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Fordham MBB: Keys for Success Heading Into the Tom Konchalski Classic

Following a tough loss to 10th-ranked Arkansas last week, the Fordham Rams kicked off a 6-game homestand with a 79-61 victory over New Hampshire. While the Rams still have some things to fix before they hit their full potential, Tuesday night’s win showed some major progress.

Starting this Saturday, Fordham will play MTE host in the Tom Konchalski Classic. Named after a legendary basketball scout who worked all over the East Coast, the 6-game round robin event will see Fordham play Illinois-Chicago on Saturday, Holy Cross on Monday, and Stonehill College on Tuesday. As the highest ranked (according to KenPom) team in the event, this could be a great opportunity for Fordham to continue to build their chances as a contender in this year’s Atlantic 10. Here are a few key things Fordham can build on in their only MTE of the 2022-23 season.

Keep Giving Freshmen Quality Minutes

Despite turning the ball over 3 times, freshman guard Will Richardson made a noticeable contribution to the Rams’ victory on Tuesday night, spending a season-high 21 minutes on the floor, snagging a rebound and an assist to go along with 7 points. Even when sharing the floor with primary playmakers like Darius Quisenberry and Antrell Charlton, Richardson frequently took the responsibility of bringing the ball up the floor on Fordham possessions. Once plays got going, he made quality cuts, attempted smart shots, and moved the ball extremely well. After making a wing-to-wing pass to feed a Darius Quisenberry three pointer, DQ made sure to give a big point of acknowledgement to the freshman. A few possessions later, Richardson drove in for a circus shot of his own to help the Rams maintain a dominant 25-14 start in the first half. Defensively, Richardson was unafraid to guard down low, getting his hands on the ball for a blocked shot that was credited to Rostyslav Novitskyi, but looked more like an assisted sack.

According to Coach Urgo, Richardson’s performance against UNH was a huge step forward in his development as a primary ball handler.

“Obviously, he’s young, and the game is speeding up, so he needs more experience,” Coach Urgo explained. “A game like tonight allowed him [to do that]. With that type of defense, [and] with his cat-like reflexes, he can pick up 94 feet on the defensive end. If he’s playing that hard, and we can get him out in transition because of his speed, he can be really effective.”

At several points late in the game, Richardson shared significant minutes with fellow newcomers Elijah Gray (13 minutes against UNH) and Romad Dean (15 minutes).

Maintain Consistent Ball Movement

While Fordham is a team that likes to succeed in transition, fast play can often break down into a turnover nightmare like with what we saw against Arkansas. Fordham still turned the ball over 15 times against UNH but they made up for it against the Wildcats by slowing down their offense, setting better screens, and moving the ball a lot more effectively. As Fordham cut their turnovers in half in comparison to the Arkansas game, they also nearly doubled their assist total. According to Coach Urgo, a major reason why Fordham looked so good moving the ball was standout performances from the front court. In a college basketball environment where the traditional big’s role continues to change, Coach Urgo commended Rostyslav Novitskyi’s and Abdou Tsimbila’s abilities to defend strong shooting teams efficiently.

“They going to continue to get better each and every time they’re out on the floor because they see more experience, more things happening, [and] the game slows down for them,” Urgo explained. “They’re big. They’re effective when they wall up and they challenge shots and they’re able to rebound the chin rebounds, it really allows us to get out and pressure the ball on the perimeter.”

Off the ball, Abdou Tsimbila has also gotten a lot more comfortable in setting screens, opening up the floor for Fordham’s guards to find open shots and make clean passes. According to Coach Urgo, improving communication throughout the lineup has been a major focus in order to run smoother plays.

“It takes two to tango, right?” Coach Urgo asked. “I think Abdou has been nervous to set some screens because he’s gotten so many offensive fouls in the last year-and-a-half, but a lot of it has to do with our guards not being patient. We’ve worked tirelessly on our bigs [to] communicate with our guards and [to emphasize] talking on offense, and as a result, we’re starting to learn how to trust one another both on the offensive and defensive [ends].”

Let Fordham Guards Cook

While communication leads to running smarter plays, it also lets a team quickly shift their game plan to support a player who has a momentary hot hand. Against New Hampshire, the Rams were very effective in letting Kyle Rose, who already is no stranger to strong solo performances for Fordham, pick the Wildcats apart for 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Working in tandem with Darius Quisenberry (17 points against UNH) and Khalid Moore (16 points), Rose constantly put himself at the center of physical plays that align exactly with what Coach Urgo has described as fundamental to Fordham basketball. During one intense sequence in the first half, Rose chases down Matthew Herasme, smacking the backboard to earn the block. Moving quickly in transition, he receives a wing-to-wing pass from Quisenberry to sink a three pointer to put the Rams up 9-2. Immediately, he helps pile on the defensive pressure that leads to a Quisenberry steal and transition bucket.

To Coach Urgo, performances like the one Rose, in his fourth year with Fordham, are great, but the focus now shifts to making sure he and his teammates are capable of them every single game. During the offseason, and in practices now, Rose has gone above and beyond to make sure that he can be counted on offensively in any given moment. Describing Rose as “the heart and soul of the team” defensively, Coach Urgo explained that Rose is finally starting to see the fruits of his labor put in during the offseason. As Rose sets the tone defensively for the Rams, Darius Quisenberry has set the tone offensively, continuing to be a leader in the “attitude club” that Coach Urgo described earlier this season.

“When your best player [Quisenberry] is playing as hard as anybody else on the floor, and he’s doing all the little things, they’re [his teammates] going to follow suit.”

Looking Ahead (to the weekend)

Starting with a late afternoon game against UIC on Saturday, Fordham begins the countdown to Thanksgiving break with the Tom Konchalski Classic at the Rose Hill Gym. Each of the four teams will play each other once, with the MVP of the tournament earning the Jim O’Connell Trophy. The schedule for every game in the event is as follows:

Saturday, November 19th:

5 PM-Fordham vs. UIC

7:30 PM-Holy Cross vs. Stonehill

Monday, November 21st:

5 PM-UIC vs. Stonehill

7 PM-Fordham vs. Holy Cross

Tuesday, November 22nd:

5 PM-UIC vs. Holy Cross

7 PM-Fordham vs. Stonehill

Looking Ahead (to next year)

Last weekend, Fordham announced the signings of Alex Bates, a guard from the United Faith Christian Academy (NC) and Jahmere Tripp, a forward from Brooklyn’s Our Savior Lutheran. Set to graduate in 2023, Bates and Tripp are rated as 2 and 3 star players respectively on Verbal Commits. When asked about the signings, Coach Urgo explained both players’ high upside.

“[He’s a] fantastic kid, unbelievable family,” Urgo said of Bates. “But [we like] his ability to knock down shots at 6-5, and he’s freakish athletically.”

As for Jahmere Tripp, Coach Urgo explained that getting a talented player from a nationally ranked New York City high school program is a major step forward for Fordham recruiting.

“His ability to make everybody around him better is really impressive. I think he’s going to be dynamic in the Atlantic 10.”