Friday, November 24, 2017

Battle of the Bronx Preview: Manhattan vs. Fordham

Zavier Turner, last year's Battle of the Bronx MVP, seeks a second consecutive recognition as Manhattan defends intra-borough bragging rights against Fordham. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/Manhattan College Athletics)

A traditional accompaniment to Thanksgiving in the college basketball world is the glut of prestigious in-season tournaments, with high-profile events such as the Maui Invitational and Battle 4 Atlantis; joined this year by the one-time only Phil Knight Invitational, occupying the public's interest in between spells of food and family. Taking a perch on the schedule alongside the remnants of leftovers and desserts is this year's renewal of one of the oldest New York basketball rivalries, contested by a pair of teams hoping to right the ship after their own November tournament experiences did not go according to plan.

The 110th Battle of the Bronx takes place this Sunday, in a 2 p.m. matinee from historic Rose Hill Gymnasium, marking the second time in three years that the nation's oldest Division I venue has played host to the intra-borough tilt between Fordham and Manhattan, and also signifying the return to true home-and-home competition after the 2014 edition of the series was played at Brooklyn's Barclays Center.

Fordham arrive home with a 1-3 record to their credit, with losses to Florida State and Tulane in the inaugural Jamaica Classic taking the Rams back under .500 following their first and only win of the season against LIU Brooklyn on November 13. Head coach Jeff Neubauer, now in his third season at the helm since replacing Tom Pecora in 2015, has made up for the loss of Javontae Hawkins by getting increased production from senior wing Will Tavares, who leads the team in scoring with an average of just over 16 points per game. Prokop Slanina, a 6-foot-10 forward who can drain an outside shot just as well as he can get rebounds inside, has become a lethal weapon of sorts for the Rams in the interior, and Neubauer's latest overseas diamond in the rough has come to life in the form of Montenegro's Ivan Raut, who connected on seven three-pointers and 21 points against LIU to provide a glimpse of what he can do on the perimeter in Fordham's system, which places a premium on perimeter shooting and value for the basketball. In the backcourt, point guard Joseph Chartouny has continued to be his usual stat-stuffing self, while sophomore newcomer Tre Evans is still getting himself acclimated to his role in the offense.

Across the court, Manhattan returns from the Gulf Coast Showcase at 2-3 on the young season, their three defeats in Florida bringing the Jaspers back to reality, in a sense, after beginning the year with victories on their home floor against St. Francis Brooklyn and Harvard. Rich Williams, who missed the entire season last year due to a torn meniscus, has not missed a beat since reclaiming his place in the starting lineup, leading Manhattan with 18 points and just over five rebounds per game, while fellow senior Calvin Crawford has ramped up his play in his first season as a starter to average a double-figure point total through five contests as well. Head coach Steve Masiello has mixed and matched his reemerging depth through the first two weeks of the year, opting to start Aaron Walker and junior college transfer Pauly Paulicap over the likes of Zane Waterman and Zavier Turner; the latter of whom earned Doc Johnson Most Valuable Player honors in last season's victory over Fordham, creating an unorthodox look that has caught opponents off guard as the Jaspers have been able to set up their vaunted pressure defense much easier than they did in the past two seasons, where lack of depth compromised their efforts more often than not.

Without any further ado, we will now prepare you in depth for Sunday's latest installment of the clash for Bronx bragging rights, refreshing the recent episodes of the crosstown rivalry, along with a tale of the tape for both schools as the latest chapter between the Rams and Jaspers is written:

Date: Sunday, November 26, 2017
Site: Rose Hill Gymnasium; Bronx, NY
Time: 2 p.m.
Video: Atlantic 10 Digital Network (Mike Watts, Kenny Ducey)
Radio: WFUV 90.7 FM and (Matt Murphy, Tom Scibelli)

All-Time Series: Manhattan leads, 57-52 (Jaspers have won four of last six meetings)

December 10, 2016 at Manhattan: Manhattan 60, Fordham 53
Manhattan took their home floor at Draddy Gymnasium with a four-game losing streak, and ended it by going back to basics in the form of a staunch defensive lockdown in which they held the Rams to just 32 percent shooting from the floor. The meager shooting for Fordham was magnified by managing a mere eight field goals over the final 29 minutes of the game after getting out to a 9-for-15 start. Zavier Turner's 15 points, all scored during the first half, helped set the tone for a throwback victory in front of a hungry home crowd.

