Now that we’re midway through the college basketball season, we asked our staff to rehash some thoughts from the preseason — and expand on some new predictions — as the men’s basketball program tries to right the ship on a tumultuous campaign.
1. So… what happened?
Will Bjarnar: There’s a scene in an episode of the American version of The Office – season two’s “The Secret,” if you want to get technical – in which Michael Scott, aptly, cannot keep a secret for the life of him. It’s the first time we’ve seen him face such an issue, though certainly not the last. In this particular case, he’s tasked with keeping Jim Halpert’s crush on Pam Beesly a secret from the rest of the office. There’s nothing fun about workplace discomfort. Naturally, Michael fails; later in the series, he explains to Andy Bernard, “I resent the implication that I would keep that secret. Everyone here knows that I can’t and won’t keep a secret.” It’s in his blood.
This is all beside the point. The point is that, when confronted by Jim about failing to keep the secret and asked by his floppy-haired protégé, “what happened?” Michael struggles to come up with an answer. Because there’s not much of an answer other than, “life happened.” Michael doesn’t say this. He didn’t need to. We get it, and we expected it. That’s what has happened to the men’s basketball team this season. Life happened, man. We get it; we expected this. There was not a single sign that this would go well. Even the most optimistic were pessimists entering this season. Today, like the office does with Michael, we shrug and hope that the next time a secret comes along, they don’t trust him to keep it.
There’s another applicable quote from the show about not blaming the child who gets behind the wheel of a car, but I’ll refrain…
Matt Spirio: After Marist’s season-opening victory over VMI, it seemed that maybe just maybe we were all wrong about these Red Foxes. They followed that impressive win by losing 11 straight as they immediately sunk to the bottom of the MAAC. However, only two teams in the conference are more than a game over .500 which means that one mini-run could push the team into the middle of the pack.
Dave Connelly: Back in October, it was obvious we set the bar fairly low for this upcoming season. Well, the program decided to play limbo and go lower than that bar as best they can. Two players have been dismissed, we went on an eleven game losing streak, and nearly every popular metric used in the college basketball world has us in the bottom 30 in the country.
Let’s take it back even a step further. Since winning the regular-season conference title in 2008, here are Marist’s conference records, finishes, and MAAC Tournament success by season:
|Year||Record||MAAC Finish||MAACT Win?|
*MAAC went from ten to 11 teams during the start of the 2014 season.
In a dozen seasons, Marist has gone a combined 66-158 in conference play. They have finished eighth or worse in ten of those 12 seasons and have accrued just five MAAC Tournament wins. This season has ultimately looked like more of the same for the Red Foxes and there are no signs of an end coming any time soon.
Mitch Conrad: At 4-14 the season’s outcome has slowly drifted down the negative slope. Recent play has inspired some sparks of positivity, as well as showing brief moments of improvement. Looking at the bigger picture, this team still needs time to form a consistent identity. Last week when the team beat Iona and followed the win with a come from behind victory over Manhattan, they were delivered the perfect opportunity to beat another conference foe in Sienna. By losing to Sienna they lost the chance to move up in the conference.
Bridget Reilly: Welp, there is not much I can say for this one. Obviously, the new blood creates a challenge to get into a rhythm and understand how each other play. No one can teach team chemistry. I would say that a 4-14 record is a clear sign that some things, to put it nicely, are not working. If needed in simpler terms, change it up. Got it? Good.
2. Which of your predictions has aged the worst?
Will: It could be the fact that I predicted the team would go 9-20, forgetting that youth literally never heals any wounds, let alone all wounds. Or it could be predicting that Darius Hines would be the team’s X-factor this year. I was so confident in this one; I assumed that with the abundance of youth at his fingertips, John Dunne would rely on a bit of experience (at Marist, that is) to help guide the youngins along. That… did not happen.
Hines — along with Matt Turner — was dismissed from the program on Jan. 4 after violating team rules, an explanation I still find confounding and would be eager to learn more about. But even prior to that, Hines’s opportunities were few and far between. He only played 84 minutes this season in six games (compared to 834 minutes in 31 games last season), and it genuinely confuses me as to why that is. But I’m not in the room where it happens, nor am I a mere fly on the wall. I’m but a man with a keyboard, pouting over his failures in the betting game.
Matt: I’ll be honest. None of my predictions were home runs. But then again nothing about this team could really be considered a home run. But one prediction stands above the rest as the worst of the worst. When choosing who we believed our top contributors to the team would be I chose sophomore guard Darius Hines. He was ready to springboard after a successful freshman campaign as everyone hoped he would mature in year 2. It was the exact opposite. Yes, I said was. Hines played a total of 84 minutes across 6 games before being dismissed for violating team rules. Not only is he no longer a member of the team, but in those 84 minutes he scored as many points as our roundtable of writers.
