Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rider 58, Saint Peter's 49: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

Jersey City, NJ ­- One of the advantages of round robin conference play is the opportunity to make preparations for the second meeting of the opponent. The prior game and opposition’s recent games are studied on tape. Adjustments are made with the first meeting as a point of reference. Finally, a game plan is developed. No trick plays on offense or defense are devised, but a change or ‘tweak’ here or there to prepare, is a priority.

On Thursday, Saint Peter's hosted Rider. It was the second go-round for the MAAC opponents. The result mirrored the first, as Rider prevailed 58-­49.

While both teams made their arborvitae adjustments and changes, the game ultimately came down to execution. In the stretch, Rider was able to get in the paint and convert. Saint Peter's could not answer. No trickery to speak of, it all came down to who would get it done at ‘crunch’ time.

In the midst of conference play, there is little time for Saint Peter's coach John Dunne to lament on this game. Take some time to review tape to point out what worked and didn’t, then quickly get ready for the next opponent Saturday, a meeting at Iona. One day of practice to prepare. The preparation process will be a bit different, as both meet for the first time in conference.

All part of the conference round robin situation.

In the first game of the night, the Saint Peter's women defeated Niagara. Here during the men's game, athletic director Joe Quinlan watches with Saint Peter's assistant Phyllis Mangina and head coach Pat Coyle:
Referee Jeff Anderson summons the teams onto the floor at the end of a timeout:
Saint Peter's coach John Dunne in an excited moment:
Rider's Anthony D'Orazio looks for an opening in the defense:
Rider huddles during a timeout:
Saint Peter's Marvin Dominique in the defensive stance on an out of bounds play:
The postgame handshake line:

Rider 58, Saint Peter's 49: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Rider's Jimmie Taylor defends Desi Washington of Saint Peter's. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Jersey City, NJ - If you truly love defensive, grind-it-out style games, the Yanitelli Center was the place to be on Thursday. Rider imposed their defensive will, posting a 58-49 victory over Saint Peter's. The pace and efficiency:

Possessions: Saint Peter's 63, Rider 62
Offensive Efficiency: Rider 94, Saint Peter's 78

The Four Factors:
eFG%: Rider 40, Saint Peter's 35
FT Rate: Rider 61, Saint Peter's 33
OREB%: Rider 39, Saint Peter's 33
TO Rate: Both 21

What both teams did well: Defend. Rider, entering with a conference-best 90 defensive efficiency, kept Saint Peter's well under that figure. Chalk it up to forcing the Peacocks into a 21% turnover rate and a 35% eFG mark. Saint Peter's was just 2-of-15 shooting from long range.

On their end, Saint Peter's also imposed a 21% turnover rate on their opponents. In addition, they limited the Broncs to 40% eFG as Rider shot 3-of-14 from three-point range, a strong enough defensive performance to win on many a night. Just not this one.

The numbers will not tell it all, but a great deal of credit goes to Rider’s ability to make those plays in the stretch. The Broncs converted in the paint the crucial last few minutes, with Junior Fortunat (9 points on 4-of-5 shooting) doing the most damage.

Leading scorers and offensive efficiency:
Rider, Teddy Okereafor (12 points, OE .462)
Saint Peter's, Quadir Welton (15 points, OE .700)

Okereafor's efficiency was borderline, a little on the low side. Welton's, on the other hand, showed an efficiency on the edge of outstanding. Welton was the lone Saint Peter's player to shoot 50 percent (7-of-14) from the floor. Fortunat's 4-of-5 field goal shooting was Rider’s only performance of 50% or better from the floor. The two respective leading scorers were the only double digit scorers on the evening, a defensive battle indeed.

Rider is 8-3 in MAAC play, while Saint Peter's falls to 4-7.

“We played good defense. I knew this was going to be a grind. It’s not easy playing them (Saint Peter's) by any stretch.” -­ Rider coach Kevin Baggett

“We had open looks that did not fall but our paint defense was not very good down the stretch.” ­- Saint Peter's coach John Dunne

Friday, January 30, 2015

Manhattan 87, Siena 79: 5 Observations

Now 10-10 after second straight win, Emmy Andujar and Steve Masiello are starting to hit their stride in Manhattan's MAAC championship defense. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College Athletics)

