The Entrance Roundtable: Men’s Basketball

We asked some of our writers to answer the hardest hitting questions and make some bold predictions ahead of the Marist men’s and women’s basketball campaigns. First, check out their thoughts on the men:

Who is going to be the stand out difference-maker this season?

Mitch Conrad: After sitting out last season, Redshirt Junior Michael Cubbage is poised for a breakout year. At 6 foot 4 inches, he possesses some serious length that can help defend on the perimeter or steal rebounds away from bigs. What stands out the most about him is his explosive ability to create and make plays.

Give Cubbage’s high school highlights a watch and you’ll see the energy he plays with.  Consistently he bursts through the paint to the basket, being able to finish with both hands demonstrating fantastic touch off the backboard. Cubbage scored 1,209 points in high school at Winslow Township in New Jersey and averaged 19.4 points per game his senior season. Watching his tape gives you visions of what NBA point guards Russell Westbrook and Ja Morant bring to the table. With his game being similar to these two — at least to an extent — it’s because he will show up in every category of the box score. Cubbage’s 200 steals and 600 assists in high school speak to his ability to be a do-everything point guard for Marist. Cubbage will make plays for Marist this year because of the attention he will bring inside. He finds teammates, keeping his eyes alert for open shooters while driving. If you decide to take away those open shooters he will make you pay by rising over defenders and throwing down some aggressive dunks. That’s something Marist has desperately needed over the past few seasons: someone who can punish a defense at the rim. I see Cubbage being that type of player, and being someone who can either start or come into the game and deliver a dunk that can take the soul out of the team. Look out for Michael Cubbage this year; the “wow” plays he will make on a nightly basis might just tear down the roof at McCann. Although that would further delay its re-opening… hm…  

Will Bjarnar: If the NCAA knew how to do anything right, this answer would be an easy one. The lone player that has the highest level of experience and history of facing high-level competition is Victor Enoh, the transfer from Memphis who looks wholly giddy in his roster picture. If only he knew… actually, it’s fairly easy to “know,” as it were. Google the word “eh.” Our men’s basketball team shows up.

If you didn’t know why I was scolding the NCAA back there, it’s because Enoh can’t play quite yet because of the collegiate governing body’s beyond-dense transfer rules. That gifts us the easiest answer in this slew of questions, even if he is equally deserving: it’s Darius Hines. He was oddly the team’s most consistent player last season in just 26.9 minutes per contest, scoring roughly seven-points and shooting 40-percent from the field (not to mention 82-percent from the free-throw line). These aren’t necessarily eye-popping numbers, but it’s worth noting that his time with the ball was limited due to Brian Parker’s offensive presence. He shot just south of 49-percent from the field last season, doing so on the most shots he’d taken in a season in his career (352). Give Hines extra minutes and 180 more shots (he only put up 176 last season), and who knows what he can do? Even without scoring in bunches, he showed flashes of playmaking brilliance last season. And another thing: on a scarily fresh team, Hines serves as the human embodiment of familiarity. To a certain extent, John Dunne would be doing himself a favor to rely on that.  

Bridget Reilly: Who else would be the difference-maker besides the junior from across the pond? Zion Tordoff is going to bring Marist to new heights, quite literally. At 6 foot 8 inches, Tordoff will be a significant asset to the team, in regards to rebounds and slamming the ball in the rim. Last year, at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming, Tordoff averaged seven points per game, but I believe this average will increase this year under the guidance of Dunne’s management. I have no doubt that Tordoff will hold a great example not only for himself and what he is capable of but also for Marist Basketball. He will certainly be looked up to by the younger, inexperienced players of the team. He has the chance to do just that for years to come. 

Dave Connelly: If we are excluding whoever is assuming Art Himmelberger’s long-time role as the band conductor, I think you have to credit the “X-factor award” to Darius Hines.  The MAAC is littered with guard talent on nearly every team from top to bottom between Isaiah Washington at Iona, Rich Kelly at Quinnipiac, or Jalen Pickett at Siena. Having that guy you can trust with the ball in his hands late in a game is a coach’s best friend. I look for him to become a leader on this team; he’ll be someone that Dunne puts his absolute trust in to run the offense, maybe because he’s one of just three players who received valuable minutes last season. Hines was far from the epitome of efficiency at the point last season, yet he showed far more poise than most freshman point guards often do at the collegiate level. It feels right that John Dunne hands the keys to the offense to Darius Hines this season. The offense will go as far as he is willing to take it.

