Jeff Neubauer promised a defensive transformation at Fordham and through the season’s first 12 games he has delivered on that promise.
The Rams, who allowed 69.2 points per game last season ranking 248th in the country, have allowed 62.8 through 12 games. They have compiled double-digit steals in all but three games and their 10.2 steals per game rank fifth in the country, compared to drawing 6.7 last season with a similar mix of players.
They raced off to a 9-1 start, but as competition has picked up against ACC opponent Boston College and their first Atlantic 10 opponent George Washington, their offensive struggles have become apparent. They have averaged 77.7 points per game so far this season, good for 100th in the country, but they have failed to score better than a point per possession in their last three games including a 17-point home win over Maine.
“We are pleased with the defensive effort we’re getting from our team, our guys have played exceptionally hard and that’s what’s giving us a chance to compete,” Neubauer said. “Offensively we have a long way to go. We need every piece of our engine firing to make us successful at the offensive end.”
Part of their resurgence has come from punishing teams in transition. The Rams second half comeback at George Washington was aided by five steals turning into nine points off turnovers. Neubauer wants to emphasize their defense, which held the Colonials to 34.6% field goal percentage in the final 20 minutes and helped them cut a 15 point deficit to three.
“Our defensive effort has been terrific,” Neubauer said. “We have to make basketball about effort and that can give us a chance to compete. It’s certainly frustrating to lose two games in a row, and one of those games was in our city.”
“I think our offensive struggles, those are things that I’ve got to address. I’ve got to make us better, but we cannot fault the effort of of our young men.”
There are signs of the Rams offense turning around. Even through their struggles over the last two games, which were 12 days apart, they put together stretches where they had each of Boston College and George Washington on the ropes. In Brooklyn the Rams stormed off an 8-0 run in the middle of the second half, which showcased the textbook answer of how the Rams want to turn defense into offense.
After trapping A.J. Turner and getting a shot clock violation as the Eagles freshman didn’t see time running down, Antwoine Anderson drove the lane and converted a layup. Fordham pressured the following inbounds and Eli Carter lost the ball to the press at mid court and Joseph Chartouny converted a three-pointer at the top of the key to put the Rams up one.
“Every day all we do is defense,” Severe said after their loss to Boston College in Brooklyn. “At the end we get shots up, but main majority of it is defense in practice so all we do is like a muscle memory, always defense, so when the game comes my mindset is trying to get a stop on defense.”
Most nights the 6’2” junior could be found disrupting passes, providing solid defense and even on Sunday getting two blocks, including one on a Jordan Roland three-pointer to end the first half. Severe ranks third on the team with 10.3 ppg, but it is thanks to his effort defensively that the Rams rank fifth in three-point field goal percentage defense (26.9%).
“Right now we’re one of the best teams in the country guarding the arc and it’s because of the effort of some guys like Jon,” Neubauer said. “I don’t know how much Jon scored last night, maybe he had four points, but he really has improved defensively.”
Fordham has shown signs of improving offensively, especially behind the back of senior Ryan Rhoomes who has jumped from 6.4 ppg last season to 13.3 ppg through the season’s first 12 games. While his rebounds are down from 8.6 to 7.7 rpg, he has refined his game to become a low post offensive presence to go with his team-high 25 blocks.
“Through his first three years of his career he was asked to be an outstanding rebounder and a good defensive presence, but really not a whole lot was asked from him offensively,” Neubauer said. “Part of it is just us saying, ‘hey we’re going to throw you the ball’ and he really hadn’t had that opportunity during his career.”
Rhoomes has primarily worked with assistant coach Rodney Crawford, the former Eastern Kentucky assistant Neubauer brought with him, who works with the front court players in practice and his progress has shown since they took over in April.
“Ryan has really improved as far as being patient in the post, catching the ball and understanding what he’s trying to do,” Neubauer said. “But his patience has really helped him and I think he has improved as a post player.”
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.