The year was 2015. It was a Tuesday like any other Tuesday in October, except…things were about to get weird.
As I sat down for this year’s “Best of the Worst” rankings I dug through the schedules, reviewed the rosters and felt a weird tingling feeling in the bottom of my Atlantic 10. That feeling of course was hope for the Fordham Rams.
“Call me crazy, but I think the Rams might have fired Tom Pecora one year too soon.”
Then after five sentences of Fordham chat I did the unthinkable, I ranked the Rams 10th in my preseason poll. 10th!
It didn’t take long for the backlash. “You’re crazy”, they called me, then paraded me naked through the A-10 streets, shaming me like Cersei Lannister after an unfavorable ruling from the High Sparrow.
But guess what? It’s hard to keep a good queen down, and I have an FU army ready to fight for my belief in them when no one else had their backs.
Tom Pecora’s hard work and eventual misfortunate (seriously, he was a year away, I truly believe that) has become Jeff Neubauer’s gain as the Fightin’ Rams are off to their best start since the turn of the century: 6-1, baby. Sure, that start includes wins over four teams ranked 280th or below by kenpom’s rankings, as well as a beatdown of DII Queens College, but we’ll take Fordham at 6-1 anytime we can get them there. And besides, they did what good teams do against bad teams: they throttled them to the tune of a 23.1 average margin of victory.
Fordham’s season-opening 77-72 road loss at UT Arlington seemed to predict more of the same for the Rams up until UT Arlington went on to beat both Ohio State and Memphis on the road, then came up just short at Texas, falling to Shaka Smart’s Longhorns in overtime.
Fact is regardless of competition, Fordham is playing great basketball right now and Jeff Neubauer is making a case for the second consecutive A-10 Coach of the Year being a newcomer to the conference (even if he lucked into the position thanks to a premature firing of Tom Pecora…Seriously, imagine this team AND Eric Paschall).
Fordham’s stock is most definitely up.
SPIDERS FINALLY BUILDING A RESUME
Richmond has had some very tough teams following their 2011 Sweet 16 trip but had failed to get’er done in the non-conference enough to convince any committee Chris Mooney and Co. were worthy of an NCAA tournament invite.
The Spiders 2011 team had three kenpom top-100 OOC wins followed by a total of two over the next four seasons. Richmond has three already this season (one home, one road, one neutral), hosts top-100 Old Dominion and gets Texas Tech on the road, giving Chris Mooney’s squad even more opportunities to pad what could be their best non-conference tournament resume in years.
UMASS MAKES ME LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT
While Fordham may have me bragging on myself, UMass’ early success makes me look a lot less cool.
I picked the Minutemen to finish 13th in my preseason poll thanks to what I thought was a gutted roster due to the departures of guys like Cady Lalanne, Maxie Esho and Derrick Gordon, but dammit if the Minutemen haven’t exceeded my expectations so far.
Derek Kellogg has had his boys playing with a fire thanks a lot to the rise of point guard Jabarie Hinds who’s having himself an A-10 Player of the Year type of season, while Donte Clarke and Trey Davis give UMass a dangerous trio that can go off on any given night.
Do I think they finish in the top half of the A-10? I’m not so sure. But after wins over Clemson and Harvard I think UMass proves they’ll be a dangerous team for any A-10 foe.
I’ll be paying close attention this week with two tricky road games at UCF and FGCU, aka “Dunk City”. If they win both I may be buying stock in DK and the gang…maybe.
THE F*** IS UP WITH DAVDISON?
Man I LOVE Davidson. I feel like if there was a team I’d get along with the best, a squad I could spend a Friday night with off the court, it’s probably the Cats (I say that as a VCU grad). Those dudes are fun-lovers, good dudes and talented as hell. But I’d be lying if I said this start doesn’t have me a liiiiiittle worried.
Yes, they are 5-1. That’s pretty good. But their first three games were all single-digit home victories to so-so squads (150ish teams), their fourth was a mere 13-point win over a DII team and after then blowing up a really bad Charlotte squad they got absolutely hammered at Carolina, 98-65.
Davidson’s last three games against top-100 teams have quite frankly been embarrassments, losing by 20+ to VCU, then Iowa and most recently UNC.
The D isn’t there and the threes haven’t been falling either. Ruh roh, Raggy.
Do I think they clean things up and become scary good again? Yes, yes I do. But am I betting the mortgage on it? Man, I don’t know…
Circle Dec 20th and 28th on your calendars when they face Pittsburgh and Cal, both away from Belk. We’ll learn a lot more about Bob McKillop’s group over that eight-day span.
VCU RUNNING OUT OF RESUME BUILDERS
Here’s the thing, a lot of people expected VCU to take a huge step back with the graduations of Graham and Weber, the departures of Smart and Larrier, and the gutting of the black and gold’s entire 2015 recruiting class. Heading into this season i doubt many people pegged them for wins over Duke, Wisconsin or Florida State, wins they didn’t get but wins that were there for the taking.
VCU has been good…and they’re close, but the selection committee needs to see wins.
The Rams led both Duke and Wisconsin at the half but couldn’t finish, then most recently came back from a double-digit first half deficit to lead Florida State late but couldn’t make the big plays in the final minute and because of that sit at 1-3 against kenpom top-100 teams. They lost two of those in the last minute, one on the last play.
VCU will hope Middle Tennessee can enter the top-100, which is very possible, and they own a win over top-100 rival ODU, but will also need to take care of business at Georgia Tech and against Cincinnati or the Rams’ resume will have to be all A-10 come March.
George Washington – 7-1 with a huge win over UVA and a 3-1 top-100 record. Cavanaugh is the Armwood-type they needed to get back to 2014 form.
Dayton – While that Xavier loss stings (stings bad), the Flyers are building a nice resume (four kenpom top-100 wins) and look dangerous.
Richmond – Finally building a resume and look deadly on offense (most of the time).
Fordham – Thomas, Rhoomes and Sengfelder getting it done with an improved Jon Severe. Jeff Neubauer landed this job at the perfect time.
Duquesne – Dukes rank 10th nationally in effective field goal percentage and are off to their best start since 2009-2010 season. Lacking in quality wins but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
Rhode Island – I’m sorry, but I have to put them here for one very major reason: the EC Matthews injury is just unfair. Without him Rhody has been tough but have no top-100 wins, a home loss to an underrated Valpo team and own a 23-point neutral court loss to Maryland. They have a very tough December with road games at Nebraska and Old Dominion. I’m not saying they are bad, they are just the opposite. But the reality is expectations were high, NCAA tournament high, and due to an unfortunate injury Rhody’s stock from this preseason is unfortunately down. Now, you may all proceed to throw rotten tomatoes at me.
La Salle – Jordan Price is very good, but he can’t carry this team. Two home losses and a 16-point loss to Penn and here comes Miami and Villanova. All you media members voting these guys in the top-eight weren’t paying attention.