Our traditional handful of observations and nuggets of note following Manhattan's 87-79 win over Siena, which got the Jaspers to .500 for the first time this season:
  • The Manhattan transition defense was somewhat overlooked.
On a night where five Jaspers posted double-figure point totals, the style of play that has been Manhattan's calling card since Steve Masiello arrived in Riverdale should get equal star billing after forcing 22 turnovers against Siena. The total marked the sixth time this year in which the Jaspers prompted 20 or more miscues against their opposition, furthering the efforts of a transition defense ranked sixth in the nation.
  • Siena's frontcourt might be small in numbers, but big in hustle.
Once again playing without the services of Brett Bisping, who will be reevaluated on Sunday as he continues to recover from a dislocated toe that required surgery; not to mention the torn ACL suffered by Imoh Silas before the season started, the Saints got impressive contributions from sophomores Lavon Long and Javion Ogunyemi. Long posted a career-high 20 points to go with seven rebounds on a night where the Baltimore native displayed his range and versatility on the offensive end, while Ogunyemi posted a Rhamel Brown-esque eight points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 9:29 remaining in regulation.
  • Rich Williams finally broke out.
Playing through what could be termed a sophomore slump, the Brooklyn guard came off the bench tonight, setting the tone early and often en route to 13 points, spearheading a 30-13 victory in the battle of the benches. Since moving back to a supporting role, Williams is averaging 10 points per game as a reserve, providing a similar spark to his performance last season as Manhattan won the MAAC championship. "A couple of weeks ago, I just made up my mind that I'd do anything to help the team," Williams said. "The all-league stuff really don't matter to me no more," he added when reminded that Masiello viewed his impact comparable to that of a first team all-MAAC honoree, "but I think now that I let it go, I'm starting to play well."
  • Timely three-point shooting and sharing the ball were the biggest keys to victory tonight.
Manhattan took advantage of a Siena team whose three-point defense entered tonight's game tied with Iona for the worst in the MAAC, torching the nets to the tune of a 9-for-15 effort from beyond the arc. In their last two games, the Jaspers are 20-for-39 from long range, good enough for a 51 percent clip. The hot shooting was bolstered by assists on 18 of Manhattan's 25 field goals, a 72 percent assist rate on an evening where the Jaspers shot a season high 54 percent (25-for-46) from the field.
  • Depth and balanced scoring.
In a nutshell, that tells you all you need to know about Manhattan's system, one that involves constant rotation of fresh bodies to methodically wear opponents down. "This year's team has great offensive firepower," Masiello emphatically proclaimed. "You have seven guys that could get you 20 (points) on any given night. That's the difference."

Andujar leads five Jaspers in double figures as Manhattan outlasts Siena

Emmy Andujar's 20 points led Manhattan in 87-79 victory over Siena, moving Jaspers to .500 for first time this season. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Fuhrmann of the Manhattan Quadrangle)

Five days removed from what Steve Masiello termed a good bounce-back win against Monmouth Sunday afternoon, Manhattan returned to their home floor in search of a plateau that the reigning MAAC champions had yet to achieve this season, a .500 record.

What ensued could arguably be considered the Jaspers' best offensive effort of the season, as five players ended the night in double figures for the second time this year en route to Manhattan (10-10, 7-4 MAAC) shot a season-high 54 percent from the field in disposing of a resilient Siena team by the final of 87-79 at Draddy Gymnasium.

"I'm very proud of the bench," Masiello gushed of his reserves, who outscored Siena's substitutes by a 30-13 margin, led by 13 points from Rich Williams. "I thought Calvin (Crawford) and Zane (Waterman) gave us great minutes offensively. Zane Waterman, if he can start understanding our defense, he's going to be a terrific player here, as is Calvin. For freshmen to come into this environment, I'm very, very happy with them."

Manhattan was led by Emmy Andujar, whose 20 points tied Siena's Lavon Long for the game high. The Jaspers also received 14 points from Shane Richards, 13 from Ashton Pankey, and 10 from RaShawn Stores, as the quartet of starters joined Williams to give Manhattan five double-digit scorers for the first time since January 10, when the Jaspers posted an 84-75 win over Niagara.

The game was close throughout, with Manhattan leading 43-41 at halftime and trading baskets with the Saints (8-12, 5-6) for most of the evening. Long's layup with 11:40 remaining in regulation put Siena ahead 59-58, but it was the last advantage the reigning CBI champions would enjoy, as Andujar's basket 23 seconds later started a 9-2 Jasper run that gave Manhattan control the rest of the way while the Saints lost Javion Ogunyemi and Marquis Wright to foul trouble.

"We continue to get better," Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos remarked after five of his own players posted double-figure point totals, "but there's a few things we can't do, some basic things we've got to keep working on."

Following the win for the Jaspers, their second straight to offset a two-game losing streak suffered at the hands of Rider and Quinnipiac, Masiello offered yet another honest outlook on his team's state of mind as Manhattan heads down the Garden State Parkway on Sunday for their second meeting with Monmouth in an eight-day span.

"I think we're a little behind," he offered when asked if the Jaspers were where he thought they might be at this point in the season. "You guys keep talking about everyone else. Forget about us. We don't want any praise now. We know where we need to be come March, and we will be there."

Rider 58, Saint Peter's 49: 10 Takeaways

Kevin Baggett and Rider started second half of MAAC season with win at Saint Peter's. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Some takeaways and nuggets from Rider's 58-49 win at Saint Peter's, the 14th of the season for the Broncs and eighth in MAAC play:

- Junior Fortunat was a key off the bench. The senior, who contributed nine points in 15 minutes, provided Kevin Baggett with some much-needed insurance in relief of an ineffective Matt Lopez, who was limited to eight points and seven rebounds. "Junior really ignited us," Baggett said of his Canadian forward, "and I wanted to stay and reward him for that. I just rode the hot hand."

- The low-scoring affair, which showcased Rider's ownership of the MAAC's best defensive efficiency, was something the coaching staff anticipated. "These guys are really good defensively," Baggett complimented toward Saint Peter's. "We knew this wasn't going to be an easy game by no means. We talked about just needing to sit down and defend, and I thought we did a great job of doing that."

- On what he learned from the rematch with John Dunne's Peacocks, Baggett said: "I continue to learn from this team that they find ways to win, they continue to pull for each other and grit it out."

- When reminded of Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore's assessment earlier this month that the MAAC race consisted of "Iona and everyone else," Baggett offered an honest rebuttal. "I think there are a number of teams that have a chance to win," he admitted, "and I think we're one of those teams. Obviously, we lost to Iona twice, so we won't have the chance to meet up with those guys until the tournament, so the only thing we can do is take it game by game and control whatever we can control."

