Thursday, August 11, 2016

Breaking down Fordham's non-conference schedule

Joseph Chartouny guides Fordham into another non-conference season with potential to exceed last year, when he won Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors. (Photo by Alan Kelly/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

In his first season as head coach at Fordham, Jeff Neubauer's impact on the Rams was profound enough to where they reached the postseason for the first time since 1992, winning 17 games in the process and making the five years of Tom Pecora look more like a reign of error than any point in the beleaguered boss' tenure at Rose Hill.

A big part of the rapid turnaround was a non-conference schedule that positioned the Rams for several winnable games early in the season, an opportunity Fordham capitalized on by finishing its first two months of competition 9-2 before winning eight games in Atlantic 10 play and finishing eighth, something that had not been achieved under the prior regime.

This season provides more of the same, with the Rams' non-league ledger featuring many chances for victories in November and December, even if the low RPI numbers have caused some criticism from the local media.

"We have made an effort to strengthen our non-conference schedule," said Neubauer in defense to his philosophy. "All four of our road games are against potential Top 100 opponents, which will be beneficial to us once we start Atlantic 10 play."

A 13-game slate, headlined by eight home tilts at Rose Hill Gym that include three contested as part of a tournament Fordham is hosting, serves as the appetizer before the A-10 schedule kicks in after the calendar turns to 2017. We break down each opponent the Rams will face before then, offering a deeper preview to Neubauer's second campaign in the Bronx, which long-suffering Fordham fans hope is an equally successful encore.

Friday, November 11 at East Tennessee State: The Buccaneers are the sole Top 100 RPI team on the non-conference schedule at the present moment, finishing in the No. 83 spot in those rankings a year ago. Second-year head coach Steve Forbes loses Cincinnati expatriate Ge'Lawn Guyn in the backcourt, but brings in another high-major transfer to take his place in former Indiana big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who should step right in and become one of the leading scorers on a team who won 24 games and competed in the inaugural Vegas 16 last year. Point guard T.J. Cromer (14.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game) returns for his senior season to anchor the ETSU offense, with sixth man Desonta Bradford expected to slide into Guyn's spot in the starting lineup. Up front, 6-foot-7 senior Isaac Banks; who averaged six points and six rebounds per game in 23 minutes last year, should be a double-double threat with the increased playing time alongside Mosquera-Perea.

Monday, November 14 vs. NYIT: The Bears won only three games last season, but that did not scare Fordham away, as the Rams will host a Division II opponent in their home opener for the second consecutive season. Sophomore forward Jeffrey Hayden was limited to just 13 games as a rookie, but his 15.7 points per game solidify his status as NYIT's top returning scorer. Senior forward Kachi Nzerem should improve upon his 11 points per game last season.

Friday, November 18 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights will not be taking opponents by surprise this season, as they did en route to their storybook Northeast Conference championship run last March. Head coach Greg Herenda's biggest accomplishment with FDU last season was being able to accomplish so much with such a young roster, as both Darian Anderson and Earl Potts Jr.; the two guards responsible for galvanizing the Knights toward their Cinderella finish, are still only juniors this year. Fellow guard Stephan Jiggetts is also a junior, adding furthermore to the optimism in Teaneck. Sophomore Mike Holloway, a pleasant surprise as a rookie last year, should be an all-NEC selection this year, as he is a potent scorer and rebounder who is the perfect bookend to Herenda's four-out, one-in offense.

Saturday, November 19 vs. Saint Peter's: The middle game of Fordham's tournament comes against a program not seen since 1990, when both the Rams and Peacocks were members of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Nevertheless, John Dunne has nowhere to go but up this season, returning four starters and all but one player from last season's breakout group that finished fourth in the MAAC, Saint Peter's highest finish since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2011. Senior point guard Trevis Wyche may very well be the most underrated ball handler in the area, and could be a first team all-MAAC selection if he replicates his impressive junior campaign. Sophomore Antwon Portley is a lethal weapon when left unguarded, and Chazz Patterson's perimeter defense will challenge the Rams all day. Down low, Quadir Welton is a force to be reckoned with as he enters his senior season. The Peacocks add to their depth by welcoming three transfers who sat out last year, only cementing their status as one of the best teams Fordham will face before A-10 play begins.

Sunday, November 20 vs. Lipscomb: The Bisons return two of their top three scorers into their backcourt next season, led by junior point guard Nathan Moran, who averaged 12.1 points and 4.6 assists per game. Senior wing Josh Williams (11.7 points per game, 43 percent three-point field goal percentage) completes the pairing as he seeks to make up for lost time after being limited to just 14 games last season. Sophomore guard Garrison Mathews posted nearly 11 points per game as a freshman last season, and should exceed that total for head coach Casey Alexander this year.

Wednesday, November 23 vs. Rider: One of three MAAC teams that the Rams will face, Kevin Baggett; a rumored finalist for the Fordham job two years ago, brings the Broncs into Rose Hill intent on righting the ship from last season's disappointment. Point guard Teddy Okereafor has graduated, but sophomore Kealen Ives has the green light to shine early and often after a freshman season that showed mounds of potential. Ives' partner in the backcourt is the steady hand of Jimmie Taylor, who now reaches his senior season looking to put together a fourth consecutive double-figure scoring campaign. Rider's strength lies within its front line, though, as Kahlil Thomas stands on the precipice of an even bigger breakout than last year's near-double-double average, and Xavier Lundy  is an efficient shot taker that Fordham will need to focus on throughout the night. Southern Mississippi graduate transfer Norville Carey will see immediate minutes for the Broncs as he makes a formidable frontcourt even more imposing.

