The national championship game has come and gone with the University of Connecticut winning their fifth title on Monday. While Marist didn’t participate in March Madness this year, it surprised the MAAC and were only one win away from dancing.
After some time to decompress, we have gathered closing thoughts from some of our writers who followed the men’s basketball team throughout the year.
Let’s hear what they have to say.
A last-place league finish followed by a shocking run to the finals of the MAAC Tournament. How do you define the 2022-23 Marist men’s basketball season?
Dylan Thompson, Contributing Writer: The 2022-23 Marist men’s basketball season should be defined as a season of progress. Although the Red Foxes finished with the worst regular season record and were the 11th seed in the MAAC Tournament, they made a historic run to the MAAC Tournament Final. I think this was a huge step forward for the program because they got national exposure, and they did the unthinkable. The Red Foxes were the first 11-seed in MAAC Tournament history to make the championship game, and it should be celebrated.
The Red Foxes should hold their heads high knowing they brought some excitement back to the program that can be used as motivation in upcoming seasons.
Dan Aulbach, Associate Editor: Let’s be clear: before the playoffs began, this season was a disappointment. Patrick Gardner, who already strung together what should have been an All-MAAC First Team season, really didn’t get too much help on the scoring front during the regular season. Despite improved performances from the supporting cast down the stretch, the regular season ended with a tough loss to Quinnipiac on senior night.
After that, everything changed.
This season should be defined by the playoff run resulting in the first MAAC finals appearance for the men’s basketball team. They dominated against Manhattan, with impressive shooting from sophomore guard Noah Harris particularly standing out. Freshman guard/forward Isaiah Brickner also emerged with an electric 21-point performance in the victory over Quinnipiac. Against St. Peter’s, the team exploded with a 41-point half that saw four players score in double figures. They stayed in the game against Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels until the last four minutes, giving the fan base something to believe in. There is life on John Dunne’s squad, and he’s put together a nice core group that has tasted the finals.
Christian De Block, Men’s Basketball Beat Writer: This season was a step in the right direction for the program. Getting to a MAAC Championship game is an incredible feat, especially considering how much roster turnover there was prior to the 2022-23 campaign. What they achieved in the postseason was far from expected, given their 6-14 conference record. It should be known that six of their regular season losses came by six points or less, so many of those games were close. Marist went down to Atlantic City and played their best basketball of the season, winning three straight games as an underdog in seeding.
Conference tournament victories against Manhattan, Quinnipiac and Saint Peter’s gives the program a certain sense of optimism going into next season. The coaching staff will need to dip into the transfer portal to replenish the roster, but the expectation should be that Marist will challenge for a top-six spot in the MAAC. With that being the case, the 2022-23 season was a successful one in my eyes.
Matthew Spirio, Contributing Writer: The 2022-23 Marist men’s basketball season will be remembered as a team that provided hope. Hope that this can be a team who recruits legitimately talented prospects who may go on to play overseas in the future. Hope that under head coach John Dunne, stringing together impressive wins in high-stakes moments is possible. Hope for a fanbase that has been craving a national tournament appearance since the 80s.
While this team was not able to win the MAAC and get into the dance, when the Red Foxes eventually do end the drought, we will point to the time when Patrick Gardner and co. made us all remember that it just takes a little bit of magic in early March to do so.
John Dunne got a new contract after last season. What does he need to do to build on the momentum from March and secure his position going forward?
Dylan Thompson: John Dunne needs to build off the momentum from the MAAC Tournament Championship game by instilling a belief that this is the standard. Having a standard set is important for all programs, and Dunne can now use this appearance as a stepping stone for future seasons. Dunne should also be aggressive in the transfer portal this off-season. With a MAAC Championship appearance, Dunne has a selling point to transfers looking for exposure at the mid-major level. I think Dunne should sell recruits on the idea that they are the missing piece to get the Red Foxes to the NCAA Tournament.
In terms of securing his position, I think Coach Dunne has done enough to validate his new contract extension. Even if this run was just a fluke, he deserves credit for guiding an 11 seed to the MAAC Championship game. I would expect Dunne to come back motivated to start next season.