"We know what this means for our administration. That's important to us, so we want to make sure we put our best brand out when these days happen." - Steve Masiello on defeating Fordham and the significance of a Battle of the Bronx victory

November 28, 2015 at Fordham: Fordham 87, Manhattan 64
The Rams would have the last laugh on this day, exploiting an undermanned Manhattan roster that was limited to seven scholarship players after a rash of injuries ravaged the Jaspers to begin the 2015-16 campaign. Mandell Thomas, in his first full season at point guard, earned Mike Cohen Most Valuable Player honors with a game-high 26 points, while Ryan Rhoomes had his way in the paint en route to a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double.

"In the second half, we simply played half court man-to-man, and our defense was much better." - Jeff Neubauer on what won the game for Fordham

December 22, 2014 at Barclays Center: Manhattan 71, Fordham 57
Fordham played the role of the aggressor to start this game before Masiello called for more defensive pressure, turning a 16-4 Rams lead into a 48-17 run that turned the game on its head, a stretch where Fordham's woes were compounded by a 12-for-25 effort at the foul line.

"We knew we could get a run on them if we got to our style and got to our bench. I thought we did that." - Masiello on Manhattan being able to win by imposing their will

November 26, 2013 at Manhattan: Fordham 79, Manhattan 75
Manhattan would reach the national stage four months later in a near-upset of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, but on this night, Jon Severe made the Jaspers pay with 22 of his 30 points in the first half as Fordham looked headed for a convincing victory. The Jaspers would battle back to reclaim the lead, but the Rams turned the tide for good by scoring eight of the game's final ten points, capping a signature win on Travion Leonard's dunk in the final seconds.

"They beat us the last two years, so we wanted to come in here and just play our hardest and get a win. That's what happened." - Branden Frazier, who scored 21 points in Fordham's winning effort

November 29, 2012 at Fordham: Manhattan 65, Fordham 58
Fordham's home opener was spoiled by Michael Alvarado's tour de force in the final minutes. The Bronx native, now an assistant coach at his alma mater, stole a win in front of a near-capacity crowd, taking home Mike Cohen MVP recognition after forcing four Ram turnovers and being described as the difference in the outcome by then-Fordham head coach Tom Pecora.

Guards: Aaron Walker (6-0 So., 9.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.8 SPG, 42% FG, 71% FT, 46% 3-pt FG) vs. Joseph Chartouny (6-3 Jr., 9.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 3.5 SPG, 28% FG, 58% FT)
Walker has begun his second season in Riverdale as the de facto starting point guard, being trusted by Masiello to lead his offense early in the hope of expediting his maturation for the future. Described as one of the better players to come through the program in recent years, the former Cardozo standout will have his hands full with Chartouny, the Swiss Army knife who does a little bit of everything for the Rams. The Canadian floor general has fully recovered from a midseason injury scare that hampered his abilities at times last year, and should have the experience edge against Walker, who takes a step up in class.
Advantage: Fordham

Tom Capuano (5-11 Jr., 4.8 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 53% FG, 38% FT) vs. Tre Evans (6-2 So., 4.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 26% FG)
A battle of two warrior guards whose contributions exceed their stat lines is the second guard showdown, as Capuano; the middle linebacker of the Jaspers, matches wits with junior college import Evans, who is still searching for his groove. Expect each to make plays that will not show up in the box score and get their teammates involved. This matchup should come down to who has the bigger impact on the game without doing much on their own, something Capuano has excelled at over his first two years.
Advantage: Manhattan

