Xavier v. Fordham: Preview

Former Fordham University basketball coach Vince Lombardi. - Fordham University

Fordham has never defeated Xavier in their 12 trips to play the Musketeers in Cincinnati. Fordham is 0-12 on the road this season. To keep their slim hopes at an at-large bid alive as well as to nurture their slightly more realistic chances of winning a bye in the A-10 tournament, Xavier needs to make sure that they make it a baker's dozen of futility in both of those departments for the Rams. The season has been up and down for the Muskies, but we've detailed on a couple of occasions how the rest of the year has to play out for Xavier to be in the mix on Selection Sunday. Suffice it to say, a loss to Fordham doesn't work in any of those scenarios.

It has been a rough decade season for Coach Tom Pecora's team. They started the season with three losses (including by ten at hapless Texas State) before sneaking by Penn by a bucket on a neutral court. The momentum from that win never materialized, as it was followed by five more consecutive losses. Their schedule has done them no favors; remove the 0-12 mark on the road and they're a respectable 4-4 at home and 2-2 at neutral sites. Those road games did happen, though, including a 25 point destruction at the hands of Brian Gregory's Ga. Tech squad, allowing 95 to Mississippi State, and their most recent game, in which La Salle hit - made, not attempted - 18 threes en route to a 36-point win. Fordham staggers into this game at 2-7 in conference, with only home victories against Duquesne and URI to show for their efforts.

Team fingerprint:

Fordham is, as mentioned above, bad at basketball. I'll start with the fact that they're bad at offense to ease you in. Their lone meaningful bright spot on either side of the ball is their offensive rebounding, which ranks 40th in the country at 36.7%. They get plenty of opportunities to run down their own misses, as their EFG% is 45.3%, which is awful. They also turn the ball over like it has been smothered in flaming oil (23.1% of their possessions, 301st in the country). The inability to shoot or keep hold of the ball more than eradicates the positive impact of their rebounding, leaving their adjusted offensive efficiency at 197th in the country.

Believe it or not, that's head and shoulders better than their defense, whose efficiency is 295th. Rebounding again is kind of a strength, though their DReb% is only good for 159th in the nation. They also block shots well, ranking 72nd in the country in that department. Both of those numbers are let down by their inability to force turnovers (15.7%, 340th), force bad shots (opponents shoot 49.5% inside the arc and 35.7% from behind it) or keep opponents off the free throw line. There aren't many teams worse that Fordham at defense, and none of them play in the A-10.

If there's one consolation for Rams fans, it's that Fordham is both young (330th in experience) and deep, with 35.9% of their minutes coming off the bench, good for 68th in that department. They're not very tall, though, giving away almost an inch against the average in effective height and almost three inches compared to Xavier's big men. To combat their height disadvantage, Fordham plays at 68.9 possessions per game, almost 7 possessions faster than the pace Xavier prefers.

Starters:
Second-leading scorer and perennial starter Chris Gaston is out with a knee injury, and Pecora has experimented with some different lineups, so there's a solid chance that at least one of these guys doesn't start against X. You've been warned.

The player: 6'3", 170 pound junior guard Branden Frazier
The numbers: 15.2/3.9/5.1 on .346/.290/.824 shooting
More numbers: 26.5% usage rate, 32.4% assist rate
The words: With Gaston having been down for a dozen games, it has fallen to Frazier to be the team's go-to player on offense. He has taken on the role admirably, but his efficiency has been questionable at best. More of a volume scorer than a shooter, Frazier has more than 100 more field goal attempts that his closest teammate in that department. He also leads the team in assists by 72; Frazier just has the ball more than anyone else on Fordham.

The player: 6'2", 185 pound freshman guard Mandell Thomas
The numbers: 8.2/2.9/1.4 on .393/.370/.706 shooting
More numbers: 19% usage rate
The words: Thomas is the second-best three-point shooter on the team, though - at 17 of 46 on the year - he is not necessarily prolific. He doesn't bring much to the team other than shooting from somewhere, though, whether it is from deep or on his way to the rim. His rebounding and assist numbers are fairly pedestrian, to be kind.

The player:
6'0", 180 pound freshman guard Jermaine Myers
The numbers: 4.0/1.6/2.1 on .370/.308/.719 shooting
More numbers: ORtg 82.7
The words: Whenever you see a player with a shooting line like Myers', it's a fair bet that he knows how to shoot but is really bad at actually picking his shots. Myers can execute from the line, but he throws himself into all manner of poor shooting situations from the floor and pays the penalty for it with a fairly poor shooting line. Whether or not he'll grow out of it is anyone's guess, but he's not helping out Tom Pecora too much right now.

