For the second time in as many years, Duquesne and Fordham kick off their Atlantic 10 season against one another this time on Wednesday at the AJ Palumbo in what could determine who ultimately finishes in last place in the conference. Talk about a high stakes opener!
The game features two programs long past their glory days of the 50’s and 60’s who morphed into two of the least successful members of the Atlantic 10 over the last seventeen years. Of course, they’re also two teams who have made investments to improve their situation. Both schools spend more than the average program in the Atlantic 10 on men’s basketball though both are mired in a deep rebuilding process. Fordham has just mired a little longer than the Dukes. Since posting an 18-12 record in 2006-07, the Rams have gone 41 – 132 under former boss Derek Whittenburg and current coach Tom Pecora.
The Rams finally appear to have gained some momentum in Percora’s fourth year. Though at 7-6 they’ve already matched last years win total, Fordham’s perceived progress has little to do with how they’ve looked early in 2013-14, and more to do with success on the recruiting trail. Last April, Pecora received a verbal commitment from the highly regarded 2014 small forward Eric Paschall. After Paschall inked in the fall Percora said “He is an important piece to the process of our future success. Eric will have an immediate impact on our program when he joins us next year.” While Paschall was more of a long term investment, he snagged Brooklyn combo guard Jon Severe over the likes of Pitt and Wake Forest to pay dividends in the short term. So far Severe has earned two Atlantic 10 rookie of the week awards and leads the conference in scoring netting 20.5 points per game. In the space of four weeks, Pecora landed two potentially elite Atlantic 10 players to build around.
Pecora has a few of other strong, long term pieces in the sophomore class as well. Wing Mandell Thomas has averaged 14.5 points a game giving the Rams that elusive third weapon that they’ve often lacked recently. The 6’8” Ryan Roomes has developed into an efficient inside presence shooting 64.6% from the floor while only turning it over seven times in three hundred nineteen minutes. Wide bodied Travion Leonard serves as the primary backup inside as the Rams have evolved into a four guard lineup.
Severe has been a high scoring but extremely high volume weapon for the Rams. It takes a lot of shots to get the points that he does get. With an assist to turnover ratio of less than one and over a one hundred forty missed field goals, Severe amounts to an average guard offensively in spite of the gaudy scoring number. Severe has played with the inconsistency you might expect of a freshman having dropped thirty in two games while failing to score ten in another two and shooting under thirty percent in five. Following their home loss to Harvard, Pecora said of Severe “The term we like to use is championship basketball where every possession is at a high level. Your intensity is through the roof. Veterans play that way. It’s very, very rare to find a freshman who can do that and that’s what [Severe]‘s struggling with.” He added, “It’s a learning process for freshman no matter how good they are.”
While the young guns are nice, the driving force behind the 2013-14 Rams has been point guard Branden Frazier. Frazier’s averaging 18.5 points per game while dishing out 4.6 assists. Led by Frazier’s 91% free throw shooting, the Rams are the 20th best team from the stripe at 75%.
Fellow senior Bryan Smith rounds out the starting lineup.
As I touched on earlier, the Rams have modified their lineup to match their strengths. “We have four guys on the floors who can make shots this year” Pecora said following the Rams’ season opener against St Francis (PA). “I guess we’re playing with four guards.” The Rams excel in a number of areas you would expect a guard heavy system to. They defend the perimeter, shoot free throws, get steals while taking pretty good care of the basketball themselves. They’re also a surprisingly good offensive rebounding team. That said, they struggle defending inside and on the defensive glass. They don’t shoot particularly well all around, but they score a lot a points.
You might want to take the over in this one.
The Dukes come into the game on their hottest streak in three years while Rams hit the road having lost three of four including two on the road. The Dukes guards will get everything they can handle on defense from the Rams’ squad while a Fordham player will give up at least six inches before Duquesne even forces a switch on offense. While this matchup won’t get much time in the national media lime light, it should showcase the depth of the league to anyone paying attention.