Rich Williams (6-5 Sr., 18.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 55% FG, 82% FT, 52% 3-pt FG) vs. Will Tavares (6-6 Sr., 16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 45% FG, 67% FT)
There are not enough words to describe, or even equate, the value of Williams in the Manhattan lineup, as the Jaspers are simply a better team with their heart and soul on the floor. The Brooklyn native's impact on both ends of the floor has been lauded by Masiello since the moment he arrived on campus, and for those who forgot just how much he meant to the program, his start to his final season has served notice of just who affects even the most minute of details both in and out of the huddle. For Tavares, a fellow senior who is in the midst of his own breakout season, Williams will be hard to handle, especially on the defensive end, which is an area where the Providence product has his work cut out for him.
Advantage: Manhattan

Forwards: Calvin Crawford (6-8 Sr., 10.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 41% FG, 77% FT, 42% 3-pt FG) vs. Ivan Raut (6-7 Fr., 9.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 44% FG, 71% FT, 44% 3-pt FG)
Crawford, as mentioned in the introduction, has blossomed in his first full season as a starter, becoming the Emmy Andujar-esque versatile forward that Manhattan has craved over the past two seasons as he has become a potent and effective wing man to Williams on the scoreboard. Raut has had a rough go of things since his 21-point breakout two weeks ago, but Manhattan's pressure defense leaves them susceptible to giving up the three-point shot at times, and if Raut is open, he will make the Jaspers pay. Still, the matchup is heavily tipped in Crawford's favor.
Advantage: Manhattan

Pauly Paulicap (6-8 So., 8.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 58% FG, 57% FT) vs. Prokop Slanina (6-10 Jr., 10.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 2.0 SPG, 48% FG, 57% FT, 39% 3-pt FG)
Paulicap has acquitted himself well in his first major taste of Division I basketball, showing flashes of the early form exhibited by longtime Manhattan stalwart Rhamel Brown. The Long Island native does need to work on his penchant for getting into foul trouble, however, and will have an interesting matchup in the form of Slanina, who is Fordham's answer to Zane Waterman. The 6-foot-10 Czech has displayed a better pick-and-pop tendency to start the season, and his multi-dimensional offense can be an X-factor of sorts against Manhattan.
Advantage: Fordham

Manhattan possesses the edge here with Zavier Turner and Zane Waterman being the first two reserves to check in for Masiello, at least on paper. Both preseason all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference honorees, the two have struggled to get accustomed to their new roles. Newcomers Patrick Strzala, Bud Mack and Ebube Ebube have played sparingly, but each sees their fair share of minutes to keep the trademark Manhattan depth consistent. For the Rams, the second unit has been a cause for concern for Neubauer, as no one outside of Perris Hicks has made their mark among the reserves. The lack of a spark plug, coupled with the Jaspers' experience and rotation, could be a problem that manifests itself early and often on the Fordham side.
Advantage: Manhattan

Steve Masiello, for all the adversity he and his program has experienced over the past two seasons, remains a strong tactician and a strategist who will undoubtedly be able to devise the game plan necessary to defeat Fordham for the fifth time in seven seasons. Once a wide gulf in coaching acumen in this rivalry, the chasm has narrowed due to Neubauer's ability to change the oft-stagnant style of Rams basketball. While both coaches have scored wins over the other, the deciding factor in this matchup will be personnel and how to effectively utilize it, something Masiello has in his favor with a more experienced and deeper roster.
Advantage: Manhattan

Ken Pomeroy has predicted a 66-62 Fordham win at the time of publication for this preview, which is in the likely neighborhood of what the final score should be given the styles of both teams. The Rams' seven-day layoff could prove dangerous against a Manhattan team coming off three games in as many days before a three-day hiatus, but the keys for this matchup are twofold: Outside shooting and foul trouble. In the former, the Jaspers have shot 37 percent as a team from beyond the arc and have yielded just 32 percent, a stark contrast to Fordham's 23 percent clip. As far as the latter is concerned, the edge in average personal fouls per game is a mere two infractions, with Manhattan committing 21 per contest as opposed to the 19 per game racked up by Fordham. If the game comes down to the wire as most think it will, this makes a difference, but so too does the Manhattan depth, which will be the difference in a second consecutive victory for the Jaspers over their Bronx brethren.

Manhattan 67, Fordham 61

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