For the second straight year, we asked some of our writers to answer questions about the upcoming season as part of Basketball Week. In preparation of the upcoming men’s basketball season, our writers gave their takes on how much things have changed since last season and what to expect this year.
What do you make of last season?
Dave Connelly: With plenty of rough patches, it looked like a young team that lacked a ball-handler and any level of consistency on the offensive end. According to KenPom, a widely referenced metric across the college basketball landscape, Marist ranked 343rd out of 353 teams in the country in offensive efficiency a season ago. The team would go on lengthy offensive droughts, but the defense was a silver lining and should improve even further this season. It was a heartbreaking loss to Niagara in the MAAC Tournament to end the season and another first-round exit in Atlantic City was a disappointment.
Although, you can see the culture being built. Dunne is recruiting his style of players and implementing the style of basketball that made his St. Peter’s teams succeed in the past. There were sequences where the defense looked suffocating, and that’s a promising sign.
Mitch Conrad: Last season certainly felt like a roller-coaster. Just when I thought the team had turned the ship around, the same old Red Foxes revealed themselves. While it was a rocky season, there were a couple of bright spots that flashed here and there. What gives me doubts about this upcoming season was the ending to last year. The bad taste left in my mouth after a 56-54 loss to Niagara in the MAAC tournament, didn’t exactly end the season on a high note. Now going into year three under John Dunne, it’s about time that they start to show some progress. So far his record of 19-42 in two seasons here at Marist suggests that his seat might start to get warm, and it could get hotter if the team doesn’t start to string together some victories. I am a big fan of Dunne, and success doesn’t happen overnight, but when those nights start to turn to years the pressure gets turned on.
Isabella Cicinelli: It is no secret that the Red Foxes struggled last year. They finished last in the MAAC conference finishing with a record of 6-14 in conference play and 7-23 overall. Their field goal percentage was low at just 39% and their opponents seemingly beat them in virtually every statistical category; in points per game, free throws, rebounds, three-pointers, you name it. The Red Foxes only averaged 60.5 points per game. Turnovers were another major issue for the Red Foxes last year. Overall they had 420 turnovers, which is an average of 14 per game. There were clear chemistry issues within the team on the court which accumulated to a poor season overall.
Brian Ramos: The 2019-2020 Marist Red Foxes were brutal offensively. As Isabella said, they shot 39% from the field and 34% from three. Marist also averaged 14 turnovers per game. At times, they showed the potential of a competing team and then at times they looked like a high school team playing iso ball. A successful team moves the ball around and players move around the court when they don’t have the ball.
Sam DiGiovanni: I’m gonna invoke the rule Thumper taught Bambi on this one, and not say anything because I have nothing nice to say.
Okay, I lied. I will say some stuff. Last season’s team was bad, and unwatchable at times. There were not too many holdovers from the previous year, so chemistry certainly needed to be made, but the Red Foxes were still really bad. Having a season on par with last year’s, or worse, should put Coach Dunne on the hot seat.
Where do you see this team thriving this year?
Dave: To be more specific, I see this team strengthening in interior defense this season. Jordan Jones did well to man the paint a year ago, and while we may rarely see the two on the court together, the addition of Memphis transfer Victor Enoh into the rotation will be key for foul trouble as well as mismatches. Enoh is a 6’7”, 250 lb. powerhouse that will anchor the paint for the Red Foxes on the defensive end when in the game. Jones will also continue to help out down low. He recorded a 5.8 block percentage, good for fifth in the conference last season. The worry will be foul trouble for the bigs. Enoh accrued nine fouls in just 67 minutes for Memphis in his sophomore season while Jones ended 11 of his 30 games played last season with four fouls or more. If these two can avoid the whistles, Marist will deploy a strong frontcourt in the upcoming season.
Mitch: I agree with Dave here. The Red Foxes interior defense won’t just be a strength, but it could be pretty downright terrifying to play against. With center Jordan Jones coming off of a strong season, and possibly getting more time on the court and the unveiling of Victor Enoh the two massive big men can wreak havoc in the paint. Jones blocked 19 shots last year and I expect that number to grow higher. Add in Enoh and Matthew Herasme and Marist will have some serious size that can take up the court and make opposing teams have to beat them with the deep ball.
