The Entrance Roundtable: Men’s Basketball

The roundtables are back for the third consecutive year as part of Basketball Week. Next up: the men. Fresh off a 12-9 record last season we asked some of our writers to answer the burning questions about John Dunne’s squad.

  1. What do you make of last season?

Sam DiGiovanni: Last season was very promising. The Foxes showed they could be a very strong defensive team while having a well-balanced offense. Losing Hakim Byrd, one of those key pieces, to the transfer portal stings but the rest of the crew is back. Head coach John Dunne has put together a strong team after two uninspiring seasons. I’m excited to see how he builds off of last year’s success.

Andrew Hard: I would deem last season to be successful, especially considering the conditions that the team had to play under because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They ended the regular season as the #4 seed in the MAAC Tournament but lost a close game to #5 seed Niagara. They showed that they could compete with every MAAC team due to their strong defensive capability. I believe that this was the best overall Red Fox team in head coach John Dunne’s first three years. Since the same group (minus Hakim Byrd) are going out there, I don’t see any reason for decline. 

Matt Spirio: It would be hard to call it anything other than a major success. The Red Foxes entered last year ranked ninth in the preseason poll, yet they finished the season tied for third and above .500 for the first time since 2007-08. Last year was just as much about earning respect within the MAAC as it was building momentum into this season. It’s confirmed that, given some time, head coach John Dunne can build a functioning program. The Red Foxes appear to be firmly situated in the upper echelon of the conference.

Christian De Block: Finishing fourth in the MAAC with a 10-8 conference record was an absolute success. The way the conference tournament went, especially after such a promising regular season, was a bit underwhelming. Regardless, the 2020-21 campaign was a step in the right direction for the Foxes. Head coach John Dunne will look to build off last year in his four seasons at Marist.

Luke Sassa: Last season certainly should be regarded as a major success, as the Red Foxes posted their first winning record in 12 seasons. This was no small feat, especially since the team lacked a normal offseason and preseason due to the pandemic. While the offense struggled to perform consistently, at times lacking efficiency and being prone to turnovers, many of these struggles can be attributed to the growing pains of a young team coalescing. If the offense can elevate their performance to a near-average level, this team should find great success considering their strong defensive performance from a year ago

  1. What do you make of the team being ranked third this season?

Sam: While I personally think that being ranked third was too high, it’s a promising sign. The poll is voted on by MAAC coaches, and Marist’s placement suggests that the Foxes are primed to continue the success from last season. I’m inclined to believe the predictions from people more familiar with the Foxes’ roster than me, but I think improving to a top-three team in the conference is a sizable leap, especially considering the season is going back to 30ish games and the Foxes have a dire need for offense. 

Andrew: This was the most surprising development in the offseason for me. While these preseason polls could be considered useless since it isn’t based on any actual performance, I agree with Sam in thinking there is some value to a poll of this nature since it’s voted on by MAAC coaches. They’re the ones who must scheme against the Red Foxes, so the fact that they believe Marist is one of the top-three teams in the MAAC does mean something. I believe that this team’s upside could land them in the top-three, but they will have to make major improvements on offense to get there. 

Matt: Again it kind of confirms exactly what we saw last season. Outside of Iona, there is no reason to believe Marist can’t be the best team in the conference. It’s hard to gauge just how much the loss of Hakim Byrd will be, but there seems to be an overall confidence in Dunne to continue to build the program on his system as opposed to his players. Third may be a little lofty, but a top-five finish in the MAAC seems plausible, so I’ll let it slide for now.

Christian: I probably would’ve had them in fourth or fifth, but you can certainly see why coaches in the conference believe Marist can replicate the success they saw last season. A few of the teams who finished ahead of Foxes last year, Siena and Monmouth in particular, each lost a few of their key players. Besides Hakim Byrd, John Dunne is getting back the rest of his rotation. The team is already one of the best defensive units in the MAAC, so it really comes down to seeing improvements on the offensive end. If scoring becomes easier for this group, finishing in the top three is absolutely a realistic expectation. 

Luke: This ranking is more a reflection of where the voting MAAC coaches think the team is headed, rather than being based on how the Red Foxes have performed up to this point. Marist will certainly have their hands full in living up to the ranking, as they will have to shore up the offense despite the loss of guard Hakim Byrd, who was second in assists and the team leader in free throw percentage last season. With that being said, if the rest of the team can continue to develop and build on their defensive identity, the Red Foxes will have a solid chance of making this ranking appear shrewd by the time March rolls around.