Dan Aulbach: The hope is that John Dunne doesn’t waste any time building on the energy created by the tournament run; he should jump on the recruiting train. While he put together an impressive offense led by Gardner, his lead scorer is gone – the true test of how far his coaching can go is fishing through the portal for talent that can match Gardner’s. In the last two years, Dunne has found a star to control his offense around, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can do it once more.
Christian De Block: John Dunne needs to lean on his most talented returning player, Isaiah Brickner. Point guards are known to be an extension of the head coach, and the freshman is certainly that. If Dunne and his coaching staff can continue to develop Brickner, Marist will have one of the best guards in the conference next season.
Finding experienced talent in the transfer portal needs to be a point of emphasis for Dunne as well. Marist will have to replace the production of Patrick Gardner, which will be quite difficult. Doing that by committee is their best course of action, as getting two or three bigs who can impact the game on both ends would greatly benefit the 2023-24 roster. If Dunne can do those two things, Marist will be in good shape moving forward.
Matthew Spirio: Two words: urgency and leverage. The 2023-24 college basketball season has already begun and with a constantly changing MAAC landscape, Dunne needs to get started right away on showing potential recruits and transfers that the recent events of the MAAC Tournament can be the standard. The further away the team moves from that magical run, the more recruits will see a team who finished last in the MAAC, not the team who was a game away from an automatic bid.
The leverage aspect will come in the form of showcasing what he was able to do with Patrick Gardner, who is gaining national attention, recently playing in the NABC College All-Star Game, as well as the continued rise of returning point guard Isaiah Brickner. Dunne needs to convince transfers that under his leadership, there are unimaginable ceilings for new players, and playing alongside a guard who played his best basketball in March, there will be great opportunities to succeed in this system. If he can manage that in a timely manner, the Red Foxes may actually rise to the top of the MAAC on the heels of this run.
How can this team cope with the loss of do-it-all big man Patrick Gardner?
Dylan Thompson: Marist will have a hard time replacing Patrick Gardner, as he was one of the best players they’ve had in a decade. Replacing Gardner’s 19.1 points per game will likely have to come via committee, and freshman guard Isaiah Brickner should lead the charge. It will most likely be a down year at the center position, as the only in-house candidate to replace Gardner, sophomore center Rollin Belton, just entered the transfer portal.
The pressure will be on Dunne to hit the transfer portal to find a replacement for Gardner. If he can find a player similar to Gardner, the transition will be smooth.
Dan Aulbach: If we haven’t made it clear already, this team is going to miss Gardner. It will be impossible to find a 6’11 forward/center with shooting ability and elusiveness; that kind of talent only comes around once in a while. Dunne is going to have to pinpoint who can be a lead scorer for his squad sooner rather than later. That success in the MAAC playoffs simply wouldn’t have resulted without Gardner, and the best way to move on is to build on the successes of other players such as Brickner, Harris and Cooley.
Christian De Block: Replacing the production of Patrick Gardner is going to be difficult. The redshirt senior averaged 19.1 points on 49.7 percent shooting from the field and 38.3 percent shooting from three in his one season with the Red Foxes. As I mentioned for the previous question, Marist should search for a few bigs who can look to score the ball at a high clip.
Ideally, finding a post player who can also play as a stretch big would make their offensive attack difficult to gameplan for.
Gardner had a unique skill set that very few teams could handle, but how will the Marist look to score without him? To me, coach Dunne should center his offense around Isaiah Brickner, who evolved as a scorer late in the year. If they can find a three-point shooter and a talented big, Marist should be able to cope without Gardner leading the way.
Matthew Spirio: There’s no point in acting like the loss of Gardner won’t be crushing for the Red Foxes, so it’s less about fixing the loss and more about mitigating it. I think typically conventional wisdom would say to not try and replace Gardner directly, but in this instance, I think that should be the plan of attack. Going back to a traditional back-to-basket center feels like a step backward for Marist, and would be a decision that could sink them lower in the MAAC than they’ve already been.
There’s no shortage of bigs who can shoot the ball in college hoops these days, and finding one at the Division II or low-mid-major level feels like a no-brainer for the Red Foxes, allowing them to forge an identity as a school that goes against the grain. Not to mention that after seeing what Gardner was able to accomplish, the sales pitch shouldn’t be too difficult for Dunne, as skilled big men should be lining up to fill the vacuum of touches Gardner will be leaving behind.