- In the midst of a 10-3 run to close out the game, Rider received a favorable momentum swing when Shawn Valentine was fouled hard by Elias Desport, a play that lead official Jeff Anderson correctly ruled an intentional foul. giving Valentine two foul shots; of which he made both, and the ensuing possession to the Broncs, who iced the game at the free throw line to offset a 19-for-30 effort to an extent. "Shawn stepping up and making those free throws really swung it our way," Baggett said of the clutch foul shots.

- Even after overcoming a suffocating Rider defense enough to where his team could impose its own style and dictate the tempo for most of the second half, John Dunne had mixed feelings about what turned out to be a narrow defeat. "I thought we had great energy," he said. "Throughout 40, (minutes) we really tried to sit down and guard, but ultimately down the stretch, they got a bunch of paint scorers under the basket, and we just need to do a better job of team defense."

- When comparing Thursday night's result with Saint Peter's first game against Rider, Dunne praised the improvement in effort. "I thought the effort was much better than it was down there," he stated. "We just gave way too many easy baskets the first time around. Rider's a very good team, they're definitely in the top third of our league."

- To match Kevin Baggett's view that the MAAC is more than just Iona, Dunne countered by saying: "We can beat anybody on any given night. We've just got to learn to have a little more poise at the end of games."

- The matchup of stars ultimately became a war of attrition, as after Rider held Marvin Dominique and Desi Washington to a combined 16 points, Saint Peter's responded by limiting the Broncs' two leading scorers; Lopez and Jimmie Taylor, to just ten total markers.

- While Rider (14-8, 8-3 MAAC) heads to Albany to face Siena on Monday, Saint Peter's (10-12, 4-7) has a much shorter turnaround, playing their second game in three days this Saturday, when the Peacocks take on Iona at the Hynes Center. The showdown with the Gaels will be the first meeting between the schools since February 12 of last year, when Saint Peter's battled back from an 11-point deficit by tying the game in improbable fashion before A.J. English's three-pointer with seven-tenths of a second remaining in regulation allowed the Gaels to escape. "We just have to have that mentality that we're going to go in with confidence," Dunne cautioned, "and that we're going to do the things that help us win. It's a quick turnaround, they have a whole week's rest to our one day. It's not going to be easy, but at the end of the day, man, we've just got to strap up and play."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

MAAC Midpoint: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

Tim Cluess and Iona own MAAC's top offensive efficiency. (Photo courtesy of NBC Sports)

A look at the MAAC with a tempo-free breakdown. Halfway through the regular season Iona has established themselves as a front runner in several areas. Conference games are computed with numbers courtesy of bbstate.com, and the efficiency margin subtracts the defensive from the offensive efficiency:

Efficiency Margin:
1) Iona, 12
2) Canisius, 9
3) Rider, 8
4) Monmouth, 6
5) Manhattan, 2
6) Saint Peter's, 1
7) Quinnipiac, 0
8) Fairfield (-3)
9) Siena (-5)
10) Niagara (-13)
11) Marist (-14)

Best Offenses:
1) Iona (112 offensive efficiency)
2) Canisius (104)
3) Siena (101)

Top Defenses:
1) Rider (90 defensive efficiency)
2) Monmouth (94)
T-3) Canisius/Quinnipiac (95)

Fastest Pace: Iona, 72 possessions per game

Most Deliberate: Saint Peter's, 63.6 possessions per game

Notes: Siena has an above average offense. The defense's 106 efficiency is below average, and is what plagues Jimmy Patsos & company. 

Iona pushes the pace, yet cares for the ball with a better than average 17% turnover rate. The Gaels also knock those shots down on offense with a MAAC leading 58% eFG perentage. Canisius is next at 51%.

Offenses strive to keep the turnover rate below 20%. Only five MAAC schools have succeeded so far:

1) Canisius (16.5% TO rate)
2) Iona (16.6)
3) Monmouth (18)
4) Saint Peter's (18)
5) Fairfield (19.8)

Who forces the most turnovers? Monmouth, with a 22% defensive TO rate. As much as you want to keep your offense under 20%, you aspire to get opponents to cough up the ball one fifth of their possessions (20%), or more.

The runner-up is Iona, at 21.9%, another main reason Tim Cluess’ club is so effective and dangerous to face.

Rider gives up the least points in conference 61.6 points per game. The beauty of tempo free is the illustration we get seeing their 90 defensive efficiency and a 39% defensive eFG mark. The best indicators of their excellent defense.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

DePaul 64, Seton Hall 60: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

NEWARK, NJ ­- Home games are extremely valuable. You are playing in friendly confines, know your surroundings, and have a general confident feeling. Taking advantage of your home court is a priority. Coaches talk about ‘stealing one on the road.’ In a way, a road victory is a theft. Teams expect to win at home. If the visiting team gets the 'W,' there is a feeling, not of shock, but certainly of surprise in the result.

On Thursday, DePaul exited the Prudential Center with one of those road wins, a come-from-behind 64-60 effort against Seton Hall. It was especially pleasing for coach Oliver Purnell. His Blue Demons came from eight down with under six minutes to play to earn this one.

Seton Hall had the lost feeling. It wasn’t just a case of failing to execute at key juncture in the stretch, not just in coming up short. The hurt centered on the realization the opportunity to seal the deal was thrown away. Protecting the home ‘turf’ was not realized.