  1. Where do you see this team thriving this year?

Sam: Defense is the area that this team is best built to succeed in. I think their interior defense, in particular, could be menacing with Jordan Jones and Victor Enoh taking turns at center. Both big men know how to defend shots inside and fight for rebounds. Dunne’s squad prides itself on defense and rebounding, so Jones and Enoh will be crucial to the Foxes posting a winning record again.

Andrew: This team’s chemistry will prove to be a big factor this season. There are only three incoming freshmen, so you would hope that this team has a great feel for each other, and everyone’s play styles. This could potentially help them out on offense, because usually with better chemistry comes better ball movement. This also helps a lot with defense, an area where this group has already proven to be quite an effective unit. Knowing where your teammates are stationed on the defensive end is an underappreciated aspect of team success, and I believe that more playing time will only strengthen this already great defense. 

Matt: Just as it was last year, defense will be what propels the Red Foxes this season. They were third in scoring defense, and second in opponents field goal percentage last year. They also have a chance to be even better without Byrd, who admittedly was undersized and at times exposed on that end. The Marist defense is built upon Jordan Jones’ ability to protect the rim, but an improved perimeter defense could make the Red Foxes elite defensively, and provide an identity beyond the cliche, hard-working team that hustles and plays tough.

Christian: This team will go as far as their defense takes them. The Foxes gave up 63.6 points per game last year, which ranked third in the conference. 6-foot-8 center Jordan Jones is the standout defender in this group of players, as he ranked third in the conference with 1.9 blocks per game last year. John Dunne is known for employing good defensive teams, and that will have to continue if the Foxes are going to be one of the best teams in the MAAC.

Luke: The obvious answer is on defense, as the Red Foxes thrived in that area last year and are set to return most of the key pieces responsible for that effort. The fact that the team managed to hold opponents to under 40% shooting speaks to just how well the defense as a whole performed, allowing the Red Foxes to stay in games even when their shots weren’t falling. Look for center Jordan Jones, who averaged nearly two blocks per game and led the team in defensive rebounds, to play a key role in protecting the paint. Also vital to their efforts defensively will be guard Raheim Sullivan, who led the team in steals with 19.

  1. Where do you see this team struggling?

Sam: The area of the game that worries me is the Foxes’ end-of-game offense. Last season, Marist didn’t have too many effective 3-point shooters, which makes it extremely hard to operate with space when you need a bucket. Having an elite scorer can offset this, and Ricardo Wright can become that guy this season but at the moment, they don’t have a truly elite scorer. Their ability to win close games is what makes me not so certain that they deserved to be ranked third in the coaches’ poll.

Andrew: Unless there has been a drastic change over the summer, this team overall is not a good 3-point shooting team, shooting only at a clip of 31% as a team. The team’s leading scorer last season, Ricardo Wright, shoots them at the highest volume on the team, racking up 104 attempts last year. He only made 34 of them which equates to almost 33%. If the team could get their percentage up by at least 6%, that would be a giant leap for this offense who needs scoring. 

Matt: Offensively the Red Foxes will struggle, but more specifically in terms of moving the ball. They have ranked bottom three in assists in the conference the last two seasons, and at times get stuck in sloppy isolation basketball that leads to bad shots and untimely turnovers. Raheim Sullivan has shown true playmaking abilities, and Marist could certainly benefit from putting the ball in his hands in more traditional sets, but if the same uninventive offense returns this season, expect the Red Foxes to again have difficulty generating easy points.

Christian: It may seem like a minor detail and the grand scheme of things, but an area where the team could struggle is free throw shooting. The Foxes ranked ninth in the conference with a 68.4% at the charity stripe last season. Hakim Byrd, who shot a team-high 83.7% from the line last year, is no longer with the program. The ability to hit free throws at the end of the game could be a determining factor in where the Foxes finish in the MAAC. A drastic improvement at the line this season would be massive for the team. 

Luke: The Red Foxes’ ability to space the floor on a consistent basis has to be the greatest cause for concern. The only Red Fox with a dozen or more attempts from three to shoot greater than 33% last season was forward Javon Cooley, yet his production only resulted in 3.9 points per game. Increasing his volume will be essential if the team wants to improve in this area. It is also imperative that scoring leader Ricardo Wright and forward Braden Bell find a way to tick their three-point percentages up a few points, as both players shouldered a heavy load last season and therefore are key in the effort to improve shooting efficiency from long-range. Spacing the floor will be essential for the Red Foxes if they hope to spread defenses out and create more opportunities for big men such as Jordan Jones to drive into the lane.

  1. Who or what is your X-factor for the upcoming season?

Sam: I think Braden Bell will be this team’s X-factor. He has shown intriguing scoring abilities and has the makings of a good perimeter defender. Ricardo Wright was the leading scorer last season and I predict he will be again this season, but Bell has the potential to be the Foxes’ second go-to guy. At 6-foot-7 with the confidence and efficiency to shoot well from beyond the arc, Bell has the ability to be a very effective scorer. 