Isabella: I think defensively this year’s team can thrive. When looking at their defensive production last season they were one of the strongest units in the MAAC. They held opponents to just 65.7 points per game and averaged 6.8 steals per game as well. Over forced turnovers, the Red Foxes were able to put up 13.5 points per game, which is a strong margin. Rebounding was a huge component to the Red Foxes defense, and offense too, for that matter. With the addition of Victor Enoh and the return of Michael Cubbage, the Red Foxes’ leading rebounder and scorer (6.1 RPG, 9.3 PPG) I think defense will continue to be the core of this team’s success.
Brian: I see this year’s team thriving on the defensive end. We had more steals and blocks than the MAAC average which led to fast breakaways. The Red Foxes averaged 6.8 steals per game and 204 steals on the season, which was 8 more than the average of other opponents. Marist also averaged 2.9 blocks per game and 88 blocks on the season which is significantly higher than the average of 69 blocks from opponents. There is a motto in basketball that goes “defense wins championships,” now do I think Marist will win the MAAC, no, but good defense from Marist should give us more wins from last year. Enoh can slide right into the five and be an effective player on defense due to his size. Improvement on the defensive side will lead to more wins and more opportunities on offense.
Sam: I’m with everyone else. I think the defense will be this team’s strong suit. They let up the fourth-fewest points per game in the conference last year and the only senior they lost is Tobias Sjolberg, a plodding, leaden center. An extra year of chemistry and development should help Marist remain one of the conference’s best defensive units.
The team could thrive in paint scoring, too. Marist’s big man rotation will always provide the team with someone who can get buckets inside. Reliable centers Jordan Jones and Zion Tordoff are now joined by Victor Enoh, a transfer from Memphis. Dunne-coached big men learn to have poise in the post. This three-headed monster should allow Marist to always have a scoring option inside.
Where do you see this team struggling?
Dave: I think turnovers may be an issue out of the gate. Playing freshman point guard at the Division I level is one of the hardest things to do within the realm of sports. Based on roster composition and Dunne’s guard-heavy recruitment, there may be a fair amount of it this season. The growing pains for the new guards may be noticeable and will hopefully lessen as the season goes on.
Offense was also an eyesore last season and it’s hard to see that flip-flopping right away. The offense doesn’t need to drastically improve for the Red Foxes to succeed. It’s a tall order, but if they can just be average in the conference, their defense could carry them to a top-half finish in the conference.
Mitch: Offense, offense, offense. I was so disappointed when I found out the team would lose Tyler Sagl, his offense production flared up in some big games and he showed the tools of an elite three-point shooter. Not having him really puts a dent in the team’s potential to score in volume. Michael Cubbage turned the ball over 71 times last year, for a starting point guard that is a tough number to swallow, however, I think Cubbage is a lot better than that stat implies. At times last year, it felt like he tried to be the hero a bit too much because he had to. Cubbage was doing everything for the Foxes and the weight of that brought down his statistics. The fact he was the leader in rebounds as a point guard is kind of ridiculous. He shouldn’t have to make those kinds of plays, but as I mentioned earlier hopefully with Enoh and Jones they can allow him to get better at different elements of his craft without having to be the team’s best rebounder.
Isabella: Offensive production. When looking at the stats from the Red Foxes from last year specifically, scoring was a major issue for the team. Michael Cubbage, the team’s leading scorer, only averaged 9.3 points per game. While Cubbage was extremely productive in terms of rebounding and assists, his fellow teammates did not provide as much to the offensive production of the team. The Red Foxes’ three leading scorers from last season did not even net an average of 10 points per game. The Red Foxes shot just 39% from the field and had a three-point percentage of just 34%. For offensive production to not be such a worry for Red Fox fans, the team will need some big performances from their guards such as Matt Herasme who was one of the MAAC’s Most Improved Players averaging 9.0 points per game in 2019-2020 compared to his freshman average of 5.9 ppg. If guards such as Herasme, Cubbage, and Tyler Saint-Furcy can improve their three-point shooting and field goal percentages, the Red Foxes will be in much greater shape to create a strong sense of offensive production.
