And an eighth seed opposing ninth seed Richmond makes it more impressive for the Rams who finished the regular season campaign with a four game winning streak after a 64-61 win over Rhode Island Saturday afternoon at Rose Hill. Consider last season, under former coach Tom Pecora, Fordham finished the campaign with 10 wins and with a 4-14 conference record.
Seedings are important in March and 17-12 overall, and a 8-10 conference finish puts them in the resurgence category.
“Looking forward to playing in Brooklyn Thursday,” Neubauer said after his team once again played before a capacity crowd at the old Rose Hill Gymnasium. Fordham will open up the second round of the tournament Thursday at noon against a Richmond team that beat them twice in conference play.
But then, the team was not playing the game the way they have the past month. There has been better defensive play and senior forward Ryan Rhoomes, who finished the season finale with a career high 27 points with 11 rebounds, developed into one of the top players in the conference.
“We want more,” Rhoomes said when asked about the 17-win season. “We’re not done.” And by all means, Fordham has an opportunity to continue this resurgence in Brooklyn. They know this has been a season of positives and the opposition has noticed the vast improvement.
Neubauer would not take credit for the instant success in his first year at the helm. Rather, he says it is the core of seniors and the nucleus behind them. The Rams played before two capacity crowds in their last two home games, including a big conference win over sixth seeded Davidson last weekend.
The 17 overall wins and eight in the conference are the most for Fordham since the 2006-2007 season. That enthused a loyal fan base of alumni and on Saturday afternoon the old gym was rocking as it was years ago when the Rams were either NCAA or NIT Tournament bound in March.
“Proud of this group,” commented Neubauer who was the head coach at Eastern Kentucky for ten years before coming to the Bronx. “We are not thinking we solved all the world problems by going 8-10. Our program has a long way to go,” he said about the close of a regular season that went beyond expectations.
Because there is a transition of a new coach there is always expectation for the future. However, Neubauer with a low key approach, and with an emphasis on defense, saw his team begin to respond as conference play progressed last month. Rhoomes was a part of that catalyst as was a sophomore freshman, 6-8 forward Chris Sengfelder who finished with nine key points.
And the opposing coaches in the conference have also took notice of this resurgence. Rhode Island Coach Dan Hurley said that Neubauer is deserving to be recognized as coach of the year in the conference.
“Monday when I put my vote in he is deserving,” Hurley said. “They are a good team and can win a couple of games in the tournament.”
But the Rams want more than a couple of wins, and if they get a few and don’t advance to the conference championship game, where an NCAA Tournament automatic bid comes, there will be definite consideration for an NIT bid or playing in the College Invitational Tournament.
For now, the Rams will take a day off and rest their engines before resuming practice Monday. Then it’s off to Brooklyn and trying to continue this season of resurgence that has them with the second best record among area college basketball teams.
“The word is how we improved,” Neubauer said. And there isn’t anyone who can dispute that.