Andrew: For me, Marist’s X-factors will be their big men – Jordan Jones, Victor Enoh, and even their incoming freshman Rollin Belton if he gets playing time. Being able to box out and rack up rebounds, whether they’re offensive or defensive, are important in extending or stopping possessions. Jones and Enoh have also already proven themselves to be great interior defenders, with Jones blocking almost two shots a game last season. Also, for a team that struggles with scoring, being able to get easy shots in the paint will be beneficial. Look for the Marist bigs to have a huge season. 

Matt: Not sure if you can consider a team’s best player as an X-factor, but the Red Foxes will go as far as Ricardo Wright can take them. After leading the team in scoring as a freshman with 11 points per game, it will be interesting to see just how big of a leap he will take in year two. There are definitely high expectations as he was named to the MAAC All-Preseason Third Team, but he showed the poise and maturity to live up to them. If he can turn into a top scorer in the conference, the Red Foxes have MAAC Championship game potential. If he continues to be solid, but at times inefficient (38% field goal percentage), expect a more middle of the pack Marist team.

Christian: When you’re talking about a potential x-factor for the Foxes, one of the first names you have to mention is Matt Herasme. The 6-foot-3 guard is known as the best perimeter defender on the team, but an underrated part of his game is his ability to knock down shots from the outside. During the 2019-20 campaign, Herasme was a 39.9% shooter from three on 4.9 attempts per game. Those numbers dropped to 27.3% on 3.7 attempts per game last year, but you do need to take into account that he dealt with a wrist injury throughout the season. If Herasme can get back to connecting from three at a higher rate, the offense for Marist will be far more balanced. 

Luke: Continuity is the key X-factor for the Red Foxes, as they will return eight of their nine leaders in minutes played from a season ago. Running it back with most of the same players will allow head coach John Dunne to prioritize player development as he continues to emphasize the importance of improving fundamentals. Having established chemistry, especially defensively, will be a huge advantage for Dunne early on while other coaches in the MAAC conference are trying to figure out their rotations.

  1. We know they’re useless, but what record will the team finish with? Where will they finish in the MAAC? How will they do in the conference tournament?

Sam: My prediction for the Red Foxes’ record is somewhere around 16-13. I think they’ll be around fourth or fifth and they should be able to win at least one tournament game. If they can find more shooting and keep up their strong defense, the Red Foxes can scratch and tear their way to a MAAC tournament run.

Andrew: I see Marist going 17-12 this season, including 12 wins in the MAAC out of the 20 games they play in-conference. This puts them in the middle of the road in the MAAC, which is where I thought the coaches would rank the team. There shouldn’t be a regression with this squad, so I don’t see them falling below fifth in the conference. Anything in the 3-4-5 range would make sense to me. In the conference tournament, I totally believe they could reach the tournament finals, but I am uncertain they will have enough offensive firepower to go on a roll to win the tournament. I would love to see them prove me wrong though, to send Marist to their first NCAA Tournament since the Rik Smits era in 1987. 

Matt: Breaking down how they finish will be tricky, as their non-conference schedule is packed with a bunch of tough games on the road. I’ll say they finish 4-5 in non-conference play, but optimistically 12-8 in the MAAC. This puts them 16-13. That probably puts them at third or fourth in the conference with a decent chance to avoid the powerhouses in the first round of the MAAC tournament. A NCAA tournament bid is unlikely, but I think a trip to the semi-finals for the first time since 2008 is what we can expect from this group of Red Foxes.

Christian: It’s always difficult to come up with a “perfect” record prediction, but I’ve settled at 17-12. I have Marist going 5-4 in non-conference play, with a 12-8 record in the MAAC. The top of the conference will be tight, but that should be good enough for fourth in the regular season. In terms of the conference tournament, I think the expectation has to be at least one win. The last victory for the program in the postseason dates all the way back to the 2014-15 season, so it would be massive if this group can end that streak. This team now has the experience, and I believe they will do enough to advance to the semi-finals.

Luke: I have the Red Foxes finishing at around 17-12 on the year. The team faces a very competitive conference, so I have them finishing 12-8 out of the 20 games they play against MAAC teams. I have them going 5-4 in non-conference games, with a key matchup against a mediocre VMI team early on being the likely game that decides whether the Red Foxes finish with a respectable non-conference record. Until the offense proves to be more consistent, I can’t reasonably predict that the team will win the conference tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament, but their defense should keep them in close games and give them a chance to remain in the conversation.

Edited by: Connor Kurpat and Ricardo Martinez

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