It’s that time of year people. Basketball season is fast approaching with the women’s team opening its season on Nov. 7 against Villanova and the men beginning their campaign on Nov. 9 versus American. Both teams finished with losing records last season, with the women having offensive struggles all year long and the men imploding after a six-game winning streak near the end of the conference schedule.
As part of our annual basketball week, Center Field will be posting daily stories relating to Marist and MAAC basketball. Today, we have the men’s basketball roundtable.
What was worse about last season, the losing streak to end the year or the parade of players into the transfer portal?
Christian De Block, Men’s Basketball Beat Writer: A valid argument can be made for the players entering the transfer portal as being a tougher pill to swallow, but I believe the losing streak should be looked at as the more difficult choice. Even if Marist went on a deep run like the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, for example, it is more than likely that Jao Ituka, Ricardo Wright, and the rest of the players with remaining eligibility would have left anyway.
The 2021-22 roster had the talent to make a run in Atlantic City, but they failed to even get past the first round. Failing to win at Canisius or Niagara to end the regular season was the beginning of the end for the Red Foxes. Last year’s roster had some incredible victories (a sweep of Monmouth, playing Iona close in both matchups), yet they will always be remembered for their blowout loss against Quinnipiac in the postseason.
Matthew Spirio, Contributing Writer: I think you have to look to the way the season ended for Marist last year as the more painful spark that led to the mass exodus of players. After finding some rhythm to the tune of a six-game win streak through February after a few hard-fought losses, it seemed that the team was destined to make some noise in the MAAC tournament.
Things spiraled out of control so quickly, with a final regular season loss by 31 at Niagara and then the subsequent loss by 25 to Quinnipiac in the first round. It feels that had the season not ended as abruptly and painfully as it did then maybe you’d have a few more guys from last season still in Poughkeepsie.
Dan Aulbach, Associate Editor: Here’s the thing: while Marist was catastrophically affected by the transfer portal, so were many other teams in the MAAC. The effects of the transfer portal are still rolling a week before the MAAC season begins, as reports say that preseason MAAC Player of the Year Jose Perez for Manhattan has entered the transfer portal (followed by possibly more from the Jaspers).
While Manhattan may have the most potential drastic losses, Marist lost seven players, all of whom were heavily involved in the rotation. As far as talent goes with those players, Marist had a lineup of playmakers led by Jao Ituka, who could very easily shine for Wake Forest this year and could have solidified a roster for the future. One playoff loss is one thing, but effectively lowering the chances of playoff success in the following years will sting the program even more.
Brian Ramos, Contributing Writer: I think the parade of players in the transfer portal is by far the worst part of last season. Going on a losing streak and getting eliminated always stinks but last year’s Red Foxes were not going to win the MAAC and losing seven players in the portal in Raheim Sullivan, Ricardo Wright, Braden Bell, Matt Herasme, Jao Ituka, Victor Enoh, and Samkelo Cele not only affected that season when they entered in the portal, but it also affected the future of the program.
The Ituka transfer hurts the most as he has a laundry list of accolades including MAAC Rookie of the Year and was supposed to be the building block for this Marist team. Losing seven players in the transfer portal means you lose a lot of players with not only collegiate experience but experience in John Dunne’s system. However, no matter how many freshmen or transfers you recruit, they can not make up for the lack of experience in Dunne’s system. Not only do these new players have to work on their game but they also have to develop chemistry as a team.
Which newcomer are you most excited to see in a Marist uniform?
Christian: A few of the other writers talked about incoming transfers who they are excited to see, but I’d like to touch on a freshman. Trace Salton is one of the young guys who could play a big role early in the season. Marist lost a majority of their wings (Matt Herasme, Braden Bell, Samkelo Cele), so that position needs to be filled. Salton had a knack for scoring in his prep season at Brighton Academy, scoring 20 points per game last year. Standing at 6-foot-6, he is certainly someone coach Dunne would like to see blossom on both ends. The Red Foxes have a team full of players new to the MAAC, but Salton is one guy that stands out for me on the 2022-23 roster.
Matt: I don’t quite know how Dunne will assemble his depth chart, but I really hope graduate transfer Patrick Gardner gets to see the floor. The 6-foot-11 center fits the unicorn build of modern basketball, as a solid rim protector with the ability to step out and shoot the three. He has shot over 30 percent from three in all four years of his career and would give coach Dunne spacing options that he has never had without sacrificing size on the defensive end. Gardner would certainly be a fan favorite, as well as a great asset for some of the less experienced guards being thrust into bigger roles, as he can give them more space to operate and provide a big target for easy baskets.
Dan: A hint of bias comes with this take, but Matt McCool spent his first few years of high school at Souhegan High School in Amherst, New Hampshire– ten minutes away from my hometown. While I never saw the freshman play, I’ve heard from the region that he was absolutely dominant; standing at 6-foot-8 as a forward and successful within the paint, he collected first-team all-state honors as a junior before transferring to Kent, where he averaged 57 percent from the field.
Marist lacked size last year and will miss the explosiveness of Ituka to attack the bucket, so I’m interested to see what McCool can do for the Red Foxes when getting reps at power forward, the Red Fox’s biggest mystery in terms of position. Plus, is there a better basketball name than McCool?
Brian: This was a difficult decision as I had two players in mind in graduate transfer Stephane Ingo from the University of Maine and Kam Farris transfer from Robert Morris University. Ultimately, I decided to pick Farris as the most excited newcomer to see play in McCann Arena. As a sophomore last year, Farris averaged 9.2 points per game which was an upgrade to his 8.3 points per game his freshman year while scoring at least 20 points twice with a career-high 27 points.
