Dear NCAA Women's Basketball Selection Committee,
I write this open letter to you to implore you to look deeper than RPI, SOS, and wins and losses. I ask that you select on more variables than simple statistics, because they often fail to grasp the growth and maturation process of a basketball team. I ask that you consider a few things, statistical and otherwise, when you consider the Fordham Rams for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament...
Three Point Shooting: Yes, Fordham started the season 7-5. Their “bad losses” to Yale, Stony Brook, and Lafayette came in the month of December during this stretch. Before conference play (which began two games into the 2013), the Rams shot just 28.3% from beyond the arc. Since, the Rams are a brilliant 34.8% from deep, that number would have ranked 29th in the nation if it were stretched over the full season.
Marah Strickland helped lead that incredible turnaround, shooting 41.3% from three in conference play, while all five starters are shooting above 30% in that time. My point is: look at the sub-200 losses that you’re likely weighing against Fordham. Then find the common denominator:
Yale: Fordham shot 21% from three
Stony Brook: Fordham shot 28.6% from three
Lafayette: Fordham shot 16.7% from three
The Rams had bad shooting nights, something that seemingly became a thing of the past when conference play began. Think twice when you weigh those losses – is it possible they were a result of an early season shooting slump? It sure seems to be a reasonable thought when you consider Fordham has shot 10 points better in conference play than they did in those three losses. Don’t forget that despite those shooting woes, Fordham nearly knocked off top-100 Marquette in their building and did defeat top-100 Albany on the road.
To further illustrate that point: in losses, Fordham is 35/158 (22.2%) from downtown, compared to 157/462 (34.0%) in wins. Bad shooting nights happen, and I refuse to believe that the three point defense for these specific opponents were that much better than the others.
New team matures, learns how to win: Since the opening twelve games, Fordham is an impressive 17-3, with losses to Duquesne on the road (RPI #38), Dayton at the Rose Hill Gym (RPI #14), and Saint Joseph’s at the Barclays Center (RPI #32). Don’t forget that three of Fordham’s starters (all of whom average over 30 minutes per game) hadn’t played a minute in a Fordham uniform before this season (transfers Erin Rooney and Marah Strickland and freshman Samantha Clark). I would argue the final 20 games is a much more accurate depiction of what you’ll see from Fordham in the first round of the tournament than the first 12.
Does Fordham have a great strength of schedule in that time? No, I can’t say it's great. But they are playing their best basketball of the season, and they have competed down the stretch with very good teams. Their second half surge includes wins over top-100 teams Saint Joseph’s in the Rose Hill Gym and Charlotte (their only conference loss) away from the Bronx. A late season eight game winning streak made the Rams the third seed in a competitive Atlantic 10 Conference and placed the Rams in the finals of the conference tournament for the first time.
Ram tough defense: The Rams defense has only gotten stronger as the year has gone on. I believe there are two very effective second level statistics that capture Fordham’s defensive fortitude best in a statistical way.
Fordham’s average for “effective points allowed” (a normalized defensive statistic that takes into account the number of possessions a team defends in a game in forty minutes) is a full 10 points below the national average. Regardless of the number of possessions in a game, this normalized statistic shows a Fordham team that is stingy at any tempo.
“Points allowed per defensive possession” has not risen above 0.91 pts/poss in any of the last 12 games, including the losses to Dayton and Saint Joseph’s (which is indicative of a strong defense). It’s worth noting that Fordham’s offense eclipsed that number 9 times those 12 games. A nationally ranked defense and a sizzling offense have taken over for the Rams, and the statistics can speak to that point. (Stats courtesy of WBBState.com)
Beyond just specialized numbers, Fordham is 16th in the nation in scoring defense and 26th in 3-point shooting defense. A first round date with Fordham is going to be a tough out for anyone.
Tradition Began Yesterday: Think about the team’s not so distant past. Remember 0-29? That was just five years ago. A member of the media at the Atlantic 10 Tournament told me, “We used to have you circled as a win before the schedule even came out a few years ago”. That’s largely because in the five seasons before Coach Stephanie Gaitley arrived, the Rams were a dismal 31-116 (.211). The improvement from 0-29 to conference finalist at the Barclays Center occured faster than anyone could have expected.
Fordham has never had a first team all-conference player since their move to the Atlantic 10 over a decade ago before Erin Rooney got the nod this year. The team was never ranked in the RPI top-100 before this season, they are #66 on Selection Monday.
Tradition began this year with four all-conference selections (Rooney on the first team, Marah Strickland on the second, Arielle Collins on the defensive team, and Samantha Clark on the rookie team). The all-conference team also snubbed the team's top rebounder, tri-captain Abigail Corning. The squad dealt with injury problems down the stretch that dealt major blows to their bench that the team was able to persevere through.
I can promise you that neither Dayton nor Saint Joseph’s, the two teams that are locks to make the tourney from the A10, want to tango with Fordham in the dance. Ask Cindy Griffin, Jim Jabir or any coach in the A10 how much they have grown to respect Fordham’s team this year. I’d think they both will have glowing remarks on these Rams. The growth at Rose Hill is real, and the tradition is being built once again.
I bring up all these numbers not to argue that certain losses didn’t happen or that signature wins weren’t scarce. I mention these notes because they would be easy to miss. A quick glance at RPI would ignore the maturation process that every team faces. This note is an effort to alleviate concerns of Fordham’s readiness and ability to compete – Fordham is ready for the prime time, and they are playing their best ball of the season. Most of all, it’s an effort to tell you what I have witnessed as a broadcaster following this team for the past four months that you won't see in your selection sheet.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your decisions tonight,