Brian: I see this team struggling to shoot the ball. Tyler Sagl was one of our better and more consistent shooters but he ended up transferring. They shot 39% from the field and 34% from three as a team last year which needs to improve if they want to contend. In the blowout loss against Bethune-Cookman, Marist shot 14.3% from the field, an abysmal number. Sometimes it looked like the Red Foxes thought they were playing NBA 2K the video game as they were trying to get too fancy or force things which led to either a turnover or a poor shot selection.
Sam: Scoring. Marist is returning most of its top scorers, but none of them averaged double digits. The Red Foxes were second-to-last in points per game and field goal percentage in the MAAC last season. Junior Matt Herasme could become a much-improved scorer this season – he took a huge leap from his freshman year to his sophomore year, where he led the team in 3-point percentage and makes. A further improvement would make him one of the MAAC’s best scorers, but it has yet to happen.
Who or what is your X-factor for the upcoming season?
Dave: It’s going to be the guard play. Guard play was a major component for struggles on the offensive end with some “tweeners” trying to play at point guard. The potential of freshmen Hakim Byrd and Raheim Sullivan being able to solve these issues would be a huge fix for this offense. Ball movement was stagnant at times and a game manager to facilitate and run the offense would pay dividends for Dunne’s offense.
The success of these newcomers is also pivotal for giving the thin backcourt some depth. Michael Cubbage, Hakim Byrd, and Raheim Sullivan all have their own pace and strengths. Getting each of them going and having them available to play with or without the ball is a massive luxury that Dunne hasn’t had other than with Darius Hines during his time at Marist.
Mitch: I am really excited to see what Tyler Saint-Furcy can do in year two. Saint-Furcy made some huge splash plays down the stretch last year, and especially without Sagl, Dunne will look to him to contribute more on the offensive side of things. He’s lightning-quick and can jump out of his shoes, if he can fill in that role Sagl had last year and get the team some buckets, I think he can be a huge contributor on this team.
Isabella: I think the most obvious answer is Victor Enoh. Enoh has turned heads and brought a lot of excitement to Red Fox fans and students. This will be Enoh’s first season with the Red Foxes since his transfer from Memphis. Enoh’s presence will help add to the strong defensive mentality of Red Foxes. At 6’7, 250 lbs he will be expected to use his strong body to get up on the boards and produce the “second chance” shots for the team. At Memphis, he was extremely effective on the offensive glass. In 2018 he totaled 56 rebounds, 22 of which were offensive boards. Red Fox fans should be excited to see what Enoh can bring to this struggling Marist team.
In addition to Enoh, I think the one returning player eyes should be on is Braden Bell. With the departure of Tyler Segl, I think Bell’s role will increase for the Red Foxes. Bell put up strong numbers last season averaging 8.2 points per game along with 4.0 rebounds per game. He appeared in all 30 games for the Red Foxes, starting in 4, and shot 38% from three-point range, higher than the team’s overall average. Bell scored in double digits 13 times last season and finished strong with 11 of those double-digit scoring games coming in the last 16 games of the season. On February 26th at Manhattan, he scored a career-high 20 points. I think Bell will continue his progression from last season and will hopefully be a major contributor to the team’s offensive production this season.
Brian: For me, it’s Victor Enoh. This is going to be Victor’s first season suiting up for Marist as he had to sit out last year due to eligibility. Enoh should be a key contributor to the Red Foxes as he will most likely join the starting lineup and protect the paint. Memphis’s basketball program has a strong reputation and has produced some notable players such as James Wiseman, Will Barton, and Derrick Rose.
Sam: Along with Enoh, I’m going to say Tyler Saint-Furcy. The 6-foot-4 guard was adept at getting steals and shooting from deep as a freshman last season. If he can step up into a bigger role as a 3-and-D wing, he’ll be a valuable player for the Red Foxes.
Who will be most improved by season’s end?
Dave: I think you are going to see major improvement with Michael Cubbage. He took plenty of the attention last season by being the on-ball guard, a role that he didn’t seem fully comfortable in and would often be forced to take an uncomfortable mid-range jump shot with few other options available. New guards entering the mix may allow him to play off-ball more often and be in a more comfortable role within Dunne’s offense. Look for the redshirt junior’s focus to shift more towards efficiency and scoring rather than facilitating, something that will certainly leave a positive impact on his game.
