Sometimes if you stare long enough at a seemingly weak non-conference schedule, you can make excuses for it. But Fordham’s recently released schedule speaks for itself: it’s soft.
Several things jump out right away. First, the Rams play just two games outside the state of New York, and play a seven-game homestand in November. Second, the only high majors on the slate are two of 2015-16’s worst: Rutgers (KenPom No. 291) and St. John’s (No. 222).
The opening game will be a challenge, since aside from the usual issues that come with road openers, the Buccaneers went 24-12 and were one of the better Southern Conference teams last season. The game against UT-Arlington will also be tricky as the Rams need to deal with Kevin Hervey and a team that racked up road wins against Ohio State, Memphis and Rice last season. Nonetheless, if that’s the best your schedule has to offer, it’s not one designed to catch eyeballs or build a resume.
That might not be the point, and this schedule might be soft in an unapologetic way. Jeff Neubauer inherited a program that lagged severely under Derrick Whittenburg and stayed sluggish under Tom Pecora. Fordham won a total of 13 league games over Pecora’s five seasons in the Bronx, and never won more than 10 games overall.
That made Neubauer’s 17-10 (8-10) debut last season a pleasant surprise. The win total was buoyed by a nine-game non-conference winning streak that came entirely at home and against teams rated 222 or worse according to KenPom. To say this created momentum that carried directly into conference play wouldn’t be true, since the Rams started 2-7 in the A-10. But it’s not a stretch to think it was a confidence builder for a program that desperately needed it.
Lo and behold, there’s that similarly long home stretch against inferior teams this season. Neubauer can use that to develop the team around ultra-promising sophomore Joseph Chartouny (11.3 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 6.2 assists per game) while he tries to replace the interior presence he lost with Ryan Rhoomes’ departure (14.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg). He’ll also be trying to integrate Eastern Kentucky graduate transfer Javontae Hawkins as a major contributor right away.
An argument could be made that a team with non-senior key pieces like Chartouny and junior Christian Sangfelder would be better served developing in the face of a difficult non-conference schedule. But an equally strong argument can be made that small steps -- like a winning record — are just as valuable, and the A-10 presents enough of an opportunity to grow against good competition.
The Rams broke a 24-year postseason absence last season by reaching the CIT. Another postseason trip, even if it’s not the NCAA or NIT, would continue the positive momentum and that can’t happen without a stockpile of wins early on. Given longstanding commitments and Neubeaur’s brief time on the job, it’s not clear how much he could dictate the non-conference schedule’s difficulty, even if he wanted to load up on harder opposition.
Whatever the case, this laughable-at-first schedule is the right fit for where Fordham currently is. But that may not be the case next year if the Rams post another solid season and the NCAA tournament becomes a more realistic goal.