Dave: Will and Matt can join me in saying that Darius Hines will be the team’s difference-maker after playing 85 minutes this season without scoring a point and ultimately getting dismissed from the program earlier this month. There has not been a whole lot that has gone according to plan for the Red Foxes this season and the dismissal of your point guard who started 29 games last season certainly does not help.
Mitch: I predicted that Mike Cubbage would be the Red Foxes breakout player, and emerge as one of the top players on the team. Cubbage hasn’t taken the full step towards what his potential holds, but he has been one of the more consistent players on the squad. Cubbage leads the team in scoring with, 9.8 points, where he has struggled is when it comes to his shooting percentages. Averaging 32.8% from the field, and 18.4% from behind the three-point arc, he has had a hard time getting some of his shots to fall. Keep in mind, Cubbage is still adjusting from sitting out the year before due to his redshirt eligibility. Despite these staggering percentages, Cubbage has been the glue out there keeping this team together. He has played 556 total minutes this year (second on the team), while logging 1.5 steals a game, and 5.7 rebounds a night. If he can just start getting a couple more balls in the basket per game, he can turn himself into the complete player he is capable of being.
Bridget: For my stand out difference-maker, I predicted Zion Tordoff would deliver. However, I have been proved wrong. Last year, at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming, Tordoff averaged seven points per game, but this season he only averages three points per game. Furthermore, Tordoff has a total of 54 points for the 18 games played. He has not taken Marist as high in the rankings as we would have liked. Certainly not six feet and eight inches worth.
3. Speaking of which, how’s your record prediction holding up? Any regrets?
Will: See above. I don’t want to talk about it.
Matt: I generously said that the Red Foxes could finish with double-digit wins. Currently sitting at 4-14 with 11 regular-season games left to play, it would be tough for this group to finish above .500 the rest of the way. With that being said they are 3-3 over their last 6. Optimistically I could see an 8 or 9 win finish which is at least in the ballpark of my prediction. I have no regrets about my initial prediction and will continue to watch games in hopes of a miracle down the stretch.
Dave: My record prediction is holding up strong. In case you missed our preseason roundtable, I put the Red Foxes on a 9-20 record to go along with a 6-14 record in conference. Unfortunately, at 4-14 and 3-6 in the conference, we are steadily on track to hit at least close to those numbers.
Mitch: Well Marist has already surpassed my expectations when it comes to the number of losses I thought they would have this year. I might have jumped the gun when it came to the amount of time it would take this team to complete their rebuilding process. I predicted a floor record of 14-17, and then a ceiling of 18-13, both look to be pretty far off. I think this contributes to the excitement that is in place for this team’s future, knowing that Coach Dunne is capable of turning a rebuild around into a conference champion-caliber type team, gives me enthusiasm that he is the man for the job. Although, these rebuilds take time and I need to simmer my expectations for this year at least.
Bridget: As I previously predicted, I was being generous. I believe the men will fall just short of my predicted 8-21 record. However, they may surprise me and hit it right on the mark. If that’s the case, drinks on me… if I am allowed to say such a thing.
Will: Sorry, Bridget. You’re not. Can we get an editor on that, please?
4. Okay, on a positive note: who has stupefied, surpassed, and trampled all over your expectations? Again, please respond with a positive response.
Will: It’s nice that I don’t have to force myself to be positive here, but I can actually point to something (or someone, rather) that the Red Foxes can be excited about moving forward. Freshman guard Tyler Sagl has been the lone bright spot in a 4-14 season, averaging 9.4 points per game and scored in double figures seven times this season. That includes a two-game stretch — his last two — of 23 in a win against Manhattan and 17 in a loss at Siena. He’s getting the touches he needs to be successful, and with those touches has a true shooting percentage of 56% on the season. Kudos to Mitch for nailing this one; lately, and hopefully going forward, Sagl has been a stud. So much so, that I guarantee everyone in this roundtable picks him here.
Matt: In need of a revelation, Marist has gotten just that in freshman guard Tyler Sagl. The sharpshooter has continued to earn the trust of Coach Dunne, displaying tremendous confidence from beyond the arc. Over the past four games, Sagl has led the team in scoring averaging roughly points per game. That four game stretch has seen the Red Foxes go 2-2 which is impressive for this bunch, and largely attributed to Sagl. In overtime against Manhattan, he knocked down a pair of big 3s to assure a Marist victory. As a freshman, he has a chance to be a piece in a winning team down the line as defenses have to constantly be aware of his presence. If he continues to grow in other areas he might be considered this team’s best all-around player by season’s end.
Dave: We are all thinking the same name as we should be so here it goes. Tyler Sagl is a sharpshooter that plays the game with the shot selection and decision-making of a senior veteran. Huge props to Mitch Conrad for making Sagl his unexpected contributor in our preseason roundtable because he has been a lights-out shooter from deep for Marist this season, nearly leading the team in scoring through just 23.3 minutes per game.