Coaches will tell you in conference, not just the Big East, the formula is to win those home games and ‘steal’ a few on the road. Having lost at home for the second time this season in conference play, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard sensed the seriousness of the situation. Willard remarked following the DePaul contest, “we go on the road for a few games and have to figure out a way to win.” Much easier said than done.

The Seton Hall huddle, a crowded place during a timeout:
Much like the movies, popcorn is popular at "The Rock":
Jaren Sina of Seton Hall looks for an opening:
Anthony Marotta, better known as "Flag Man" entertains during the under-8 timeout in the second half:
Shooting a pressure-packed free throw into the midst of a vocal crowd:
The Seton Hall dance team, the Sapphires, pose with fans postgame:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Even in his finest hour, Krzyzewski exudes selfless class

Mike Krzyzewski celebrates with his players after Duke defeated St. John's for his 1,000th career win. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

Even after reaching yet another height in his sport that no man before him had previously achieved, Mike Krzyzewski paused to soak it in.

"I'm not sure if I've ever been part of a game like that," the Hall of Fame coach reflected moments after his Duke team, the latest in a long line of memorable Krzyzewski-coached squads, wrapped up a 77-68 win over St. John's inside a sold-out Madison Square Garden to give the man known simply as "Coach K" his unprecedented 1,000th career win. "That's kind of nuts, huh?"

What is really "nuts," to anyone who knows college basketball and its rich history, is just how much Krzyzewski has meant to the fabric of the sport, how much one can simply listen to him speak and come away with an increased knowledge of not just the game of basketball, but one of life as well. Whether a Duke fan or not, everyone knows Coach K, and the majority have a respect for him that is as wide-ranging as career victory total that now encompasses four figures. The players may cause grief, the perceived favoritism among officials may be bewildering, but the one constant at the end of the day remains Krzyzewski, a beacon of doing it the right way more often than not.

So it was, then, that even after Duke built an 11-point lead in the first half, only for St. John's to respond with a run that put them up by 10 midway through the second half, that Krzyzewski; the relentless competitor and master tactician, won the game the right way, by outsmarting his counterpart. When the Blue Devils went to the 2-3 zone defense they stymied Louisville with eight days ago, St. John's had no answer. Steve Lavin's undisciplined team became helpless, and there was Duke to capitalize, closing the game on a 26-7 run to turn 19,812 in midtown Manhattan into Durham north, with Krzyzewski receiving big, well-deserved hugs from everyone on the bench in the final seconds.

But where some might expect Krzyzewski to bask in the moment, he instead heaped praise on Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones, both of whom were instrumental in shoring up the Duke defense down the stretch. He went out of his way to complement St. John's, against whom he swore he may come up short for the majority of the day.

"I'm honored. Don't get me wrong," Coach K conceded when reflecting on the significance of what has come to be routine in his 40 years in the sport, first at West Point; where he played for Bob Knight, who he surpassed in the Garden ironically enough, to stand atop the mountain in 2011, and later, the last 35 years in Durham. "I like my place, Cameron, (Indoor Stadium) but this is a magical place, and we beat a really good team and a storied program."

Such magic was evident from the opening tip, when Duke and St. John's fans alike had their turns cheering the proceedings at hand. When Krzyzewski employed the zone defense, the fever pitch built. When Duke regained the lead on Quinn Cook's three-pointer with 5:41 to play, it reached a crescendo. Finally, as Tyus Jones, the forgotten freshman at times in a starting five featuring likely No. 1 NBA Draft pick Jahlil Okafor and fellow rookie sensation Justise Winslow, stepped beyond the arc and drilled a left corner trifecta, the roof was blown off the "Mecca" of college basketball. The buzz was contagious, and not lost on the unwilling center of attention, one who grew tired of the hoopla as this afternoon drew closer, deflecting the spotlight to his players and his deputies.

"I share today with all of my (former) players and assistants," Krzyzewski humbly stated. "My team is happy."

"Energy is not a matter of age," the coach; who turns 68 on February 13, continued. "It's a matter of commitment to your position, to what you do. As long as I do it, I'm going to bring energy, you know? And I want the people around me to give me energy, too."

On this night, Michael William Krzyzewski has enough energy to last a lifetime.

In fact, a thousand lifetimes, one for each of his victories that appears effortless, yet only reinforces the richness that this sport cultivates.

For Fordham, first step to respectability may be starting over

Now 5-12 more than halfway through his fifth season, Tom Pecora faces a hotter seat than ever before at Fordham. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

It has been said that things have to get worse in some cases before they can get better.

Through four different coaches and a program that has not seen an NCAA Tournament in over two decades, Fordham University is experiencing the rigors of that old adage firsthand.

The Rams' latest setback, a 79-59 loss to George Washington Thursday evening on a night marked by the celebration of Rose Hill Gym's 90th year of existence and the return of ESPN personality Tony Reali to his alma mater, was the sixth straight for Fordham, who had won their last two nonconference games just to get to one game under .500 in a non-league schedule the Rams had no business completing with a losing record, yet inexcusable home losses to UMass Lowell; in just its second year at the Division I level, and Maryland Eastern Shore, veered the ship off course. Now winless in six attempts in Atlantic 10 play, which continues on Wednesday when the Rams host Dan Hurley's Rhode Island team that has aspirations of crashing a postseason party the likes of which the only members of the Fordham fan base are familiar with are those born before the Reagan administration, the questions for the administration and head coach begin to multiply, and justifiably so after dropping to 5-12 on the year.