Saturday, November 26 vs. UT-Arlington: The Mavericks, who narrowly defeated Fordham in the season opener for both teams last year, return the favor by coming to Rose Hill two days after Thanksgiving. All five starters and all six leading scorers come back from a 24-win team that reached the Tournament, including 6-7 forward Kevin Hervey, who averaged 18 points and just under 10 rebounds per contest, despite playing in just 16 games. Junior guard Erick Neal may be the best passer Fordham will face all season, bringing an average of well over six assists per game to the floor alongside shooters Drew Charles and Jalen Jones, who ranked first and second in three-point shooting percentage last season, respectively. Spanish import Jorge Bilbao is a bruising, 6-foot-8 big man who will create opportunities for Hervey to dominate inside, and one that the Rams will wish they had Ryan Rhoomes to defend.

Wednesday, November 30 vs. Sacred Heart: The Pioneers adjust to life without NEC Player of the Year Cane Broome after he transferred to Cincinnati, but sophomore Quincy McKnight will do his best to make sure that Anthony Latina does not have a total rebuild on his hands. Not only are McKnight's 11.4 points per game the top returning total for Sacred Heart, his 68 assists are as well. Guards Chris Robinson and Sean Hoehn will be counted on to provide a greater spark in the lineup, but the key to success in Fairfield will be the development of senior Matej Buovac and 6-foot-10 junior Filip Nowicki.

Saturday, December 3 at Harvard: Tommy Amaker's reign atop the Ivy League came to an end last season, but the Crimson have retooled and are in perfect position to possibly reclaim their throne. First and foremost, incoming freshman Bryce Aiken arrives from The Patrick School as Harvard's best prospect in recent memory, with hype greater than that of Jeremy Lin even AFTER Lin broke into NBA stardom. Amid the youth, 6-foot-9 Zena Edosomwan returns for his senior season, and point guard Siyani Chambers is back after withdrawing from school last year to preserve his final year of eligibility.

Thursday, December 8 at St. John's: The Rams invade Carnesecca Arena for the first time since December 13, 2009, when Jared Grasso led them into battle as interim head coach. Chris Mullin and the Red Storm have some unfinished business to settle after last year's trouncing at Rose Hill, and the frontcourt pair of Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe; the latter of whom debuted against Fordham a year ago, are poised to do even greater things as sophomores. Italian marksman Federico Mussini should be more disciplined this season alongside Marcus Lovett and Shamorie Ponds, a pair of highly touted freshmen that will instantly augment the St. John's backcourt. Tariq Owens, a 6-foot-10 big man, is eligible this season after transferring from Tennessee, adding another cog in Mullin's machine after an 8-24 season that laid the blueprint for improvement in year two.

Saturday, December 10 at Manhattan: The last time Fordham walked into Draddy Gymnasium, they emerged with an unlikely victory against a Manhattan team that ended up in the NCAA Tournament and nearly upset Louisville on that stage. Three years later, the Rams return for the 109th Battle of the Bronx, and will do so against a Jasper squad unlike the injury-ravaged seven-man unit that fought gamely last November. Head coach Steve Masiello finally has his notorious depth back in Riverdale this season, with a slew of guards and forwards to serve as complementary pieces to senior wing Rich Williams and junior forwards Calvin Crawford and Zane Waterman. Remember this name, though: Zavier Turner. The junior point guard sat out after transferring from Ball State last year, and possesses an explosive blend of scoring and quickness that makes him almost unguardable in one-on-one situations. Freshmen NaQuan Council and Aaron Walker will find their way slowly, but surely, by the end of the season.

Sunday, December 18 vs. Rutgers: The Rams return to Madison Square Garden for the Holiday Festival, but this time against the Scarlet Knights and head coach Steve Pikiell, who arrives after 11 seasons at Stony Brook and a long-awaited America East championship. Pikiell faces a tall rebuild just as he did when he began his journey at Stony Brook in 2005, but is undoubtedly the best possible choice Rutgers could have made in shepherding their program to new heights. Sophomore guard Corey Sanders will be a big part of the efforts in Piscataway for better or worse, as will Brooklyn product Mike Williams. Pikiell inherits a cadre of big men during his maiden voyage in the Garden State, led by seven-footer Shaquille Doorson and also including 6-foot-10 Ibrahima Diallo and rugged 6-foot-7 power forward Deshawn Freeman. Freshman Matt Bullock comes from nearby Roselle Catholic, and although somewhat undersized for the forward position, comes in somewhat under the radar in much the same way that fellow Roselle product Jameel Warney did for Pikiell four years ago at Stony Brook before developing into a three-time America East Player of the Year.

Wednesday, December 21 vs, Central Connecticut State: For the first time since 1996, someone other than Howie Dickenman will patrol the sidelines in New Britain, but the Blue Devils turned to a voice of experience and success to replace the local legend, hiring Donyell Marshall for his first head coaching job. Marshall will inject youthful enthusiasm while maintaining the status quo as a branch of the Jim Calhoun tree, and will have senior point guard Khalen Cumberlander back to lead the way. Sophomore guard Austin Nehls will be a viable second option, as will junior Kevin Seymour, but the front line will be a work in progress as rebounder extraordinaire Brandon Peel must be replaced. Mustafa Jones will get the primary share of the boards, but 6-foot-7 senior Tidell Pierre must contribute as much as possible for CCSU to make some headway come NEC season.

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