Fordham Rams: 5 Things to Take Away from the 2013-14 Season
It was another difficult season for the Fordham Rams.
For the fourth consecutive year under head coach Tom Pecora, Fordham finished below .500, with the team struggling the most against Atlantic 10 competition over the final two months of the season.
By now, the results are all too familiar for anyone who has followed this team over the years. The Rams have finished below .500 in 20 of the last 22 seasons.
This season, in some ways, was supposed to be different. Branden Frazier, a four-year starter and one of the best players in school history, returned to anchor a team that included Jon Severe, Mr. New York Basketball in 2013.
Fordham was also banking on the natural progression teams that in rebuilding mode generally experience.
Despite its 10-21 record and the struggles it had in conference play in the beginning and end of the season, there were some good signs.
Here are five things to take away from the 2013-14 season.
Branden Frazier's Final Act
If you want to put a face on the season, Branden Frazier is your guy.
So much has been said over the last couple of weeks about how much Frazier contributed to the program since the time he arrived as a freshman.
Frazier was all set to join Pecora at Hofstra, but when the Fordham job opened up and Pecora moved over to the Bronx, Frazier came with him. Over the next four years, he would put together a career that ranks as one of the best ever at Rose Hill.
Frazier finished second in school history in assists (495) and ninth in points (1,642). As the only senior who played regularly, he provided much-needed leadership.
Statistically, his senior season was his best. He led the team in scoring (18.2 points per game) and assists (4.3 per game).
As was the case all season, in an interview with WFUV Radio on Saturday, Pecora was asked about the impact Frazier had.
"Branden Frazier's a special guy," he said. "He took a chance on me; he took a chance on Fordham. He could have stayed and waited to see who [Hofstra] hired and how they moved forward, and gone there to a program that was winning. He believed in us and he believed in Fordham.
"He's been a great player for us. He's done everything we asked. He's made great sacrifices and he has no regrets."
Judging by the reception he got on Senior Day and the accolades thrown his way as the season came to a close, he won't be forgotten any time soon.
Welcome to Rose Hill, Jon Severe
In so many ways, Jon Severe was the symbol of Fordham's youth movement.
For much of the season, he led the team in scoring. In 25 of Fordham's 31 games, he scored in double digits, 11 times scoring 21 or more points.
But he was also wildly inconsistent and struggled at times with shot selection—exactly what you would expect from a freshman.
Fordham's roster was packed with freshmen and sophomores. Like Severe, the Rams were a young team trying to find their way.
That created a dilemma for Fordham.
Pecora said several times throughout the season that he always looks to his veteran players, most notably seniors, for leadership, and that you can't necessarily count on freshman night in, night out.
That was certainly the case with Severe, who did endure his share of growing pains this year.
"Jon, like most freshmen, is still trying to figure out what a good shot is all the time," Pecora said in the WFUV interview. "The mistakes he's making are aggressive mistakes."
Severe finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game. Highly recruited out of Christ the King in Queens, Severe is one of the best high-school players Fordham has ever landed.
With a season under his belt and Frazier gone, the Rams will look to build a winning program around him.
It All Starts with Non-Conference Games
If you're looking for a bright spot from this past season, look at what Fordham did at the start of the year. For the third time in four years under Pecora, Fordham finished .500 or better in non-conference play.
In Pecora's four seasons, the Rams are 24-29 in non-conference games (7-6 this year).
Winning games before Atlantic 10 play begins has always been important, but now it may be even more important.
Six teams from the Atlantic 10 made the NCAA tournament. The conference is thought to be as strong as it's ever been.
"We had a winning non-conference record," Pecora said in the radio interview. "You need to go into your conference play with eight or nine wins. You want to try to get yourself above .500 in the conference. That would get you to enough wins where you could move on and, if you win a game or two in the tournament, play in the postseason.
"Those are the baby steps we need to make. To turn the program here we have to get a winning season."
And to do that, Fordham will need to do even better against non-conference opponents next season.
Pecora knew it wouldn't be easy at Fordham.
He could have stayed at Hofstra, where he was for 16 seasons, nine as the head coach. He could have continued to win basketball games in the Colonial Athletic Association.
But Fordham is bigger and the Atlantic 10 is better.
Pecora just completed his fourth year at Rose Hill, and despite the 34-85 record and the 21 losses this season, he hasn't lost his focus, energy or hope.
"They brought me here to dig this program out of a hole," Pecora said when asked during the interview if he thought his job was in jeopardy. "The hole was a very deep one. We've done everything in a Fordham manner. We continue to move forward. I think we're about to turn the corner in year five."
As for those who might think it's time to consider a coaching change, Pecora isn't buying it.
"I think the last thing this university needs is another coaching turnover," he said. "They've done it every five or six years over the last couple of decades. I just don't think that's how you build a program.
"Those decisions are made at the highest level. If the time comes when I have to move on for good reasons or bad from Fordham, I'll feel very good about the job myself and my staff have done, the way we've done it, how we've positioned this program to turn the corner. I can rest my head knowing that we're doing it the right way.
"I think lack of patience is the last thing that's needed around here. I know it's frustrating. It's been a rough 20-year run here but I was brought in to change that. I'm not about quick fixes. When we turn the corner it will be for the long term, and I anticipate it being next year."
That being said, Pecora was honest when asked to grade his performance this season as well as that of his coaches.
"I would give us a C-minus in the sense of wins and losses. In the sense of everything else that goes with a program, I would probably give us an A-minus.
"The last piece to the puzzle is winning basketball games and that's what I was hired to do.
"As far as the way we go about business each day, the work habits of our entire staff, the academic work, everything is in place.
"The last thing we need to do has always been the greatest challenge at Fordham, and it's winning basketball games, especially in the Atlantic 10. That's the last piece to the puzzle."
The Importance of One Win
One win does not make a season, but in Fordham's case, it certainly helped.
The Rams ended the regular season with eight-straight losses, finishing in last place in the Atlantic 10. They took on George Mason in the play-in game of the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
It was there that Fordham ended its losing streak, advancing to the first round with a 70-67 win over the Patriots.
It was only the school's fifth win ever in the A-10 tournament and its first since 2007. It also showed that, despite the rough finish to the regular season, the Rams didn't just mail it in.
And although they lost the next day to Dayton, don't underestimate the importance of a win like that.
"Any small step that you make when you're rebuilding a program is important," Pecora said at the start of the radio interview. "For our guys to show the toughness and the grit, I thought it was a positive."
Even down the stretch of the regular season, as the losses started to mount, Fordham remained competitive, almost pulling off upsets against La Salle and George Washington.
"That showed a lot of character on their part," Pecora said. "A lot of teams would just lay down and not compete. They didn't do that."
Good signs moving forward.