Matt Spirio: The top performer for the Red Foxes will undoubtedly be sophomore guard Darius Hines. Hines is the highest scoring returning player for Marist and will be looking to build on his freshman season in which he started 29 of their 31 games. He has certainly earned the trust of head coach John Dunne, and will likely be the primary ball-handler with Brian Parker no longer running the point. The key for Hines will be attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line, where he shot 82-percent last season. If Dunne gives him the green light, he should have no problem becoming the leading scorer after averaging 6.7 points a season ago.

Who is going to be the biggest competition?

Bridget: According to the preseason poll, the biggest competition is predicted to be Iona. The top three consists of Iona, followed by Rider and then Quinnipiac. However, I am going to go against this preseason poll and predict for myself that Quinnipiac will come out on top this year. Despite the loss of the MAAC Player of the Year, Cameron Young, the Bobcats do have veterans and young talent this season. Guard and forwards combination of Rich Kelly and Jacob Rigoni will keep others on their toes. The Bobcats also have a significant amount of young talent on the team this year that will benefit from these upperclassmen and will take the program far in seasons to come.   

Will: Each other in a battle for best hair. Zion Tordoff leads the way handily, but there’s something about Tyler Saint-Furcy’s do. It screams Raheem Sterling, whom I adore. Michael Cubbage is even in this mix. This coverage will continue and it will be comprehensive. Guys, just don’t get a haircut.

Mitch: While I agree with Will — that the competition of who will have the best flow this year will be one that’s highly intriguing and will be monitored on a game to game basis — I think another competition that will emerge this year is, who will be the best dunker on this team? As mentioned earlier, Cubbage is a player I expect to slam home some dunks this season but I think his biggest competition is Zion Tordoff. There is some other basketballer out there by the name of Zion Williamson and I think he might be good at dunking or something? All jokes aside, Tordoff has a chance to make a name for himself here in Poughkeepsie. At 6 feet 8 inches, Tordoff has excellent size and the ability to rise above the court. 

Dave: I see the biggest internal competition taking place in the frontcourt with the deluge of newcomers that John Dunne has decided to bring in. Tobias Sjoberg has handled plenty of intangibles for the Red Foxes throughout his career, but he may find some fierce competition from playing time in the paint. Charleston Southern transfer Jordan Jones looks to bring an efficient scoring option down low for Marist after shooting 73.5% from the field on 83 attempts two seasons ago for the Buccaneers. Braden Bell comes in from Ranger College in Texas and is a stretch big that can help give either Jones or Sjoberg the space they need in order to work their game in the paint. England native Zion Tordoff can score at all three levels and at 6’8”, can help Dunne get creative with some of the lineups that he wants to put out there. Victor Enoh and Henry Makeny round out six spots on the roster taken up by players standing 6 feet 7 inches or taller. It will be interesting to see who wins the battle for minutes as the primary bigs that Dunne decides to go to in his lineups.

Matt: When it comes to the MAAC, it’s Iona and then everybody else. Iona has appeared in the last 7 MAAC championship games, winning the past 4 seasons to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament. Marist did steal a win against Iona last winter but had lost the 10 games prior to that contest. Iona is returning three of their top four scorers from last season, all of which were in double figures, and is led by a group of seniors who are looking way beyond making noise in the MAAC. Marist might find a way to contend with other teams in the conference, but their inexperience will be no match the Gaels this season.

What is going to be the biggest obstacle?

Bridget: In my personal experience with sports, it’s difficult to go from season to season. With it, comes losing and gaining members. Losing a significant number of experienced players and being left with newbies is tough. There is simply no easy transition. Marist only has three veterans this year. The remaining nine players are all young, new blood. In addition, Coach Dunne is only in his second year of coaching basketball at Marist. This is a year of inexperience, but I also see it as an excellent opportunity for learning and growth. I personally have experience in this type of team dynamic. Even though we did not win many games, we did begin to click by the middle and end of the season. The team chemistry and flow will come with time. This is also a year of patience for Marist Men’s Basketball that I believe will serve them well in the following season.

Will: Mediocrity. They achieved something they hadn’t last season, finally becoming the zenith of humdrum basketball programs (I guess that’s what 12-19 means). They fell right in the middle — fifth or sixth — of the conference in the following categories: scoring per game (67.3), scoring margin (-2.0), turnover margin (0.26), assist/turnover ratio (0.97), and –LOL – attendance (1,292 fans per game). They were better in some key categories (defense, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, defensive rebounding) but worse in a number of other crucial areas (offensive rebounding, assists, blocked shots, steals). Sure, Iona and Quinnipiac are scary. But what’s scarier is becoming your own worst enemy.