The player: 6'8", 275 pound freshman forward Travion Leonard
The numbers: 6.6/4.0/0.3 on .471/.000/.659 shooting
More numbers: OReb% 11.8%, block% 3.3%
The words: Leonard is a big boy. His size has a deleterious impact on his ability to stay on the floor right now, but he make good use of the time he gets to put up the counting stats that he does. You would think that a man of his breadth would be ineffective in challenging shots, but he actually blocks a fair percentage of opponents' attempts when he's out there.

The player:
6'8", 235 pound freshman forward Ryan Rhoomes
The numbers: 3.8/5.1/0.4 on .536/.000/.368(!) shooting
More numbers: 12.2% OReb%, 17.7% DReb%, 3.5% block%
The words: Rhoomes is 14-38 from the line, numbers that even the free-throw shooting starved Muskies would cringe to own. Beyond that, though, he's a sensationally active player in the paint, making an effort on the glass at both ends, turning away shots, and generally making a nuisance of himself for the other team. It should be noted that Jason Love posted a similarly grim FT% as a freshman, and he developed into a very reliable shooter from the line by his senior year.

Reserves:

Ryan Canty is another freshman forward, and he puts up 6.2/7.1/0.3 per game despite getting just 18.5 minutes per contest. His rebounding percentages are elite at both ends of the floor, but he is a ghastly 9-32 from the line. Bryan Smith is a sophomore guard who gets his 8.5 PPG in gunner fashion on a .366/.347/.733 shooting line. Jeff Short is a 6'4" guard who scores almost 5 PPG on .313/.280/.676 shooting, continuing the trend of Rams who believe that surely their next attempt is the beginning of a considerable hot streak.


Three questions:
-Is JMart back?
Against Duquesne, and for the first time in a long time, Justin Martin looked like he knew that a basketball game was being played in the gym in which he found himself. You can make the case that he was playing against a pretty poor opponent, but his 15 and 8 still were a nice addition to the box score. If he is going to show up for the rest of the season, it will be a huge boost to this squad. Hopefully he can pick up some confidence in these two relatively easy games and slingshot himself forward into a successful stretch run.

-Is Isaiah Philmore for real?
After setbacks first from knee problems and later from a paperwork issue that bizarrely cost him the first three games of the year, Philmore got off to a slow start this season, much to the chagrin of the Xavier faithful and Byron Larkin. He suddenly burst to life against Duquesne, showing surprising agility (including an impressive spin move on the run in the open court) and a host of worthy post moves. Perhaps more importantly, he displayed a legitimate intensity in a time when his teammates looked to be sleepwalking towards a disastrous loss. If he is going to show up for the rest of the season, it will be a huge boost to this squad. Hopefully he can pick up some confidence in these two relatively easy games and slingshot himself forward into a successful stretch run.

-Can Redford resurface? After we spent the entire off week talking about three-point shooting, Xavier won a game in which they were bad from beyond the arc for the first time all year. They're not all Duquesne, though, and for Xavier to make a run this March, they're going to need to be able to make some three-point baskets. The Muskies' newly bald senior sharpshooter is the obvious go-to guy for those points. If he is going to shake out of his doldrums and catch fire again, now is as good a time as any.

Three keys:
-Own the boards. Xavier has outrebounded every opponent they've faced in the conference this year, and that goes a long way toward spackling over some of the cracks in this roster. Fordham is much smaller than X inside, but they have some forwards who can really go and get it on the offensive glass. If the Muskies can hold this poor-shooting team to one and done on the offensive end, the rest of the game should be much smoother sailing.

-Feed the post all game. Xavier has shown the ability to get the ball inside, and the offense definitely works better when it starts inside and works out. When the focus on going to the paint wanes - and it has shown a disturbing propensity to do so for long stretches - Xavier's possessions tend to feature too much dribbling, too little passing, and way too many forced shot attempts. This all says nothing of the fact that Xavier is simply physically bigger inside than Fordham. Getting the ball in to the guys who can work with their backs to the basket - namely Philmore and Taylor - will be a catalyst to the Muskies' scoring efforts.

-Stay focused. The bottom line is this: Fordham is the worst team Xavier will play for the rest of the season and, with the exception of Fairleigh Dickinson, has a very strong case for being the worst team Xavier has faced all year. On top of that, Fordham's best player is not going to be playing. Much like the Duquesne game, there is no excuse for Xavier to lose this one. Unlike the Duquesne game, I think we'd all like to see a consistent effort from start to finish from the Muskies, rather than letting an inferior team outplay them through the middle portion of the game.

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