Jeff Neubauer gave his team the goal of improving on defense and through conference play Fordham has shown the ability to shut down their opponents.
The first year head coach has built his team on defense, which ranks 90th in the country in allowing 67.7 points per game, but in conference play the Rams have allowed 74.2 points. However, there are signs that Fordham’s defense is continuing to produce. The Rams have the second highest steal percentage amongst conference teams and the players are still learning Neubauer’s style.
“It energizes us a lot especially when we get charges, charges are pretty big in our program,” senior Ryan Rhoomes said, who ranks second in the Atlantic 10 with 2.1 blocks per game. “When any one of our players gets a charge, coach is going crazy on the bench.”
Charges are one of the defensive stats, other than producing turnovers, that Neubauer values as he works on continuing the Rams’ defensive turnaround.
“We don’t care if its charge taking or shot blocking, we’ve got to protect the basket,” Neubauer said. “We use a phrase that Jeff Van Gundy used to talk about. He used to say that every player on the court must be a basket protector.”
The 6’8” senior said the biggest transition in playing the style of defense has been how far he has to extend to contest shots as well as be an effective shot blocker.
“It’s called the five man scramble, which means everybody’s involved,” Rhoomes said who leads the team with 1.8 blocks per game. “It’s kind of hard to me because I’m not usually guarding guards, but I just try and kind of contest the shot.”
Junior Jon Severe said that adjusting to the system has been easy for him as he is confident in his defensive ability.
“Just guard the ball and help your team out,” Severe said. “That’s all it is, if you’re guarding the ball, help your teammates out.”
As the Rams continue in conference play, they have picked up on their ability to intercept passes like they did in their non-conference start. The Rams rank second to VCU in steals with 7.6 per game in Atlantic 10 play. Seven Rams have 10 or more steals already this season and Fordham is only 29 steals away from their total for all of last season.
“Ball pressure is always important and deflecting passes on the ball is always important,” Neubauer said. “David Pekarek has started to play more and he’s a longer defender, so in our last game on Saturday he did deflect on the ball a couple of times. Christian Sengfelder has been one of our better guys deflecting passes.”
“Our guards have to continue to improve, so there is no one guy, we have two of the leaders in the country in steals in Joe Chartouny and Mandell Thomas and we are trying to steal the ball.”
Thomas is tired for eighth in the country in steals (2.45 per game), while Chartouny ranks 19th (2.27 per game). While the defense has improved so have the Rams, as they picked up their first road win of the season in overtime at UMass. It was the Rams first road win in Atlantic 10 play since last season at George Mason and only their third road victory in the last seven seasons.
“I really didn’t understand it until after the game and locker room, I really didn’t,” Neubauer said of the significance of the road win. “I usually am very aware of statistics, aware of things that have happened, I didn’t understand how happy our guys would be to win an A-10 road game; now we have to change that mentality. Obviously I’m not accustomed to this, where winning a road game is like winning the Super Bowl, but I am glad our guys are so tired of it and so happy about what they are accomplishing.”
They will have four more chances on the road to become the first Rams team to win two road A-10 games since the 2007-08 season, but before that comes a test against Saint Joseph’s, a team that beat Fordham 80-55 in their first meeting.
“We played them already at their place and, the way that we played with our team, is that we got beat by 100,” Neubauer said. “So we’re really trying to be the most improved team in the country, then we’ve got to make great strides.”
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.