Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fordham/Boston University Preview

Joe Jones and Boston University serve as Fordham's first postseason opponent since George H. Bush was in White House, as Rams host Terriers in opening round of CIT. (Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Wednesday night, Fordham enters a world not seen around Rose Hill Gymnasium since 1992, as the Rams will host Boston University in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

To put into perspective just how long the gap between Fordham's Patriot League championship and Wednesday's contest has been, consider this: George H. Bush was still President of the United States, Mark Rypien had just quarterbacked the Washington Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XXVI, Mariah Carey was already two albums into a career that would soon define her as one of the greatest recording artists of all time, and Anthony Hopkins was days away from scoring an Academy Award for his performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs."

Boston University comes into the Bronx as no stranger to the postseason world, having been a regular on the March scene in some way, shape, or form over the years, including their America East championship in 2011 before moving into the Patriot League. At 18-14, head coach Joe Jones has the Terriers on the cusp on the Patriot's upper echelon, and a seven-game winning streak late in the regular season; a surge that vaulted BU to the No. 3 seed in the Patriot League tournament, proved the promising future in Beantown was not just optimism.

Wagner transfer Eric Fanning has thrived since coming to the Terriers, and is their leading scorer from the wing position while sophomore Cheddi Mosely and senior marksman John Papale anchor a backcourt that features a rising star in freshman point guard Kyle Foreman. In the paint, sophomore Nick Havener averages more than six points and rebounds per contest in just 21 minutes per game, and senior Nathan Dieudonne is Jones' answer to Ryan Rhoomes. The 6-7 forward averages over ten points and nine rebounds per game, and is the Terriers' primary option down low. SMU expatriate Blaise Mbargorba does not get a huge share of minutes, but when he is on the floor, he is one of the more efficient Terriers, shooting over 58 percent from the floor.

To help get to know Boston University a little better, we resurrect our longtime Fordham tradition of a pregame question and answer session. Joining us to impart some wisdom on the Terriers is Kevin Whitaker, who has done an outstanding job covering BU, and the Ivy League as well, for Big Apple Buckets. His work on that site is highlighted by his trademark shot charts for each game that he covers, which adds a unique touch to his coverage. Here is what Kevin had to say about Fordham's first playoff foe in 24 years:

Jaden Daly: First and foremost, what should we look for from Joe Jones and the Terriers in terms of offensive and defensive philosophies?

Kevin Whitaker: It's hard for me to point to a single 'philosophy' on offense -- they have a lot of options, and they let them play. Their big guys can get points here and there, but they're built around the perimeter and aren't afraid to shoot threes. Late in games, they often go to hero-ball for Eric Fanning, which is honestly pretty effective. Plays out of timeouts are almost always drawn up to get someone (usually John Papale) an open three.

It's sort of similar on defense -- they'll switch back and forth between man and zone based on what's working. They've become a really good shot-blocking team, with two centers approaching seven feet. Joe Jones prefers to play a traditional four and five together, but due to injuries and frequent foul trouble, they sometimes have to slide Fanning up to the four. That makes them really hard to defend, but also much smaller.

JD: Who are the primary options on each side of the ball, and how do they match up with Fordham?

KW: Fanning is the guy on offense -- he was first-team All-Patriot League, averaging 16 ppg in league play. They'll run post-ups or screens for him sometimes, but mostly it's just straight drives from the perimeter, so you need someone to stay in front of him. He has a knack for drawing contact, leading the league in free-throw attempts. Anyone else can be the second-leading scorer any night. Cheddi Mosely is a fearless shooter, and he made some of BUs' biggest shots this year.

On defense, Blaise Mbargorba (6-11) and Dylan Haines (7-0) make life challenging around the rim. The best way to attack them is to pull them away from the basket with stretch fives or ballscreens; they had real issues with defending those early in the season, although they've gotten a bit better. Nathan Dieudonne is a tough guy and a great rebounder, but he missed five games in February with a foot injury and didn't look 100% in the conference tournament.

JD: Both teams feature freshman point guards, with Kyle Foreman matched up with Joseph Chartouny. Is Foreman as much a key to the Terrier offense, and what is the best piece of his skill set?

KW: I don't know what version of Foreman you'll see this week -- he spent most of the year dealing with a lingering foot injury, and then he hurt his ankle late in the season, playing only eight minutes in the first-round loss. He's looked really good as a rookie, but he's not the kind of player to just take over games -- he definitely plays within BU's offense. He's a clever passer (although he committed his share of rookie turnovers), and he has a good sense of when to attack for his own shot. His best skill is probably defense, although maybe not at the moment given the injuries.

JD: Fordham has struggled to defend the three-point shot at times this season, and BU comes in shooting 36 percent from long range. Are the outside shots by design, and if so, how often should we expect to see a reliance on it?

KW: Yes, BU has taken a lot of threes throughout Jones' tenure. John Papale has been a high-volume shooter throughout his four years at BU, and they draw up lots of catch-and-shoot plays for him. Almost all their guards will pull up from NBA range, and Haines regularly steps out for pick-and-pop threes. I think a couple guys (Mosely, Foreman, maybe Fanning) are better true shooters than their percentages this season, but they sometimes settle for not-so-good looks.

JD: Having lost three of their last four since winning 10 of 12, is there a sense that the Terriers may have peaked too early in preparing for the postseason?

KW: It's all about injuries. Cedric Hankerson would have been the team's best player, but he tore his ACL over the summer and only got into one game. Justin Alston was their starting center, but he went down with a broken foot. Only three guys have played every game, and even two of them (Papale and Nick Havener) have been banged up lately. 

They really looked lost when the injuries piled up around mid-December, and got off to a bad start to Patriot League play. The 10-of-12 surprised me -- they had a few close calls in that stretch, but they really started clicking. Given all the injuries, I think they overachieved a bit to get the 3-seed (although their competitors, like Army, had injuries of their own). Everyone in the Patriot League has seen so many weird hot-and-cold runs over the past two seasons, I've pretty much given up trying to read any meaning from them.

JD: With that said, what does BU need to do to win this game?

KW: They need to avoid turnovers, because they can get a little overeager on offense. Avoiding foul trouble would help, although they've been able to deal with it in the past. Mostly they need to make their threes, because it seems they'll get some chances.

JD: Finally, this team's roster is similar to Fordham in the sense that there is a little bit of everything in terms of experience by class. Where do the Terriers shake out in the Patriot League next season, and how much of a jump would be fair to predict?

KW: I think they would have been the best team this year if fully healthy, and they'll look good next year. Hankerson should be back, and I believe Alston is expecting a medical redshirt to return as well. They'll have some questions to work out -- how to share the ball between Hankerson / Fanning / Foreman and replace Papale's off-ball gravity, how to split minutes at center -- but they'll be able to score with anybody. Lehigh will probably be the preseason favorite, with two-time POY Tim Kempton and others returning, but BU should be right with them.

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