Two more areas that have caught my eye this season. After being a nearly strictly defensive sixth man throughout his freshman season, Matt Herasme’s offensive game has absolutely blossomed this year. His perimeter shooting and overall production have gotten exponentially better. The New Jersey native shot just seven-for-39 from beyond the arc last season and has already hit more than four times that many threes (!!!) at a 40 percent clip this season with 11 games still to play.
The other silver lining has come from the efficient shooting of Charleston Southern transfer Jordan Jones. Jones came to Marist with a 69.4% field goal percentage at his previous school and has been solid to start the season at 51.2% from the field. He looks comfortable in his role on the court and should certainly see his minutes increase if he can continue this level of production.
Mitch: One player that has really developed into an exciting player to watch is freshman Tyler Sagl. In the first round of questions, I wrote that I could see Sagl being the most unexpected contributor on the team, and not only has he become a contributor, but is the reason why Marist is winning games. He was labeled as a shooter and has delivered that type of play as of late scoring splits of 23 in the win versus Manhattan, and 17 in their loss to Sienna. What has really stood out about his game is his ability to get to the charity stripe. Where Marist has lacked scoring throughout the season, it’s been his deadly three’s or when he’s been fouled. Sagl contributed six points from the line in Manhattan and another four against Iona. By leading the team in the category with a free throw percentage of 87%, he proves he’s been consistent when getting there as well. I think he’s only starting to break the surface on what he can do and is a player to watch for going forward.
Bridget: The most promising of all the new blood has proved itself to be Tyler Sagl. The freshman has a total of 169 points this season, averaging 9.4 per game. Fortunately, there is a lot of basketball still to be played. Meaning, more baskets to be scored and strategic plays to be seen from the freshman. Sagl is certainly shedding a light on the future of Marist basketball and hopefully will continue to do so.
5. Let’s round it out: if you can, do your best to predict the outcome for the remainder of this season.
Will: It won’t be much to write home about, but it could at least resemble some growth. They have won three out of their last six — why am I treating this like it’s a celebratory accomplishment? — and are faring better than expected in conference play. Again, like Michael keeping a secret, we didn’t expect much, but still! I predict they — by their standards — remain afloat. And I predict their coach still has a job by season’s end. I’m more confident in that bet than I am them staying afloat. Just reading the tea leaves, nothing to see here.
Matt: It would be easy to leave a loose, open-ended prediction that could be argued as correct no matter how the season ends, but what’s the fun in that. Marist has two games left against Niagra, which I say they split. The same goes for their two games against Canisius who is great at home (5-2) but will face a tough atmosphere in the new McCann center on senior night for the Red Foxes. Road games against Iona and Manhattan, who are both looking for revenge, will be tough losses, as will a trip to Quinnipiac. That leaves four home games against Saint Peter’s (win), Fairfield (win), Monmouth (loss), and Siena (loss). According to my math, that’s an 8 win season. Maybe they shock the world and turn some of those losses into wins. Who knows.
Dave: As much as I want to say that the Red Foxes will exceed my expectations and reach double digit wins on the season, I just don’t see it happening. That would require a winning record in the remaining 11 games of the season and the rest of the MAAC just feels a little too overwhelming this year for Marist to be able to compete in with this roster. Between the aforementioned Tyler Sagl and Matt Herasme, John Dunne is seeing some building blocks for the future come to fruition in his second season at the helm. This season hasn’t been what the Marist faithful were hoping for, but there are some reasons to think that brighter times may be closer than they seem.
Mitch: (8-23), It’s crazy to think that the team is only three wins out of first place in the conference, but at the same time the reality of them coming out on top is pretty low. I think that a more realistic outcome for the season is a record of 8-23. This weekend the Foxes will take on Niagara and Canisius, two teams that are on a similar level of talent compared to Marist. One way for a team to get better is to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat. If Marist starts to get a couple wins here and there in this conference, they will jump up the standings in what is a completely wide-open race for the first seed. Going forward every game will matter and be important in that outcome, but what Marist will do is still up in the air. I don’t see them winning more than another 4 games this year, they simply due to the lack of scoring on the roster. To get a better look at the scoring woes, in the 14 Marist losses this year they have allowed 952 total points, only scoring 729, meaning they’ve been outscored by opponents in losses by 223 points. Defense is the focal point of Coach Dunne’s philosophy, but at some point, this team is going to have to start scoring to win games.
Bridget: I do feel that this season will end as a losing season, but I still hope for my 8-21 prediction or better. I am hopeful that with a change in play and strategy, this team can discover new ground and possibilities for themselves. As with anything, it takes time to work out the kinks. I just don’t know how much longer Marist is willing to extend this shot clock.
Edited by Lily Caffrey-Levine & Will Bjarnar
Header Image courtesy of Mike Cahill