Another aspect where I see Marist improving will be hanging onto leads. The Red Foxes were notorious for losing heartbreakers a year ago. They were 2-13 in games decided by less than ten points. Switch half of those to wins and we are looking at last season with plenty more optimism. With an older squad and leaders like Cubbage and Matt Herasme, it’s hard to see this team continue to blow leads or fall late in winnable games.
Mitch: I am looking forward to watching what Matt Herasme can become going into his junior season. He isn’t flashy, but he is so intense and is the exact kind of player Dunne is looking for on his team. I did not see the jump he made last year coming, after averaging 3.1 points his freshman year, Herasme bumped that number up to 9.0 in year two. He plays with such an energy that kind of reminds me of someone like Draymond Green. He can guard almost every position, plays sound defense, and can give you some baskets from the arch. The question is what is his ceiling? If he can make another jump here in his third season, I would argue he is the team’s best overall and most consistent player.
Isabella: I have to say Tyler Saint-Furcy. Entering his sophomore year, Tyler Saint-Furcy had a strong first season. He played in all 30 games with 24 starts and averaged 6.4 points per game. He scored in double-digit figures 10 times last season and had a career-high 20 points against Iona on February 16, 2020. I think Tyler Saint-Furcy will continue the progress he has made thus far and will continue to be a major contributor to the Red Foxes. I expect to see a massive jump in his play and expect him to garner a higher three-point percentage from his 37% last season. With time, age, and comfort, I think Tyler Saint-Furcy will improve immensely as the season progresses.
Brian: I think it’s Matt Herasme. Herasme improved his game tremendously from his freshman year to his sophomore year. He was a key contributor to the team as he was second in points per game, best three-point shooting, second in rebounds, second in assists, and first in steals. He did it all for the Red Foxes last year. Also, one thing that goes unnoticed is the things you cannot teach such as always hustling and diving after loose balls as well as keeping his teammates in check and being vocal on the court.
Sam: My guess is Braden Bell. The first and second half of his season last year was night and day. In his first 15 games, he averaged 4.7 points on 37.3 percent from the field and 31.2 percent from beyond the arc. The rest of the way, he averaged 11.7 points on 43.2 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from deep. To improve that much within a season is very impressive.
What record will the team finish with, what place, and how will they do in the MAAC Tournament?
Dave: Given that all 20 conference games and the four non-conference games are played, I’ll put Marist at 11-13 on the year with a 9-11 conference record. With nine out of 14 rostered players being returners, there is a ton of potential for this team to improve upon last year’s efforts. The offensive struggles often seemed to look like chemistry issues and a lack of communication, two things that can be addressed when you have your top three scorers back in the mix. And for the first time since 2015, I’ll give the Red Foxes the nod in the first round of the MAAC Tournament.
Isabella: I do see Marist improving from their poor 6-14 MAAC record last season. Now, do I see them beating top contenders Siena and Iona and finishing in the top three in MAAC play? No, but I do see some improvement. I expect the Red Foxes to finish either 7th or 8th in the MAAC conference behind Canisius, Fairfield, and Rider. If everything goes well I can see the Red Foxes giving Quinnipiac a run for its money, but they will need to be stellar on all fronts for them to move up the ranks. I can see the Red Foxes finishing with either an 8-12 record or a 9-11 mark in MAAC play. I think they will have a harder time in their out of conference games, and see them finishing with either a 9-15 record or 10-14 overall. I think that is a fair estimate for where the team was at last year and would be a sign of improvement if these records hold. John Dunne and his Red Foxes have a lot of work to do this season and to make some noise in the MAAC tournament, they will need to produce on both offense and defense.
Brian: This year’s team should improve from last year. However, I don’t see Marist improving enough to be a serious MAAC championship contender. This team still needs to improve in numerous ways. I have Marist finishing 10-14 this year which places them 8th in the conference ahead of Fairfield, Canisius, and Rider. Marist improves from last year but they don’t do enough to be serious contenders. Marist will go 9-11 in MAAC play. They will most likely lose in the first round once again in the MAAC Tournament.
Sam: The MAAC exclusive schedule should help Marist. They were 6-14 last year against in-conference opponents. This season, I think the Red Foxes will go 8-12 in conference play and 10-14 overall, placing them around 9th in the MAAC. I don’t expect them to win a game in the MAAC Tournament, but they should be an improved squad.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane & Dave Connelly