Mitch: The biggest obstacle that Marist will face this season is finding consistency. On a team that will be welcoming nine new faces, there is certainly a lack of identity as to who will contribute this year. The only returning players who significantly played minutes during last season are Darius Hines, Matthew Herasme and Tobias Sjoberg. These three will be regulars in the rotation, and Hines and Sjoberg most likely locks to be in the starting lineup. Last year, Hines started 29 of 31 games, while Sjoberg started in 30. What complicates things is Michael Cubbage, Matt Turner, and Jordan Jones all coming off of their transfer year absence. With the three making their first appearances in Red Fox red this Friday, it will be interesting to see who Dunne gives minutes to. On a team with so many players that haven’t laced the sneakers up for Dunne yet, it makes me guess he will have to experiment with who he features in the main five. This team in order to find success in the MAAC will have to hit its stride quickly. Therefore, to find the squad with the best chemistry and balance Dunne could be forced to swap these new players in and out to see what he has in them. 

Dave: The biggest obstacle is going to come both in the form of a roster that has very little minutes continuity from last season. Marist returns just 29.7-percent of its total minutes from last season compared to the 71.2-percent they returned coming into last season. It may be a bit bumpy to start the season, but it looks to be a team that will grow as the season progresses. Another concern is where the on-court leadership will come from. The Red Foxes return only one upperclassman that saw any meaningful minutes a year ago, something that may cost Marist some key games down the road this year.

On a separate note, offense will be hard to come by in Poughkeepsie this season. There are not many obvious scoring options on this roster, leaving many to wonder where the consistency is going to come from on the offensive end. Points may come by committee this season, but there will undoubtedly be some ugly nights on the offensive end for Dunne’s squad.

Matt: The biggest obstacle for Marist is going to be their inexperience and lack of upperclassmen guard play. College basketball is dominated by veteran guards who know how to facilitate an offense, which Marist currently lacks. The aforementioned Darius Hines will be the lead guard as a sophomore and be likely be joined by fellow sophomore Matthew Harasme, who was 6th in the team in minutes last season. Beyond those two there are a lot of question marks made up of freshmen, transfers, and redshirts, leaving the Red Foxes with few answers at guard. Long story short, replacing the top five leading scorers from any team is tough, but it’s even tougher when you have no clear replacements behind them.

Record prediction?

Bridget: This year, Marist has been picked eighth in MAAC preseason poll. In Dunne’s preseason interview, he said that this is a bit generous. Since this is a young and inexperienced team, I would say that this year’s record will not be great, but I don’t think it will display the amount of work and growth that will have resulted from this season. Out of the 29 scheduled games this season, I will predict that the men will have a record of 8-21. That may even be a bit generous as well.

Will: I hate this question. It implies that strength-of-schedule and past results mean anything. News flash: they don’t, because teams upend expectations all the time. With that said…

Part of me wants to accept Dunne’s youth/my-team-my-recruits movement, and part of me wants to expect chaos. This is such a young team in an unnaturally stacked conference. Iona boasts three of the ten best players in the conference (Isaiah Washington, E.J. Crawford, and Tajuan Agee) and Siena has Jalen Pickett, the best and likely player of the year. Marist’s non-conference schedule isn’t too daunting (VMI, Fordham, Citadel, New Hampshire, to name a few matchups), but neither is the team. If I’m a betting man, I say 9-20. If I’m an optimist – which I can be! – I say this new approach works and the fresh faces fit seamlessly, and the team goes a shocking 16-15.

I guess I’m a betting man. 

Mitch: I’m a believer in this team, and I’m a believer in what Head Coach John Dunne can do for Marist. Dunne took a flatlining program at St. Peters College and brought them into the NCAA tournament. 

When he started in 2006 there he went 5-25. Dunne’s squad increased their win total each season and by 2010 they went 20-14 winning the MAAC Conference Tournament earning a bid in March Madness. That mostly tells us that this rebuild will take time and patience before we can expect a resurgence in glory reminiscent of Marist’s Rik Smits days. That being said I think this team has a floor and a ceiling when it comes to their potential. Their floor would be a record of 14-17. It all comes down to winning conference games, last year Marist stole wins away from Iona (the eventual conference champion) and Quinnipiac but also lost badly to those two teams. Late collapses have haunted the Red Foxes team for years, but with Dunne’s mentality, he can coach this young team to prevent those mistakes from happening. If the players buy into Dunne’s philosophy this team’s rebuild can be accelerated. The newly acquired athleticism from transfer’s Michael Cubbage and Zion Tordoff, paired with the consistency from returning sophomore Darius Hines can bode for this team to go 18-13.