At 39-97 since arriving from Hofstra in 2010, Tom Pecora, a very affable and personable man on and off the basketball court to any and all who both cover him and simply know him, has done little; at least on paper, to rectify what had been a blazing fire burning before he came over the Whitestone Bridge and into the Bronx. To make matters worse, the already steep slope in the A-10 has only become more slippery for Fordham. While nearly everyone else in the conference, including newcomer Davidson; just six months removed from their status as Southern Conference emigres, has made strides to bolster their standing in one of the nation's best conferences on an annual basis, the Rams have fell backward, in essence, furthering what has amounted to a bottomless pit from which the program could not recover under Pecora's predecessors, Dereck Whittenburg and Bob Hill. What was viewed as a two or three-alarm conflagration on Fordham Road and Third Avenue has now become a colossal inferno, with Pecora's stubbornness to adapt to his new talent now bordering on negligence that lies scattered among the rubble.

"It was nice to be in here," Pecora said when recounting how Fordham rallied in vain to draw closer to George Washington. "We need a crowd supporting us and making some noise, and us getting a homecourt advantage."

Fordham has had crowds like the one Pecora described Thursday night, and has drawn such galleries on several occasions, win or lose. In addition to the high-profile meetings with St. John's and Butler over the years at Rose Hill, the Rams have also attracted sellout crowds for tilts with A-10 rivals Dayton and Massachusetts, even geographic adversary Manhattan for the annual Battle of the Bronx. Yet, Pecora, and to a lesser extent, assistant coach Tom Parrotta, have taken fans to task for not showing up, both in press conferences and even on the Rams' flagship radio station, WFUV. 

However, impassioned speeches can only go so far when relied upon as motivators. Eventually, some measured success that can resonate outside the program, in terms of wins and losses, will be what defines fan support. Look no further than Seton Hall. Left seemingly for dead by its fan base and the media following the dismissal of Bobby Gonzalez in 2010, Kevin Willard struggled to bring the program back to the forefront of national attention, and attendance at the Prudential Center suffered as a result, but wins over local programs such as St. John's and Rutgers, not to mention a thrilling overtime victory against fifth-ranked Villanova and a 10-2 record going into Big East play, have swelled the number of patrons in Newark to well over 7,000, with the aforementioned Villanova game drawing a count of 10,701. Of course, the argument for a larger arena and greater fan base will ultimately win out, but the point here is this, like "Field of Dreams" advised so eloquently 26 years ago: If you build it, it will come. Pecora has the foundation in talent such as Eric Paschall, Jon Severe, Mandell Thomas, Ryan Rhoomes and Christian Sengfelder, but has lacked the ability to apply the finishing touches.

"I just thought we were outclassed," Pecora went on to add Thursday night, mentioning how George Washington's John Kopriva; who took a visit to Fordham while he was being recruited, "killed our big guys, and that was unacceptable." 

What is unacceptable is not taking advantage of a dynamic forward who could be an all-conference player for four years and giving him the green light to take ill-advised three-pointers more often than a player of Paschall's caliber should. What is unacceptable is finding ways to lose on a schedule loaded with mounds of opportunities to win early and build momentum for conference play, only for the slate to later be categorized as "brutal." What is unacceptable is throwing upperclassmen under the bus for not motivating younger talent as much as the head coach is compensated to do, something that occurred way too often with Branden Frazier when the Brooklyn guard; who will go down in Fordham history as perhaps one of the more underappreciated players in its storied annals, did not deserve to be lambasted for his Herculean efforts in attempting to raise the Titanic. What is unacceptable is a once-proud athletic and academic institution becoming a revolving door of a basketball program, with more transfers out in the current coach's tenure than the team has road Atlantic 10 wins in the same five-season span.

"In this league, the seventh-ranked league in America," Pecora intimated Thursday night, "you cannot go out and just go through the motions. If you don't bring your game, and you're not mentally and physically prepared to go after it on the highest level, then youth is not an excuse anymore. I have to get them old, and I have to get them wise."

Sadly, "going through the motions" might just be the most accurate description of Fordham basketball over the past few months. Those who cover Pecora regularly can see that his coaching has evolved, particularly between the end of last season and beginning of the current year, from an effort to salvage a talent-laden roster and build upon it, to a man who sees the writing on the wall, one who is perhaps just starting to realize that the game and its shortcuts to success are beginning to put him a lap down on the racetrack that is college basketball.

Tom Pecora is a person who, by all accounts, deserves the respect to be addressed and evaluated fairly, and he has been in this space for the duration of his five years at Fordham. What is fair is that he defends himself, maybe not always with the most appealing expectations, to any questions he has been asked over the years, of which there are enough to rival the O.J. Simpson trial. However, what is not fair is what those who actually do pay to see and support this program are being subjected to, with no guarantee that things will change in the foreseeable future. What is not fair is players who have legitimate futures in basketball, whether in this country or not, and players who are among the best in their conference, being deprived of the chance to win because they are playing for a coach who has not made a strong enough effort to. What is not fair for Pecora is that any success this program benefits from will be too little, too late, but that problem is one of the coach's own creation.

Things have gotten worse for Fordham compared to even two and three years ago. If results and scenes such as those of the Rams' last six losses are any indication, then it might be time for a change. Nothing against Tom Pecora as a person, but as a coach, it seems as though he has reached the end of his road. 

