Fordham Rams Preview and Q&A

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 With 0 Comments

Tonight at 7 pm, George Mason (8-16, 3-9) will return to the Patriot Center to take on the Fordham Rams (7-16, 2-10) for the second game of a three game homestand. The Patriots are coming off a thrilling 71-67 overtime victory over Richmond on Homecoming, while the Rams also won at home on Saturday, 69-55 over St. Joseph’s.

Mason will be looking for their first-ever victory over the Atlantic 10’s New York City member, as the Patriots lost both meetings with the Rams a season ago, and also lost their first meeting with Fordham back in December 2000. The game represents a critical opportunity for both teams as they seek to escape the Atlantic 10 basement.

Fordham is led by 6’6″ freshman guard Eric Paschall, who averages 17.3 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 42.9% from the field and 31.7% from long range. Much like Jon Severe a season ago, Paschall has been a volume scorer for the Rams, averaging 14 field goal attempts per game. Isaiah Jackson and the other Patriots wings will need to contain Paschall and force Fordham to look elsewhere for their points.

For fans who can’t make it to Fairfax, the game will be broadcast on 106.7 FM The Fan and streamed online through the Atlantic 10 Digital Network.

To learn more about this season’s Fordham Rams, I once again spoke with Jaden Daly, founder of the New York City-based A Daly Dose of Hoops (you can also check out my thoughts on Mason over at his site). Freshman Eric Paschall leads Fordham with 17.3 points per game. How big of a revelation has he been for the Rams?

Jaden: Paschall hasn’t been as much a revelation as he has been for the Rams as a high-volume scorer, but nonetheless, given everything that has gone on for Fordham this season, to have his productivity gives them not just a building block for the future, but a primary weapon to potentially escape the bottom four and avoid the play-in games at Barclays Center.

What sets Paschall apart is his ability to drive the lane. Far too often, and you’ll see it tonight, he tends to settle for open threes around the key or left and right arcs, which really takes away his killer instinct. It’s when he gets inside that he really imposes his will on teams and shows his true talent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He reminds me a lot of Lazar Hayward, the former Marquette forward from the late 2000s, who was similarly sized and had a style much like that of Paschall on a small, guard-oriented team. Last year’s star freshman, Jon Severe, has had a miserable encore season (averaging 10 fewer points per game), and Bryan Smith’s senior season has seen him post a number of career lows as well. Why has there been so much regression in the backcourt?

Jaden: As far as Severe is concerned, his decision to take a month off early in the season has had a lot to do with the stunting of his development, at least on paper. However, prior to his last two games against Richmond and Saint Joseph’s, he had strung together five consecutive double-figure scoring efforts, so the talent is there and slowly beginning to get back to the form he displayed as a freshman.

In the case of Bryan Smith, he has always been an enigma. It all depends on whether or not his shots fall. Much as he has done with every one of his seniors before Smith, Tom Pecora has shown an increased loyalty to him, trusting him to the death as the Brooklyn native looks to finally get going for more than a few minutes at a time. If Smith can make a couple of shots early, like he did against St. Joe’s, then he’ll be a spark, but if he can’t throw the ball in the Potomac, well, you don’t need me to tell you what’s going to happen.

Overall, I think the biggest reason for the backcourt not having a stat line like the one they enjoyed last season is twofold. First, the graduation of Branden Frazier has left Fordham without a confident floor general to lead the team through their offensive sets. Mandell Thomas has moved to the point guard spot in recent games and seems to be grasping his new position, but is still a work in progress as the primary facilitator as the Rams move the ball up the floor. Second, and what a lot of people tend to ignore based on Fordham teams of years past, Pecora actually has a serviceable front line. As most Mason fans will recall from the Hofstra teams, (even 2006) Pecora was very guard-oriented in his approach. He still is, but now he has arguably his best group of forwards since arriving at Rose Hill in 2010. Who are the other key contributors and what do they bring to the floor?

Jaden: Speaking of the frontcourt, remember this name: Christian Sengfelder. The 6-8 German is Fordham’s power forward, and although it’s too late in the year for him to steal A-10 Rookie of the Year award honors away from his teammate Paschall, he is definitely a lock for All-Rookie consideration. In his last five games, Sengfelder is averaging 13.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, and will be able to get his share of boards along with his teammate, Ryan Rhoomes. Rhoomes is managing just over nine boards per game, and the two of them will try to limit Shevon Thompson inside early and often.

I mentioned Mandell Thomas and his move to the point, and even if he were still playing off the ball, he would still be a concern for Mason defensively. What makes him special is his athleticism and his hustle, which may be under restraint as he plays more of a finesse position, but when you look at the stats of this game, take a look at what he creates before you go for the point totals. What are the main strengths and weaknesses of this year’s Fordham team?

Jaden: Fordham is a much stronger interior team, and a lot of it has to do with how Sengfelder spaces the floor as a stretch four, giving Ryan Rhoomes more space to track down rebounds in the lane and either go for putbacks or kick it out to Thomas or Paschall, or even Jon Severe when he is on the floor. Expect the Rams to attack the basket against George Mason, and also to grind it out in their mid-range defense. One of the biggest takeaways from the last time these two teams met was how Fordham allowed Patrick Holloway to find his shot late in the A-10 play-in game, and it almost cost them dearly. I’m looking for more of an emphasis on perimeter defense, on both ends of the arc.

The Rams’ biggest weakness, as I mentioned briefly before, is the lack of a proven floor general. I don’t think anyone, even Pecora, realized just how much Branden Frazier would be missed going into the year, even if everyone knew he was gone and would have to prepare accordingly. If Paul Hewitt is smart, and I’ll leave that judgment up to you, he’ll have Marquise Moore and Corey Edwards pressure him early and force him to make plays. The Rams have won two of their last three games, sandwiched around a two-point loss at Richmond. Are things looking up for the squad, or is this a momentary blip?

Jaden: Fordham is making the most of an opportunity, at least for now. In Tom Pecora’s defense, the Rams got a brutal draw to open the A-10 schedule, hosting VCU before playing Rhode Island on the road and then coming back home for Dayton, not to mention George Washington two weeks after that. This is where the schedule opens up for the Rams, with four winnable games to close out the year against La Salle, UMass, (who they almost beat at home two weeks ago) Duquesne, and St. Bonaventure. What remains to be seen is how well this recent uptick will translate on the road — Pecora has only won one Atlantic 10 road game in his five years, at St. Bonaventure in Chris Gaston’s last game in 2013. Head coach Tom Pecora is now 41-101 in his nearly five year run at Fordham. You don’t get to 60 games under .500 by accident, but Fordham was a mess long before he arrived, so he shouldn’t get all the blame, either. What are some of the main reasons the once-successful Hofstra coach’s tenure hasn’t worked out?

Jaden: What no one realizes, and Pecora acknowledged this to me several times both this year and in years past, is just how hard it is to win at Fordham. In an Atlantic 10 that gets consistently better every year, and this was BEFORE the likes of VCU, Butler, George Mason and Davidson all joined it, you have to be relentless just to maintain your position. In the case of Fordham, who hit rock bottom under Bob Hill and Dereck Whittenburg, Pecora basically had to dig the Rams out of a bunker just to get back to ground level, and that handicapped the program for years after that. He finally has the pieces for a foundation, and if recent games suggest anything, the breakthrough is there, but for some reason, cannot be reached.

Couple that with older facilities that have admittedly worked against them in recruiting, plus the improvement of other programs in the New York area, and Fordham tends to get lost in the shuffle. Pecora will never admit he may have bitten off more than he could chew, but that’s really what it comes down to when explaining his record in five years at the helm.

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About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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