5 Reasons Why the Fordham Rams Could Turn the Corner in 2014-15
Without question, 2014-15 will be a huge season for Tom Pecora and the Fordham Rams.
Pecora is 34-85 in his first four years at Rose Hill, and the Rams haven't had a winning record since 2006-07.
Searching for evidence to validate any hope you may have left for the program—after two decades of mostly forgettable moments—isn't easy.
Still, you have to look at who's here and who's on their way in, what the competition will look like and what we already know about this team. And, hey, you have to believe.
Pecora has repeatedly said that Fordham is close to turning the corner. Here are five reasons why that could very well happen next season.
An Influx of Talent
You can't win without the players, and at no point in Pecora's four years here has the head coach had as much talent as he'll have on the court next season.
It starts with Eric Paschall. In terms of hype and buzz, it doesn't get any bigger than this at Rose Hill.
Paschall was the New England Prep Player of the Year this past season. People who have seen him play, and those who are familiar with the Fordham program, have been raving about this signing since it was announced last November.
Pecora has said he'll start right away and, at 6'6" and 225 pounds, he expects the forward to have an immediate impact. It could be a big one.
"We are all thrilled to have Eric Paschall join the Fordham basketball family," Pecora said at the time of his signing. "He is an important piece to the process of our future success. Eric will have an immediate impact on our program when he joins us next year."
The latest recruits for Fordham include the Serbian-born point guard Nemanja Zarkovic from Montreal's College Jean-De-Brebeuf, who committed three weeks ago, and the German forward Christian Sengfelder, who came on board last week.
Two other key additions will be Antwoine Anderson and Manny Suarez, redshirt freshmen who were academically ineligible last year. Anderson could see some time at the point and, at 6'10", Suarez could help out down low.
Jon Severe headlines the returning class, one that also includes Bryan Smith, Ryan Canty, Ryan Rhoomes, Travion Leonard and Mandell Thomas.
Severe averaged 17.3 points per game during his freshman season and was named to the 2014 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team.
At some point over the next three years, he could become the top guard in the A-10 and, with Paschall, could be part of the best one-two combo in the conference.
Even though he struggled with his shot at times last season, he can score. It's safe to say he'll get better.
Meanwhile, the Rams need to get more from Smith, who will be a senior coming off a disappointing junior season, and Canty, also a senior, who came on strong at the end of the year.
The only real loss for Fordham is Branden Frazier, who led the team in scoring (18.2 points per game) and assists (4.3 per game).
"We have more talent than we've ever had." Pecora said. "The players we have are maturing. We played with one senior this year. Next year we'll have players who got a lot of minutes as freshmen and sophomores."
"It comes down to maturation and talent," he added. "Talent wins basketball games."
The Atlantic 10 Comes Back to Earth
2013-14 was a banner season for the Atlantic 10. Six teams made it to the NCAA tournament, with Dayton advancing all the way to the Elite Eight.
As ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan points out, the teams that finished at the top of the conference are losing key contributors to graduation. All six teams that made it to the tournament will say goodbye to stars, though each team (possibly with the exception of Saint Louis, which had five senior starters) will bring back key contributors as well.
You have to think that can only be a good thing for the Rams. After all, as Fordham brings in more talent, the A-10, as a whole, should come back to earth a bit next year.
That's not to say the conference won't be competitive, because it still has top teams and quality players. Nor will it be easy. Fordham, after all, has won 39 games in six years. And, whether it loses teams or players, one way or another, the A-10 always seems to rebound.
Still, Pecora sees an opportunity for his team.
"The league will come down and we'll come up a little bit," he said, "and that's how I believe we can make a move in the conference next year."
A Strong Finish to Last Season
By almost all accounts, last season was a disappointing one for the Rams.
After a 7-6 non-conference record, Fordham went 2-14 against A-10 teams and lost its last eight regular-season games.
But in the play-in game of the A-10 tournament, the Rams beat George Mason and then hung tough against Dayton the following afternoon.
One win doesn't make a season, and you can argue for or against moral victories.
But it's a good sign that the Rams didn't mail it in against George Mason. Forget all the bad nights it had last season, Fordham wasn't about to go home without a fight.
That says a lot about the players and just as much about the job the coaches did keeping them focused.
"Any small step that you make when you're rebuilding a program is important," Pecora said on WFUV Radio back in March following the George Mason game. "For our guys to show the toughness and the grit, I thought it was a positive."
Even during the regular season, when wins were hard to come by, the Rams didn't fall apart, almost pulling off upsets against La Salle and George Washington at the end of the regular season.
"That showed a lot of character on their part," Pecora said during the interview with WFUV. "A lot of teams would just lay down and not compete. They didn't do that."
If Not Now, Then When?
At some point, it has to happen. Right?
For 19 seasons, since it made the move from the Patriot League to the Atlantic 10, Fordham has been trying to build a winning program. While there have been some positive moments, the last two decades have been filled with far too much basketball frustration.
As far as coaches go, the Rams first tried with Nick Macarchuk, who took them to the NCAA tournament when they were still in the Patriot League. Then it was Bob Hill, the big-name guy from the NBA. Fordham then turned to Dereck Whittenburg, who won a national championship as a player with North Carolina State in 1983. No one was able to get this thing going.
Now it's on Pecora.
He's a New York guy who says he's "living the dream." That dream would get a little sweeter if he's able to turn things around in the Bronx.
Pecora has a history of helping build programs. He was a member of Jay Wright's staff at Hofstra when Wright built the Pride into a tournament team.
When Pecora took over as head coach at Hofstra in 2001, he guided the school to three National Invitation Tournament appearances.
You could make the argument that this is Fordham's last chance; its last best hope.
Maybe it will happen under Pecora's watch, and maybe 2014-15 is the start of it all.
Why not? Every team goes through its ups and downs. In sports, when you've been down for so long, you're usually due.
Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CFCostello.