missed the leadership of Branden Frazier more than anyone may ever realize. Edge: Fordham

Shooting Guard: Rich Williams (6-5 So., 5.4 PPG,1.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 31% FG, 60% FT) vs. Mandell Thomas (6-2 Jr., 12.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 33% FG, 71% FT)
Thomas posted an underrated 17 points and 10 rebounds against Manhattan last year, an even more impressive feat considering he dealt with Michael Alvarado for most of the night. The pressure is lightened on the junior guard, who will likely draw the sophomore Williams this time around, who has progressed in his second season and possesses an NBA-range three-point shot that would make most scouts blush. While Williams will look to bury a few baseline shots as well, Thomas' athleticism makes him invaluable to the Rams, who should be hoping to get their offense circulating through him. Edge: Fordham

Small Forward: Shane Richards (6-5 Jr., 11.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 40% FG, 69% FT, 35% 3pt) vs. Eric Paschall (6-6 Fr., 18.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 50% FG, 77% FT, 37% 3pt)
Arguably, the best matchup of the night will be the one on the wing, as Richards, fresh off his record-breaking three-point show Saturday night against Morgan State, battles the highly touted Paschall, Fordham's second straight New York State Mr. Basketball. A one-on-one showdown that would normally be one-dimensional over the years has become multifaceted thanks to Richards, who has added an inside element to his game to make him one of the most deceptively strong players in the area. Throw in his penchant for big games at Barclays Center, and you have a tall task on the hands of Paschall, who has the pressure of replicating Jon Severe's baptism to the Manhattan rivalry. The freshman can score, and can do so in bunches, but his tendency to settle for open threes may come back to hurt him, whereas Richards' transformation into a player who will look for what is best available before he finds what he wants is an asset that will serve the Jaspers well. Edge: Manhattan

Power Forward: Emmy Andujar (6-6 Sr., 13.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 54% FG, 57% FT) vs. Christian Sengfelder (6-7 Fr., 10.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.1 APG, 44% FG, 52% FT, 36% 3pt)
Andujar, who has been a jack of all trades in his first three-plus seasons in Riverdale, is in the midst of putting together his finest masterpiece, an MVP-caliber senior campaign marked by personal adversity in enduring the death of his older brother, Jose, and putting that tragedy behind him to emerge as the leader Manhattan needs in the absence of Michael Alvarado, George Beamon and Rhamel Brown. His versatility will be tough for anyone to handle, let alone Sengfelder, the talented German freshman who has become one of Fordham's biggest surprises so far this season. Sengfelder's appreciation for the three-pointer is a double-edged sword: It could propel Fordham to success, or it could be a death knell against the Manhattan zone defense. On the other side of the court, Andujar is simply impossible to stop. The Rams can try to contain him, but as he has demonstrated several times in big spots, he will find a way to rise up. Edge: Manhattan

Center: Ashton Pankey (6-10 Jr., 10.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 51% FG, 61% FT) vs. Ryan Rhoomes (6-8 Jr., 7.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 45% FG, 71% FT)
Pankey is finally able to impose his will on opposing defenses for the bulk of a game after serving as a substitute for Rhamel Brown in various stretches of last season, and the results have been more promising than disappointing. The same can be said for Rhoomes, who can be considered Fordham's most valuable player through the Rams' first eight games by becoming one of the Atlantic 10's premier rebounders, providing Tom Pecora with a true interior presence. Pankey is prone to foul trouble, so the key for Rhoomes will be to establish himself on the boards in the opening minutes, but Manhattan will look to take Rhoomes away at all costs, and Pankey's mid-range game, which is better than that of his counterpart, will be a piece of the puzzle for Steve Masiello. Edge: Manhattan

Manhattan is just now starting to get their depth back after functioning as a self-proclaimed "MASH unit" by Masiello in the wake of the Jaspers' loss to Rutgers eight days ago. With Jermaine Lawrence coming on the heels of his most productive effort to date against Morgan State, and either Stores or Wilson leading the charge for the second unit out of the backcourt, Manhattan has two capable reserves that will help freshmen Calvin Crawford and Zane Waterman assert themselves as well. Fordham also has more depth on paper, but the stubbornness of Pecora to properly utilize it has seen the Rams play what amounts to a seven-man rotation, with the only substitutes essentially consisting of freshman Nemanja Zarkovic and senior Bryan Smith, both of whom are guards. The influx of fresh bodies up front for Manhattan will enable Masiello to rotate in and out against a smaller and thinner Fordham front line, forcing Rhoomes and Sengfelder; and Paschall at times as well, to toil even harder against one of the more physical teams in the nation. Edge: Manhattan

Without blatantly saying one team has an edge over the other, look no further than Masiello, who revitalized the winning culture he helped build under Bobby Gonzalez as an assistant at Manhattan in the early 2000s. Already 63-46 in his tenure since replacing Barry Rohrssen, the Jaspers have gone from doormat to contender thanks to the relentless defense and frenetic offensive style Masiello has instilled. On the other side of the bench, Pecora has seemed much more tepid at various points this season in terms of playing with leads, as evidenced by late-game swoons against Siena and Monmouth that Fordham was able to eventually pull out, but not without having to first earn it; and the embattled Rams coach had difficulty in rallying the troops in the aforementioned UMass Lowell and Maryland Eastern Shore losses last month. With that said, Fordham will come out aggressive, but the challenge will present itself when dealing with Manhattan's ruthless defensive style, something the Rams have not yet seen this season. Edge: Manhattan

As Pecora has said many times when previewing this game, records are thrown out the window. Expect a fierce rivalry game, but with one caveat: This will most likely be a convincing Manhattan win, or a resilient Fordham upset. There is seemingly no middle ground here. We'll go with the former, primarily due to a more experienced Manhattan roster and the intangibles of Emmy Andujar, who may very well forge another chapter into his illustrious Jasper legacy. Manhattan wins, 73-70


  1. Eric Paschall will have major game; he's a rim-rocker!

  2. Replies
    1. Couldn't agree more, Paul. Kyle Smith has been my top choice to replace Pecora for the last year or so.