In order for things to begin getting better, maybe the first step would be to make a change in leadership. That would at least be a start.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

St. John's 60, Marquette 57, and St. Francis Brooklyn 63, CCSU 51: Ray Floriani's Photo Essay

New York City­ - The first time is truly exciting. Walking through the employee entrance, taking the elevator and continuing down the halls graced with memorabilia quickens the pulse. Walking onto the Madison Square Garden floor, it is difficult, make that impossible, not to notice the banners hanging from the rafters.

On Wednesday, Central Connecticut made its first Garden appearance facing St. Francis Brooklyn in a night cap. The opening game had two ‘regulars’ in Marquette and St. John’s. Regardless, wide-eyed first timer or seasoned veteran, to a player and coach they will tell you the Garden never gets old. The ‘Mecca of basketball,’ it has been called.

St. John’s won the opener 60-­57. In the 9:30 meeting, St. Francis prevailed 63-­51. Once the ball goes up, the focus is on the game. The ebbs and flows, changes in momentum, the coaches and players making adjustments with their focus on the opposition and game itself. At the end, once the final buzzer sounds, there is the reflection of having played in a hallowed arena.

In the end it is always special to get the opportunity, maybe it should be called the blessing, to be able to walk on the Garden floor and compete. Yes, the feeling and excitement never gets old.


Press row at the Garden. From left to right: Greg Logan, (Newsday) Roger Rubin, (New York Daily News) and Howie Kussoy of the New York Post. Behind them is Matt Velazquez, who covers Marquette for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Former St. John's shortstop Joe Panik, now the starting second baseman for the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants, holds the World Series trophy aloft on the Garden floor. While at St. John's, Jaden Daly had the honor of broadcasting Joe's games. (Photo courtesy of Vinny Dusovic via St. John's University athletic communications)
St. John's coach Steve Lavin discusses a point during halftime:
St. John's on the attack, looking for an opening in the defense:
Central Connecticut coach Howie Dickenman studies the action:
Despite the setback, the CCSU dance team and cheer squad enjoyed performing at MSG, and posed at center court after the game:
St. Francis Brooklyn's Brent Jones, coach Glenn Braica and Jalen Cannon meet the media:

"The Rebound" with Q30 Sports

The great Jon Alba of Q30 in Hamden, Connecticut was gracious enough to invite yours truly to join him and his award-winning staff after Quinnipiac defeated Manhattan last night by the final of 73-59. After having Jon on my halftime show when calling the game for Manhattan radio, I was more than happy to return the favor.

DePaul 64, Seton Hall 60: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

The Seton Hall cheerleaders entertain during Pirates' matchup with DePaul. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

Newark, NJ ­- Road wins are valuable. In the Big East, they are treasured commodities. DePaul came from behind late to post a big 64-60 win over Seton Hall at the Prudential Center on Thursday, The pace and efficiency:

Possessions: DePaul 72, Seton Hall 71
Offensive efficiency: DePaul 90, Seton Hall 83

The Four Factors:
eFG%: DePaul 40, Seton Hall 31
FT Rate: Seton Hall 58, DePaul 54
OREB%: Seton Hall 43, DePaul 35
TO Rate: Seton Hall 21, DePaul 20

What DePaul did well: Not fold when down eight with under six minutes to play. You can’t measure will to win and heart, but that went a long way toward a big road win. In measurable terms, the Blue Demons forced the Hall into a 21% TO rate which translated into a 19-14 advantage in points off turnovers, a factor in what ended as a two-possession game.

What Seton Hall did well: Rebound. The Pirates had a 43-35 edge in OREB%. They led in second chance points, 22-6. Angel Delgado was a significant reason with a game high 19 boards, eight on the offensive end.

Leading scorers:
DePaul: Myke Henry, 14
Seton Hall: Angel Delgado, 19

Efficiency leaders:
DePaul: Billy Garrett, 14
Seton Hall: Angel Delgado, 31

Delgado shot 7-of-11 from the floor, the lone Pirate to shoot over 50% from the field. Sterling Gibbs struggled. The Seton Hall guard scored 8 points, shot 3-of-16 from the floor, picked up a technical foul and had a minus-­6 efficiency. Simply, a tough night.

Free throw rates as noted in the Four Factors, were on the astronomical side. Teams did not take full advantage. DePaul shot 19-of-33, (58%) Seton Hall was 23-for-35. (66%) A total of 55 fouls were whistled, 29 against DePaul and 26 for the Pirates.

Rashaun Stimage of DePaul shot 2-of-7 from the line. He did hit 4-of-8 from the field for 10 points, seven rebounds and several big plays in the stretch, the type that secure hotly contested road games like these.

DePaul is now 5-2 in conference play. Seton Hall falls to 3-3.

