Fordham Battles VCU Tough, Is There A-10 Potential There?

Fordham could do its best to hide it, cover it up, put whatever modern medicine allows on it, but Havoc smells bad ball handling like few others in college basketball, and once exposed, there was little Fordham could do to stop it.

So on an afternoon where Jon Severe returned, a near-capacity crowd filled Rose Hill, and Fordham did many other things well, unanimous Atlantic-10 favorite VCU pulled away in the second half to post a semi-routine 75-58 victory over Fordham, picked 14th and dead last by the coaches, on Sunday afternoon in the conference opener for both teams.

Fordham entered turning the ball over on 25.8% of its offensive possessions this season (while playing the 295th toughest schedule nationally according to KenPom), and VCU’s Havoc feasted from virtually start to finish. Fordham turned the ball over 14 times … in each half, as VCU came away with 21 steals, second highest in a Division I game this season (West Virginia had 26 against tempo-pushing VMI in November), six of which came from three-time defending national steals leader Briante Weber.

VCU was particularly deadly in its man press, where Fordham couldn’t find anyone able to even hold on to the ball, let alone get them into much of an organized offense.

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora hopes his young team will grow during A-10 play.
Fordham head coach Tom Pecora hopes his young team will grow during A-10 play.

“I’m certainly familiar with them,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. “They pressed when Anthony (Grant) was there and I was at Hofstra. When they lose games, you’ll see the turnover numbers are down around 15. But they are higher than that a lot, and that’s why they win games. You go through your press offense, you talk to them about things and then the old Mike Tyson expression comes in: ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit.’ And some of young guys didn’t respond when they got punched in the mouth. So hopefully it’s part of the growth process and the learning curve.”

Weber’s steals numbers are particularly outrageous this season (9.12% rate, 2.85% ahead of anyone else in the country), and VCU is now sixth nationally in forcing turnovers (26.1%) and third in steal percentage (15.7%), neither of which should come as a huge surprise to anyone who’s watched VCU’s Havoc since Shaka Smart came aboard. Ten VCU players in all recorded at least one steal, and the visitors recorded 36 points off turnovers, helping them to overcome a 14-30 performance at the free throw line.

“There’s some teams that we feel like if we do apply a little more pressure or if we’re engaged in our full-court press that we feel like we can force a pretty good amount of turnovers,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “But it’s always most important to play with good soundness and get stops in the half-court, which I thought at times we did today and there was other runs that Fordham had that we struggled to get stops.”

Even with all the gifts (four players, including Severe had at least five turnovers), Fordham still trailed by only seven at the half, thanks to causing 12 VCU turnovers (and VCU is still 14th nationally in offensive turnover rate). When Eric Paschall hit two free throws 90 seconds after halftime, Fordham was within a point at 38-37.

But VCU limited itself to just five turnovers in the second half, and Fordham shot just 8-31 from the field after halftime (just 1-13 from beyond the arc) and VCU slowly pulled away in a game that had a very fast 79 possessions (the turnovers helped, obviously).

There were many positives for Fordham (5-7, 0-1), who held VCU (11-3, 1-0) to 0.94 points per possession, had 13 steals of their own, including four from junior Mandell Thomas. They did a good job on the boards at both ends, and generally battled from start to finish against a team that figures to be comfortably in the NCAA tournament.

However, will we see that kind of effort and resolve the rest of the season from Fordham, who has played some very tough games at Rose Hill in the past? Alas, it’s not Pecora’s first, but fifth season at the helm, and — although there are extenuating circumstances — the record is fairly gruesome to the eye: 39-92 overall, 9-56 in the Atlantic-10, just 1-33 away from Rose Hill in conference (and that was in a meaningless season-ending win at St. Bonaventure to close the 2012-13 campaign). This season, of course, has already featured home losses to UMass Lowell and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Yet freshman Chris Sengfelder and Eric Paschall have drawn rave reviews from opposing coaches like Smart, even if they combined to go 6-20 from the field and had nine turnovers between them.

“I really like Fordham’s young guys. I think those guys are going to be good players,” Smart said. “They just have to keep getting better.”

The Atlantic-10 does not appear to be as strong as last season, and that might give Fordham and Pecora hope to get on a run the program hasn’t seen since Derrick Whittenburg and the likes of Bryant Dunston, Jermaine Anderson, and Marcus Stout went 10-6 in the A-10 back in 2005-06.

“(Sengfelder and Paschall) both competed,” Pecora said. “Eric’s assist-to-turnover ratio, I talk to him about it all the time (combined the two freshmen have 22 assists against 60 turnovers, and Fordham only had nine assists to go along with their 28 turnovers Sunday), he’s got to take care of the basketball. And he’s too big and strong to let people rip the ball out of his hands. You see flashes of brilliance from both of them. You know they have the physical size to compete in this league. They’re getting better each day. But are they ready to go out and have a marquee game against a VCU? Not yet. But they’re future is bright.”

Adding insult to injury was 40 percent of VCU’s starting lineup coming from the Bronx in junior Melvin Johnson and freshman Terry Larrier (who got the nod because Jordan Burgess missed the game injured). To be fair, any team in New York City, St. John’s included, would love to have those guys, but it just illustrates how far it is for Fordham to get to the middle of the Atlantic-10, let alone in the VCU stratosphere.

Of course, VCU sells every game out in the 7,500-seat Siegel Center, went to a Final Four in 2011, pays its coach a lot of money (although Smart has turned down several bigger offers to remain with VCU and the stability helps make VCU as powerful a brand as it is right now), and is building a $25 million practice center on campus.

Fordham does not play VCU again, and there are some opportunities for victories looking at the schedule ahead. Getting Severe (who averaged 17.7 points per game last year as a freshman, although he shot only 33.1% from the field, 32.1% on two-pointers) back after missing eight games due to personal reasons will help if he plays like he did Sunday. But who knows?

Rose Hill, old-school.

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@rjcurren) on

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“He (Severe) had three good practices,” Pecora said. “Look, I’m excited about him being back. The team is excited about him being back. We’re all rooting for Jon Severe, that’s a given. His role will be defined by his performance just as everyone else’s will be.”

And Pecora’s role going forward will likely be defined by this team’s performance in wins and losses as well. He’s signed for two more years after this, Fordham plays only one senior (Bryan Smith who got 15 minutes off the bench against VCU), and is the 10th least experienced Division I team in the country, according to KenPom.

Can Fordham meld itself together into at least a pesky Atlantic-10 opponent and build a foundation to reach even higher next season? Or will this season end up like 2013-14, when Fordham lost its final seven road conference games by double digits (although Fordham did beat George Mason in an A-10 Tournament play-in game in Brooklyn)?

I guess we’ll find out together in the next couple of months.

One thought on “Fordham Battles VCU Tough, Is There A-10 Potential There?

  1. Moral “victories” while losing games; it’s what Fordham basketball is all about.

    Look for Severe to shoot less than 35% for the year while shamelessly ball hogging.

    Like

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