Fordham Finding Their Defensive Identity Under Jeff Neubauer

First year head coach Jeff Neubauer has emphasized defense at Fordham and through nine games it has paid off.

The Rams have allowed 63.1 points per game to start the season, good for 36th in the country. Neubauer’s teams at Eastern Kentucky were known for their pressure style that produced turnovers and so far it has brought results: Fordham is averaging 10 steals per game, which ranks eighth in the country.

It was no guarantee that the style Neubauer brought to the Bronx would translate, given rules to emphasize freedom of movement in the game, but his team has shown results thanks to the way the players have embraced the competitive style.

“The thing that’s been apparent since the day I got here to Fordham is these guys are really eager to give effort and they’re really eager to try hard,” Neubauer said. “Our effort, it really has been terrific to this point.”

Their defensive pressure has not only converted turnovers but also held teams to 27.5% three-point field goal percentage, good for 15th in the country. That has come from their strong on the ball defense that challenges teams, not only as they bring the ball up the court, but extends well beyond the perimeter.

“You have to guard the ball at an elite level and one guy who is doing a really good job of it is Nemanja Zarkovic,” Neubauer said. “He literally has improved more than any guy I’ve ever coached on the ball and so we’ve told him you are our best on ball defender. Now Mandell Thomas is vying for that title as well and those two guys really guard the ball, but even those guys need to get significantly better.”

Neubauer would like to see the Rams’ defense take further steps in the next few weeks. He would like to see his team improve in the area Zarkovic and Thomas currently excel and see his team cut down their points allowed in transition.

“We’ve got to defend the ball better and that’s regardless of who you play or what their style is or what their system is,” Neubauer said. “Defending the ball is the most important thing in college basketball. The other thing that great teams do is they do not give any easy transition points and so we have made steps with that, but it’s got to be continuing to get better.”

However it still doesn’t feel like the defensive transformation is complete. It may not be on Saturday against Maine or Tuesday against Boston College at the Barclays Center, but the Rams have found their identity.

“We don’t talk offense very often because that’s secondary, that’s not what winning programs do; winning programs defend so anything that happens at the offensive end is secondary,” Neubauer said. “All of our guys’ effort has really been spectacular and that’s where we are, we’ve got to continue to guard and be elite with our effort, and if we do that then we can be an elite team.”

“There’s so many things that we haven’t been able to cover, strictly because I’m a new coach here and so it’s basically like coaching brand new team. There’s so many things we haven’t been able to get to, but we will and that’s where this learning process has to continue.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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