“Belief. We have been in situations like this before. Our guys just have a belief in themselves, they will get it done.” -­ DePaul coach Oliver Purnell

“When we had that (eight-point lead) late, we rushed a few shots early in the possession. That can change things quickly.” -­ Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard

St. John's 60, Marquette 57: Ray Floriani's Intro to Offensive Efficiency

Steve Wojciechowski addresses the media after his Marquette team was narrowly defeated by St. John's. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

New York City­ - The first order of the day regarding St. John’s 60­-57 victory over Marquette: The pace and efficiency from Wednesday’s Madison Square Garden contest:

Pace: 62 possessions (deliberate to moderate)
Offensive efficiency: St. John's 97, Marquette 92

A new metric to discuss: OE or offensive efficiency. First, the formula:

OE = FGM + A/ FGA – OREB + A + TO

Let’s try that on Wednesday’s leading scorers:

Marquette, Matt Carlino (21 points)

FG 6
FGA 14 
OREB 1
A 2
TO 4


OE: .421

St. John’s had Sir'Dominic Pointer and Rysheed Jordan tie for top scoring honors with 15 points each. The numbers:

Pointer:
FG 7
FGA 13
OREB 5
A 6
TO 2


OE: .813

Jordan:
FG 5
FGA 11
OREB 1
A 3
TO 3


OE: .500

What does it all mean? In their recent work, Basketball Analytics (2013 Advanced Metrics, LLC) authors Stephen M. Shea and Christopher E. Baker devised offensive efficiency (OE). “We believe efficient players make for efficient teams, and efficient teams win,” the authors wrote. They felt the formula should be relatively simple, yet significant. “OE should intelligently measure quality of offensive production.” The authors felt ‘gunners’, those taking too many poor shots, should be penalized. Free throws and three pointers are not influencing OE. The main objective, as Shea and Baker noted is, “even though OE will not measure quantity of points scored, OE should be a good predictor of wins at the team level.”

The numbers and their ‘worth’: You achieve a higher OE by making shots, grabbing offensive boards and handing out assists. OE is affected in a negative way by missing shots and committing turnovers. The authors felt a 1.00 is equal to a 100 percent efficiency for an individual. NBA statistics for 2012-­13 revealed a .700 or more as excellent. Conversely, under .400 is poor. Between .400 and .700 encompasses an acceptable level.

The three players studied in the St. John’s-­Marquette game show Pointer with an outstanding OE. Shooting over 50%, grabbing five offensive rebounds and six assists against two turnovers were contributing factors. Jordan secured just one offensive rebound while breaking even in assists and turnovers with three each. 

Marquette’s Matt Carlino had low numbers. The 6-of-14 from the floo and four turnovers compared to two assists brought down his OE. In defense of the Marquette graduate transfer guard, he was the ‘A’ option a good part of the evening, and his five treys almost pulled it out. He was not a ‘gunner’ in the selfish sense. The shots were dropping for a good part of the second half, so his ‘number’ was called. The efficiency suffered to the point where another couple of field goals wouldn’t help the final number too much. The added baskets might have given Steve Wojciechowski’s team a valuable road win, which would have been a very agreeable trade-off.

St. Francis Brooklyn 63, CCSU 51: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

The CCSU dance team poses at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

New York City­ - The dean of Northeast Conference coaches, Howie Dickenman, brought his Central Connecticut team to New York for their first game on the storied Garden floor. The result was a competitive effort in a 63­-51 loss to first-place St. Francis Brooklyn. The pace and efficiency:

Possessions: 59, given both schools brought dance teams, we’ll call this tempo a waltz.
Offensive efficiency: St. Francis 107, CCSU 86

The Four Factors:
eFG%: St. Francis 56, CCSU 46
FT Rate: St. Francis 26, CCSU 18
OREB%: CCSU 32, St. Francis 26
TO Rate: CCSU 27, St. Francis 17

What CCSU did well: Shoot beyond the arc. The Blue Devils hit 7-of-17 from downtown for a 41% rate. Their two point shooting was 38% on 12-of-32 attempts. Leading scorer Matt Mobley epitomized the performance, hitting 4-of-8 deep and just 2-of-7 inside the arc.

What St. Francis did well: Force turnovers while caring for the ball on their end. The Terriers imposed their defensive will, especially after halftime. They forced CCSU into a high 27% TO rate while outscoring them 20­-6 on points off turnovers. Glenn Braica’s club committed only 10 turnovers for an impressive 17% rate.

Leading scorers:
CCSU: Matt Mobley, 17 points
St. Francis: Brent Jones, 22 points

Efficiency leaders:
CCSU: Brandon Peel, 12
St. Francis: Brent Jones, 24

Peel scored eight points while adding a game high 10 rebounds. Mobley of CCSU was hindered by 6-of-15 shooting. Besides 22 points, Jones had a game high 6 assists against one turnover. Jalen Cannon added 15 points for St. Francis. Cannon shot 7-of-11, adding six boards en route at a 20 efficiency that trailed only teammate Jones in that category. In a game with 14 lead changes, St. Francis showed their inside prowess with a 36-­22 edge in points in the paint. The Terriers shot just 2-of-11 (18%) from three-point range.

CCSU dropped to 0­-7 in NEC play. St. Francis leads the conference at 6­-1.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seton Hall 107, DePaul 87: Ray Floriani's Tempo-Free Analysis

The fabulous Seton Hall dance team, the Sapphires. (Photo courtesy of Ray Floriani)

South Orange, NJ - The 107-87 victory posted by Seton Hall over DePaul on Sunday was significant on a few fronts. It was a single game record for the Seton Hall women. It also gave the Pirates first place in the Big East. It was the type game with a number of statistical worthy of a closer look. The pace and efficiency:

Possessions: Seton Hall 89, DePaul 88
Offensive efficiency: Seton Hall 120, DePaul 99

The Four Factors:
EFG: DePaul 47, Seton Hall  63
FT Rate: DePaul 21, Seton Hall 44
OREB Pct.: DePaul 24, Seton Hall 44
TO Rate: DePaul 14, Seton Hall 23

What DePaul did well: Force turnovers and care for the ball. Normally, a team that takes good care of the ball and does not turn it over frequently, Seton Hall was guilty of 20 turnovers and a 23% rate. The Blue Demons capitalized with a 21-13 edge in points off turnovers. On offense, Doug Bruno’s club showed an admirable 14% TO rate.

