Three Quick Things: What to Watch For as Men’s Basketball Takes on MAACs

Last Wednesday, Marist fell to Canisius to end their regular season in their fourth straight loss. The 85-69 drubbing at the hands (wings? talons?) of the Golden Griffins resulted in the Red Foxes finishing in last place in the MAAC. 

The finale was meant to serve as the team’s last opportunity to gain some momentum before the conference traveled to Atlantic City for the annual tournament. The conference standings had flip-flopped all season long. Finishing atop the conference upon season’s end is Siena (19-10), followed by Saint Peters (17-12), and Rider (18-12), the three being the clear pack leaders. After those three, the conference becomes pretty murky as to who will be the last standing by the end of the week. 

It has been a long season for Marist in particular, one of trial and error, and plenty of ups and downs, including an 11 game losing streak. Looking at their record, 7-22, it doesn’t scream success, but Marist is matched up with Niagara in the first round, an opponent they’ve beaten twice this season. With tip-off set for tonight at 9 p.m., what can we take away from Marist’s season and look out for as they enter the conference tournament? 

  • Defense has been the focal point ever since head coach John Dunne came to Marist. But if the team is going to steal some wins, it will have to come through the offense. Marist is 5-2 on the year when they are able to score over 70 points, both losses coming within single digits. The question to be asked is not how but who will Dunne be able to go to get these points? It’ll probably have to be Tyler Sagl, the last player to lead the team in scoring in back-to-back games — though that came in January. The freshman guard led all conference rookies in points per game with 8.6 and was named to the MAAC men’s All-Rookie team on Monday. His most memorable game of the year came in the 75-73 victory over Manhattan, where his five 3-pointers and 23 points gave the team the jolt in scoring they needed. Sagl was a touted sniper from the arc for much of the team’s midseason stretch; if he can find that touch and have himself a night, it will give Marist a chance to rack up points. Tough, gritty defense can wear a team down, but sometimes, nothing can be more demoralizing than a player raining threes down on you. 
  • Flashy play, highlights, dunks, crossovers; it’s all extra jazz. To take a page out of Bill Belichick’s book, all sports come down to execution. Sloppy play has been Marist’s biggest — and not so silent — killer all season long. The team averages 14.1 turnovers a night, a total that just gives teams too many extra opportunities to score (and win). This week, they should expect to see plenty of teams coming out and playing press defense, so playing smart basketball and being able to move the ball around will be essential. Point guard Michael Cubbage averages 3.3 assists a game; the next highest is Sagl with 1.1. This lack of spreading the rock successfully has hampered the team since the start. The last element of execution — well, that needs to be executed for any sort of success to materialize — is finishing games, full stop. Marist is 1-4 in overtime games this season and has lost nine games by less than five points. By cutting down on turnovers and not forcing the ball, maybe Marist can find themselves on the other side of the win column.
  • By sweeping Niagara, it gives a sense of hope that Marist’s last-place ranking might mean they truly aren’t at the bottom. The key in both of those victories? Center Jordan Jones. Jones bodied his way through the paint and the Purple Eagles for 18 points in each win, add eight and six rebounds and showing glimmers of hope that can be the best player on the floor under the basket. In the season finale, Jones was one of the lone bright spots in a disappointing finish to the season. Scoring a career-high 19 points, he once again showed that he can dominate close to the rim and use his long frame to get to the hoop. His shooting percentage of 53.7% is a telltale sign that he can be trusted to get fed (and eat). An underused player — he is only playing 18 minutes a game — Dunne will need to incorporate him in the game plan a bit more to overpower the smaller teams come tournament time.

Edited by Will Bjarnar

Header photo from Marist Athletics

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