Dave: If you head over and read our MAAC Preview written by yours truly (shameless plug), you will see that I slotted the Red Foxes into eighth with a 9-20 record on the season and a 6-14 record in conference play. I do believe that John Dunne is a solid coach that can bring long term success to Poughkeepsie, but it will take some time for him to assimilate his recruits into a culture that he desires. Dunne focused nearly exclusively on defense during his time at St. Peter’s with his best offense only ranking 210th in adjusted offensive efficiency during the 2016-17 season according to KenPom. His below-average offenses could usually do enough with the help of his stout defense, but the lack of offense on this team feels too extreme to overcome. I don’t see more than 12 wins for this team and I could certainly see less than my assigned nine.

Matt: After going 12-19 a season ago, with recession almost certain to happen, things are not looking up for the Red Foxes. I will generously, and I mean generously, say that double-digit wins is possible, so I’ll set the prediction at 10-21. With that being said there’s a chance Marist is at the very bottom of the MAAC cellar come the middle of March.

Who’s going to be the most unexpected contributor?

Bridget: As a girl who grew up in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, I love a great underdog. I enjoy watching young talent rise above the rest to prove that, yes, they do indeed belong in the league. So as for my pick for most unexpected contributor for Marist, I picked amongst the underclassmen, specifically sophomore Matt Herasme. While Herasme did not have as notable of a freshman year as fellow classmate, Darius Hines, I consider his first year to be a great building block for future years. Herasme did have playing time in all 31 games last season and he averaged about 3.1 points per game. He also held an impressive free throw percentage of .732. I believe Herasme has an opportunity to step up this year. He can definitely utilize his time on the court to make a name for himself, even if it’s simply making key passes, rebounds, and playing defense. It’s not always about scoring and I think that’s an important factor that should be considered for a starting five on any team.

Will: THE YOUNG BRITISH LAD WITH THE CHEERIO HAIR AND THE SAME NAME AS A NUMBER ONE DRAFT PICK, MATE. He’ll be dunking balls like crumpets in tea (Is that right?) (Probably not). I’m interested to see how he adapts in Dunne’s scheme. He seems to be a grit-and-grind type of player (seven points and six boards per game last season at Casper College), and his length could serve well on a team that focuses more on defense than anything. 

He’s also got a void to fill. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon are, like, the lone two English basketballers to be considered recognizable. Zion, a place in the history books is yours to take, bruv. 

Mitch: One player who could surprise people this year is freshman Tyler Sagl. Sagl is a guard from Canada, (this team’s global diversity is insane; Marist has players representing from Canada, England, Australia, and Sweden) and what is interesting about his Canadian storyline is that in Canadian High School Basketball they play with the three-point line further from the hoop. If he can be the dead-eye shooter he was in high school where he averaged 26.4 points, then Sagl can supply some much-needed shooting off the bench for Dunne’s squad. Sagl could be a player similar to what Ryan Funk has been in the past for Marist. A player who can come up with big-time shots and put up buckets when the team needs a three. After Funk graduated last year that hole will be left open. If Sagl can assert himself onto the final roster he could potentially contribute on a team that needs shooters. 

Dave: I am borderline in love with Aussie freshman Henry Makeny’s game. I think he will be one of Dunne’s long term projects because although his game is fairly raw, he has the length, quickness, and athleticism to blossom into a great player in the right system. The Blair Academy product has a touch from deep and is tall enough at 6-foot-7-inches to grab a respectable amount of rebounds in a contest. His development relies on getting minutes as a freshman and putting some muscle onto his thin 185-pound frame.

Matt: This Marist team is in need of an unexpected contributor, and my pick is none other than England native Zion Tordoff. In 2016 Tordoff was ranked second at the inaugural DENG camp, hosted by former NBA All-Star Luol Deng, in London, before playing two seasons at Casper College in Wyoming. Tordoff now a junior is in a perfect position to step up for a Marist team with no clear replacements and should earn minutes based on his hustle on the glass and size on defense. Listed at 6 feet 8 inches, Tordoff can fit into multiple lineups for coach Dunne, and if he continues to build on his outside shot could be the x-factor for Marist. He has a great combination of size and quickness to guard multiple positions and a proven craftiness to find different ways to score. He’s going to need time to adjust but by midseason, he might be an unexpected leader for this team.

Image result for marist men's basketball zion tordoff

Edited by Will Bjarnar

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