What Seton Hall did well: Shoot the ball well, from in close and downtown. The eFG rate of 63% was largely due to a white hot 11 of 21 (52%) from beyond the arc. In the paint, the Pirates outscored DePaul 50-24. 

Leading scorers: 
DePaul, Megan Podkowa (18 points)
Seton Hall, Tabatha Richardson-Smith (35 points)

Efficiency leaders: 
DePaul, Megan Podkowa  (25)
Seton Hall, Tabatha Richardson-Smith (39)

Ka-Deidre Simmons of Seton Hall had a 34 efficiency, a line including 28 points, 11 assists and only 4 turnovers were largely contributing numbers. Chanise Jenkins of DePaul had an 18 efficiency. Her five steals and six assists were highlights. The six turnovers, not as much. 

All around, Richardson-Smith’s performance included 6-of-12 shooting from three and a game high 15 rebounds, which included another game high, five on the offensive board.

Defense. This is why tempo-free is so valuable. Seton Hall gave up 87 points and still did a decent job on the defensive end. Check the efficiency. DePaul had a 99 on offense. A 100 is the cutoff. You want your offense to break the century mark and defense to keep opponents under it. Mission accomplished for Tony Bozzella’s group.

Brittany Hrynko took almost 25 percent of DePaul’s 81 shots. Hrynko scored 11 on the game, but the fine senior guard for the Blue Demons had a subpar 4-of-20 shooting from the field.

DePaul is 13-6, and 5-2 in the Big East. Seton Hall is now 17-2 and 6-1 in the Big East. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pointer stuffs stat sheet as St. John's squeaks by Marquette

Sir'Dominic Pointer dominated Marquette, with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 blocks in Red Storm's 60-57 win over Golden Eagles at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)

It was a game St. John's needed to win after a start to Big East play that saw the Red Storm lose four of its first five conference games, and after a rough stretch for their senior X-factor Sir'Dominic Pointer, the stakes were just as important for the Detroit native.

As fate would have it, the Swiss army knife of a swingman that his head coach has referred to as a "WD-40 player" provided the biggest spark.

Pointer, in perhaps his season-defining performance, carved up Marquette for 15 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and a team-high six blocked shots as St. John's (13-5, 2-4 Big East) survived a tenuous second half to defeat the Golden Eagles (10-8, 2-4) for the second straight season at Madison Square Garden, doing so tonight by the final of 60-57.

"I thought Pointer had a magnificent game," Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski assessed after the senior salvaged a rare off night from his teammate D'Angelo Harrison, who managed only 11 points while shooting 3-for-18 from the field. "He was the key to their win, he did everything."

"It always feels better to win than (to) lose," said Pointer himself after his role in the Red Storm victory. "Going into a good league 1-5 is not good, so we just needed a win to get back on the winning track."

A first half in which St. John's took a 26-24 lead into the locker room harkened back to the old-school, knock-down, drag-out slugfests the Big East came to be defined by over the years, and a Harrison three-pointer from the top of the key opened the scoring out of the intermission. Soon after, however, Marquette responded with a 19-6 run featuring four consecutive threes from Matt Carlino, whose 21 points led all scorers. The graduate transfer's final trifecta, with 12:56 remaining in a game the Golden Eagles led at that point by a count of 43-35, proved to be his last field goal of the night after Steve Lavin made a switch to put Pointer on the sharpshooter after Carlino had made Harrison chase him up and down the Madison Square Garden floor.

"Carlino didn't score on him," Lavin stated with regard to Pointer's suffocating defense. "He just shut his water off when we made that switch."

St. John's countered the Marquette run with a 17-7 spurt of their own to regain the lead, as Harrison's third trey of the night put the Red Storm ahead 52-50 with 4:49 to play. The Golden Eagles would regain the lead soon after, but four straight points from Pointer swung the edge back in favor of the home team, where it would stay for the duration of the game. Marquette pulled within one on a Duane Wilson layup inside the final minute before Harrison and Carlino traded free throws in the waning seconds. Trailing 58-57, Marquette's defense broke down as Phil Greene ran down the floor for a breakaway dunk to put the Red Storm ahead by three. The Golden Eagles had one final chance to tie, but Carlino's heave from the head of the arc bounced off the rim and into the hands of Harrison, who sealed a much-needed win.

"To be able to win when D'Angelo is 3-for-18 is a good thing," Lavin advised. "It was another Big East battle. I was pleased that we were able to find a win and manufacture a 'W.'"

After the victory, St. John's now sets its sights on fifth-ranked Duke, who visits the Garden Sunday afternoon in search of Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski's 1,000th career win. The leader of the Red Storm, though gracious as always, remained strictly business when looking ahead to his team's next challenge.

"No one has more respect than me for Mike Krzyzewski and the career he's had," said Lavin of college basketball's winningest mentor, before cautioning this:

"Come Sunday, St. John's wants to win. We want to beat Duke. It's on our home court, and we need a 'W.'"