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Early Bird 2017

Fordham, Clover and a Coach of the Year Candidate

Release: 02/17/2017
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Courtesy: Atlantic 10 Conference

Less than one month from today the NCAA Tournament will be underway. Hard to believe… but it’s crunch time in conference play and there’s a fierce battle for both the regular season crown in the A-10 along with the ever-important byes that will belong to the top four seeds in the conference tournament. Dayton and VCU are tied atop the league while Richmond, George Mason, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, and La Salle are all separated by just two games.


Bronx Toughness

Wednesday night, I had the privilege of doing color commentary - via the Atlantic 10’s innovative Facebook Live initiative - for the Fordham 53-43 upset win over Rhode Island. It was the first time in 10 years that the Bronx Rams left Kingston with a “W.” Fordham has now won at Davidson, at Rhode Island, and home against VCU.

Everything about the Fordham is unorthodox. From their constantly changing defenses (is it a 1-1-3, 1-3-1, 2-3, man-to-man, junk, etc?), to the irregularity of their traps, strategic, successful and unpredictable methodology of head coach Jeff Neubauer’s timeouts, and much more. Savvy point guard Joseph Chartouny, who stirs the drink on offense and is a master anticipator on defense (he paces the COUNTRY in steals per game at 3.5, folks), leads the way. Forward Christian Sengfelder, and guards Javontae Hawkins and Antwoine Anderson form a core that has banded together despite injuries to contributors Prokop Slanina, Nemanja Zarkovic, and David Pekarek and gives Neubauer a run-thru-a-wall effort night in and night out.

One A-10 assistant told me that when you look at Fordham’s box scores, they don’t make sense. For example, numbers that look like they’d lead to a Fordham loss may actually reveal a 3-point Rams win. Truer words have never been spoken. The Rams are 11-15, 5-8 in league play… and they’re content to have you judge them on the face of just the numbers. But I wouldn’t advise it.


 Your pick for A-10 regular season champ?

In this week’s Twitter poll, Dayton (currently 11-2) is the “early” pick with five games remaining, garnering 76 percent of the roughly 820 votes collected in a 12-hour period. It’s not Gallup folks, and there are flaws in the @CDiSano44 poll… but that’s the read right now. Surely, VCU (11-2) and Richmond (9-4) -- along with a few 8-5 teams -- hope to have something to say about that over the next few weeks.


 Quote of the week

“Our guys are showing a lot of mental toughness and resilience for a young group this season. We have been losing close games, but we as coaches knew we were getting better. Our two outstanding freshmen have been learning on the fly and our sophs have been improving with each game. It’s a really young group, but they are showing great promise for the future for us in the A-10. We are continuing to focus on getting better down the stretch with the hope to be playing our best basketball when the A-10 Tournament begins.”      

                             -- Duquesne Head Coach Jim Ferry, after his team’s 96-66 win over UMass


Name you should know

Phil Martelli’s Saint Joseph’s team has been decimated by injuries. First, the preseason news that rising sophomore Pierfrancesco Oliva wouldn’t suit up this year. Next it was junior Shavar Newkirk, playing at an all-conference level for the first dozen games only to have a season-ending knee injury disrupt his white-hot start. Last week, most recent leading scorer Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble (15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists per game) succumbed to another season-ender, a broken foot.

But while injuries to these key players have the Hawks reeling, it opens the door for 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Chris Clover (6.6 points per game). Clover, MVP of the Philadelphia Catholic league as a high school senior, is a talented scorer who simply hasn’t yet been able to gain consistent traction at the collegiate level. Now he gets his chance. In the Hawks first post-Kimble game, Clover made 8 of 17 shots against VCU en route to a team-high 21 points. He also turned it over just once in 33 minutes of play. Keep an eye on the Philly native down the stretch. The young guard has a tremendous opportunity to build confidence, establish himself as a producer, and then join with Newkirk, Kimble, and 6-6 freshman Charlie Brown next year to form one heck of quartet.

So who’s playing this weekend?
Friday:
VCU at Richmond - 9:00pm (ESPN2)
Saturday:
Davidson at Massachusetts - 12:00pm (NBCSN)
St. Bonaventure at Dayton - 2:00pm (NBCSN)
Saint Louis at Fordham - 2:00pm
Rhode Island at George Mason - 4:00pm (NBCSN)
Saint Joseph’s at La Salle - 4:00pm (CBSSN)
Sunday:
George Washington at Duquesne - 12:00pm (NBCSN)

Knock, knock. Who’s there? A-10 Coach of the Year?
If you haven’t noticed, Dave Paulsen is positioning himself as well anyone for A-10 Coach of the Year honors in only his second season at the helm of the George Mason Patriots. Led by seniors Marquise Moore (17.8 points, 10.5 rebounds per game) and Jalen Jenkins (11.9 points, 6.2 rebounds per game) along with sophomores Otis Livingston II (15.4 points, 3.0 assist per game) and Jaire Grayer (11.2 points, 5.2 rebounds per game), the Patriots have won four straight and improved to 18-8 overall and 8-5 in conference play. The acceptance of roles from players like Jenkins and buy-in to Paulsen’s preaching has the Patriots playing outstanding team basketball at the right time, with sights set on a top four seed in the Atlantic 10 Championship. They can take a significant step at EagleBank Arena Saturday, when Rhode Island (16-9, 8-5) visits. Paulsen knows this… and took to the pen (or keyboard, I guess) to write this letter to #MasonNation.

We’ll wrap up with this...
These ESPN2 Friday Night Showcase games are awesome, aren’t they!? Another big one awaits tonight as 11-2 VCU jumps on the bus and travels just a few minutes down the road to renew acquaintances with 9-4 Richmond. Certainly no love lost between these rivals but, in mid February, would you rather have it any other way?
Until next week...

Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 television analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men's Basketball Media Day for the past three seasons. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44

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