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.
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.
St. Bonaventure at Dayton - 2:00pm (NBCSN)
Rhode Island at George Mason - 4:00pm (NBCSN)