One of Marist’s weaknesses last season was shooting as they shot 34 percent from three and 71 percent from the free throw line. Farris will help contribute to both of those as he is a career 42 percent three-point shooter and 74 percent free-throw shooter. The three best three-point shooters on last year’s team — Sullivan, Ituka, and Wright — are all gone and the Red Foxes will need new players to step up and score consistently.
Noah Harris is the most prominent returning player from last season, how much do you expect his game to improve in his sophomore year?
Christian: Noah Harris showed a lot of promise in his first collegiate season out of Rutgers Prep. While his 6.1 points per game may not seem that impressive, he only averaged 20.5 minutes a game last season. With many of the key guys transferring out from a year ago, Harris should be in-line to start at either guard position. I expect him to increase his scoring, but the question is how will his efficiency be impacted. The 6-foot-1 sophomore shot 35 percent from the field last year. Ituka led the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game during the 2021-22 season.
Harris could get to that number, but I see him averaging between 12-14 points per game. His playmaking will be something to keep an eye on as well. Harris will be one of the players that determine how far this team can go. If he takes the next step and cements himself as one of the best all-around guards in the MAAC, Marist will have a great chance to finish higher than their preseason prediction. I not only see Harris having a more defined role, but I believe his improved play will earn him an All-MAAC honor at the end of the year.
Matt: In terms of how he plays I think you can expect to see a similar Noah Harris, probably just with increased volume and a better understanding of the system. Harris struggled to score from inside the perimeter, and never really functioned as a primary ball handler. I think he will continue to be a solid shooter and should figure to earn some of Dunne’s early trust, but don’t expect any of these transfers or freshmen to defer to him just because he has one year under his belt as a Red Fox. Dunne has shown a willingness to change things up if a player isn’t living up to his potential and Harris’ leash will be just as short as it would be for any sophomore who averaged 6 points a year ago.
Dan: Watching Noah Harris play last year, I can guarantee you one thing: he’s confident with the three-ball. Sure, his percentage doesn’t show it, but Harris is a proven shooter and the increase in reps will mesh him into the shooter he was at Rutgers Prep. Harris was second on the team with threes made, and that will for sure be first this year with his predicted starting role.
However, teams will know that, and he’ll be seeing tight defense from outside the arc. He needs to prove he can work inside the perimeter, shoot some more mid-range ball and challenge the hoop a few times. He’s not a facilitating guard– he’s a scoring guard. If there are playmakers in this new batch of Dunne recruits, they’ll dish Harris the rock.
Brian: I fully expect Noah Harris to break out this season and have his game drastically improve. Now that he has a full season of college ball under his belt and got out of the freshman nerves, he knows what MAAC basketball is like and what to expect. As one of the more prominent returning players and a probable starter, I would not be surprised if Harris averages double-digit points this coming season. Last season, he averaged 6.1 points per game while being second on the team in steals with 20. Harris was also second on the team in threes made with 48 while shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc.
Marist was picked seventh in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Too high? Too low? Or just right?
Christian: Having Marist to finish seventh in the MAAC is just right for me. A majority of the teams in the conference dealt with roster turnover in the offseason, as a good portion of the top-end talent in the league left for bigger programs. Teams like Iona and Rider should be locked to finish near the top, but the rest of the MAAC is wide open to me. I can see the Red Foxes finishing anywhere from fifth to ninth, so slotting them in at the seventh spot is more than reasonable.
Matt: This feels fair as the gap in the voting has them closer to being less than one spot ahead in sixth. Time will tell if they can crack into the top half of the MAAC but they feel like a solid team with experienced coaching to not be completely dead last.
Dan: A fine spot for a rebuilding roster. I’d say their absolute ceiling is fifth place if the season goes according to Dunne’s wishes, but with Rick Pitino’s squad going for yet another top seed with a few other squads retaining players from last year, I see some frustration in the future for Marist. We should know how the season will go by watching their first few games.
Brian: A week or two ago I would have thought seventh place for the Red Foxes was too high as they have almost a whole new roster and have a lot to figure out. However, so does this conference so I could see Marist being seventh just right due to the potential collapse of Manhattan and questions about the new-look Saint Peter’s team, and how will Mount St. Mary’s fare in their MAAC season debut.
Give us your predictions for this season. What’s Marist’s overall record? Where do the Red Foxes finish in the MAAC?
Christian: At this moment in time, I have Marist finishing with an overall record of 13-16. Their non-conference schedule is very similar to the one they had last season, with the most notable change being the game against Maine in London at the beginning of December. I see the Red Foxes heading into MAAC play with a record of 5-4, taking advantage of five home games during that stretch. Marist could surprise a lot of people, but I see this year being more of a rebuilding season (within the conference specifically). I have the team finishing MAAC play with an 8-12 record, good enough for eighth in the standings.
Matt: I expect a lot of growing pains early as Dunne tries to find his rotation. Let’s optimistically say 3-6 in non-conference (although I hope they prove me wrong), followed by a less-than-stellar 8-12 in conference play. I’ll say they finish eighth or ninth and manage to find a win in the first round before falling to one of the elite teams in the quarterfinals. Not the best season but something that can be built on.
Dan: 7-13 in conference play. There isn’t enough confidence to give them more wins, but I hope by the end of the year we have something to look forward to for the following year. They’ll probably win two or three of their non-conference matchups and finish with a 10-19 record overall. Look out for a Harris breakout season and for a few of these recruits to rise to the top– and hopefully want to stay together– for a more solidified season next winter.
Brian: Overall, I have Marist finishing 15-14 on the year placing them seventh in the MAAC. It would also put Marist at 9-11 in conference play which was the same conference record as last season. In the MAAC Tournament, Marist will win one game and then get eliminated.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics