Women's Round of 64 Preview: Fordham

Cal fans have been dreaming of another long March Madness run in 2014, but that only happens if Cal starts with a win. Let's take a look at Cal's challengers from the Atlantic 10.

When: 1:00 pm Saturday, ESPN2

Our Bears are in Waco, Texas, a city of approximately 125,000 on the Brazos river, named for the local Native Americans who were eventually displaced up to Oklahoma. Its biggest attraction may well be the Dr. Pepper Museum which . . . damn, I actually kinda want to visit that. DON'T JUDGE ME.

This probably isn't where the Bears wanted to be sent for March, but a late two game losing streak likely can be blamed. Prior to losing to Washington (RPI 58) and Washington State (RPI 94) the Bears had a record of 7-1 vs. RPI 51-100 teams, with that sole loss coming on the road in November without Gennifer Brandon. Cal's ‘worst' loss was at home to RPI 35 USC. That's a pretty good resume.

I would speculate that losing to the Washington schools weakened the best argument Cal's resume had (we only lose to elite teams!) and bumped the Bears from a potential 5/6 seed down to a 7. Whatever the explanation, the Bears are faced with a tougher earlier road than they might have otherwise faced.

That road starts with the Fordham University Rams, a private Jesuit school from the Bronx. This is their 2nd NCAA tournament appearance - they lost to 1 seed Penn St. by 53 points in 1994, so it's been a long road back. They would have likely been a bubble team on Selection Monday, but they swept through the Atlantic-10 tournament and upset top seeded Dayton in the final to earn an automatic spot.

Personnel

Starters
G Erin Rooney, Sr., 5'8''
G Abigail Corning, Sr., 5'10''
G Hannah Missry, Fr., 5'8''
F Emily Tapio, Jr., 6'0''
F Samantha Clark, So., 6'2''

Bench
G/F Danielle Burns, Fr., 5'10''
F Mary Nwachukwu, Sr., 6'2''
F Danielle Padovano, Fr., 6'0''

Expect Rooney and Corning to play every minute, and for the other starters to get heavy minutes as well, with about 10 minutes from each bench player. That's the rotation that Fordham rolled with in the A-10 tourney and that shouldn't change here.

The offense revolves heavily upon the talents of the senior backcourt duo of Rooney and Corning, who do everything for the Rams. And I mean everything. The duo are 1st and 2nd on the team in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals. Part of that is that they both play a ton of minutes, but it's more or less reflected in the rate stats too.

When the bracket was revealed, everybody started looking forward to the point guard matchup between Brittany Boyd and Odyssey Sims. But Boyd vs. New Zealand native Erin Rooney is pretty damned good too. She has the same ability to score and facilitate in equal measures. And although she's not as disruptive defensively, she's probably just as effective within Fordham's more conservative defensive system.

In terms of scouting, Cal has to be aware that four of Fordham's starters will all shoot 3 pointers at any opportunity, including 6'2'' Clark. Missry almost literally never takes a shot that isn't a 3 pointer - 87% of her shots were threes.

Tapio is probably their most traditional post player despite being undersized, and the three bench players are mostly there to give some minutes to the posts when they get in foul trouble. Based on Fordham's stats I'm assuming they are all solid defensively, but none of them typically have a meaningful offensive impact.

Statistical Profile

OVERALL
SHOOTING EFFICIENCY BALL CONTROL DEFENSE REB/BLK

FG%

2FG%

3FG%

eFG%

PPWS

FT%

True%

Pos/40

O-PPP

D-PPP

Floor%

TOPG

TORt

APG

A/TO

A/B%

FG%

2FG%

3FG%

TOF

OppTR

RPG

Reb%

BPG

FPG

43.7
2/41

48.1
2/42

36.0
1/29

50.2
1/26

1.06
2/34

71.2
7/119

53.3
2/43

66.5
12/336

0.999
2/47

0.833
2/30

40.3
1/37

13.2
3/45

19.6
4/94

15.9
4/41

1.211
2/29

64.0
1/27

36.8
1/29

38.8
1/20

30.5
6/112

12.2
13/332

18.0
11/297

35.6
7/130

52.8
3/88

2.1
12/297

15.9
2/24
CONFERENCE GAMES ONLY
SHOOTING EFFICIENCY BALL CONTROL DEFENSE REB/BLK

FG%

2FG%

3FG%

eFG%

PPWS

FT%

True%

Pos/40

O-PPP

D-PPP

Floor%

TOPG

TORt

APG

A/TO

A/B%

FG%

2FG%

3FG%

TOF

OppTR

RPG

Reb%

BPG

FPG

42.4
4

47.4
3

34.0
4

48.7
3

1.029
3

71.5
7

51.9
3

66.4
12

0.977
2

0.889
6

70.3
3

12.7
3

18.8
4

16.1
3

1.271
2

66.2
1

39.1
6

41.7
5

30.8
5

11.3
13

17.0
11

34.2
5

52.3
3

2.1
12

15.8
1

For an explanation of these statistics, see this link. Numbers below each stat represent national/conference rank respectively.

The first thing that jumps out at me is Fordham's pace. They are the 336th slowest team in the country out of 349. That's a full possession slower than Utah, the slowest team in the Pac-12. Cal loves to push the ball, but unless they can force turnovers the Bears generally struggle to push the pace against teams bound and determined to turn the game into a slog.

The simple summary is that Fordham does everything well, with two exceptions.

The Rams are ranked in the top half of the A-10 in every single meaningful statistical category except for forcing turnovers and drawing fouls. Forcing turnovers clearly isn't what their defense is designed to do - they want to slow down possessions and make it tough to get off open looks.

And not drawing many fouls is likely the function of a slow, deliberate offense. While it will be a challenge for Cal to stay disciplined on defense, it might be a positive that Cal's stars are unlikely to face foul trouble (knock on wood).

The season-long numbers are really impressive, but it's worth pointing out that Fordham's conference stats are a bit more modest, a reflection of how weak their non-conference schedule was. That's particularly true on defense, where the Rams beat up on weaker teams before better A-10 teams found space to operate.

Still, this is a team without any obvious weaknesses to exploit. They shoot the ball well, they rebound well, they don't turn it over, and they don't commit many fouls. Hopefully our Bears can change that, if only for one game.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Sagarin Predictor: Cal by 3

For what it's worth, a 10 seed is probably fair for a team like Fordham. They were the 2nd best team in the best mid-major conference, but had a pretty weak out-of-conference schedule strength. Their only high profile game came against Penn State, a 17 point loss, and their 2nd toughest non-con game was probably a home game against UOP.

They are clearly good enough to beat Cal, but the Bears are still favorites.

Keys to the Game


Take advantage of size/athleticism

It's a cliché that small conference teams have to beat major conference teams with execution and fundamentals, but in this case it's likely to be true. And with the possible exception of Penn St., Cal is almost certainly the most athletic team Fordham has faced this year. Cal needs to use that advantage to take rebounds away, to get past defenders, to muscle their way inside, to get Fordham out of position and draw fouls.

Pick up the defensive effort

The Bears are a 7 seed in part because they brought a sub-par defensive effort to the Pac-12 tournament. Now they will be facing a team with offensive personnel not too dissimilar from the Washington State team that beat them in Seattle. Clearly the defense will have to improve.

It's tough to scout women's basketball due to a lack of information, but based on the statistical profile I would speculate that Fordham runs some form of the Princeton offense. That means that the Bears will have to be very patient and disciplined on defense. They'll have to stay out on 3 point shooters while being aware of the back door cut. Hopefully a long break to get healthy and hungry will help.

Feed the posts

I strongly suspect that Fordham doesn't have anybody who can guard Reshanda Gray. Fordham's rotation typically only includes one player at a time taller than 6'0'', which means that Cal's two posts will always have a significant size advantage. We'll see how aggressively Fordham clogs the paint and sends double teams, but there shouldn't be any way to stop Cal from working the ball inside or cleaning up on the offensive glass.

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