Maybe that sounds too optimistic, but while this is still Marist Basketball, I think it’s time to start redefining the way that we look at this program.
Isaiah Brickner came on strong toward the end of the season. How important will he be to the team’s success going forward?
Dylan Thompson: Isaiah Brickner is an integral part of the future of the program, and he must stay. Dunne needs to make sure that Brickner sees the value in staying at Marist. Brickner was fourth on the team in scoring this season with 7.4 points a game, but I would expect him to lead the team in scoring next season. He also showed flashes in the MAAC Tournament of how effective he can be when the lights are bright. As a sophomore, Brickner can take on more of a leadership role next season.
Dan Aulbach: Brickner proved that he has star ability in the second game of the MAAC tournament. The guard was lights out from behind the arc, and after knocking down the first couple of threes, you could tell his confidence was through the roof. It didn’t feel like he would miss.
After another efficient game against St. Peter’s, Brickner cooled down in the finals and shot 1-8 against the Gaels. He has the ability to find gaps in the perimeter and create shots for himself, but he can be hot and cold and is fueled by his confidence. If not the main focus, Brickner is an X-factor as a second or third scoring option for the Red Foxes.
Christian De Block: Isaiah Brickner will be the most important player for the Red Foxes next season. The guard played a monumental role in Marist’s run in Atlantic City, both as a scorer and a playmaker. Brickner had double figures in two of their four conference tournament games, including a season-high 21 points against Quinnipiac in the MAAC quarterfinals. That individual performance was impressive for a few reasons, one of which was the freshman shooting 5-for-6 from downtown.
Brickner projects to be one of the top point guards in the MAAC next season because of his potential to be a two-way player. Standing at 6’4, he has the length to be a shutdown guard on the defensive perimeter. If he can add that to his game and continue to improve his three-point percentage as volume increases, Brickner will have a shot at finishing the 2023-24 season as an All-MAAC recipient.
Matthew Spirio: I think it’s pretty easy to say that Brickner will be the most important Red Fox next year for John Dunne. Having continuity at the point guard position is fundamental to success in college basketball, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like Marist has someone who is bought in to bringing success to Poughkeepsie.
Brickner showed that he has the ability to grow into a sustainable outside shooter when he shot 5-6 from three versus Quinnipiac in the MAAC quarterfinals. If he can grow from a 34% shooter to 36-37% with much more volume, he can be a premier guard in the MAAC. On top of that, Brickner must continue to develop as a playmaker. I believe that as adds more confidence playing at the collegiate level, his size and quick first step will allow him to get into the lane more often than not while attraction attention to set up the rest of the returning role players.
What is the early outlook for the team heading into next season?
Dylan Thompson: The early outlook for the Red Foxes next season is not great, but the offseason is still young. If the Red Foxes are unsuccessful in the transfer portal and are unable to find a replacement for Gardner, they could once again be at the bottom of the MAAC standings. However, if they do a solid job in the transfer portal, I think they could be in the middle of the standings.
Dunne has shown that he can find talent in the portal, so I expect him to get some solid players this off-season. Coming off a MAAC Tournament Championship appearance, recruiting should be easier.
Dan Aulbach: Due to the volatility of the conference, it’s extremely hard to place where Marist will land in the standings next year. The good news: unlike the multitude of transfers after the 2021-22 season, only Tyler Saint-Furcy, Rollin Belton and Anthony Cooper are in the portal so far. It seems like the group will remain intact after the success last season, giving Dunne a solid foundation to build on.
They have time to grow as a squad, and with new additions and transfers, it feels as though this team is not set up for last place. They successfully transformed what was looking like a bad season into an opportunity to shine bright.
Christian De Block: The transfer portal has completely changed the nature of college basketball, something Marist has been impacted by over the last few seasons. Tyler Saint-Furcy, Rollin Belton and Anthony Cooper are the only ones who have entered the portal to date, so the Red Foxes won’t have as much work to do in that aspect versus some other teams in the conference. Coach Dunne and his staff have found a ton of success via the transfer portal, landing high-character guys who impact winning in the biggest moments. Marist will need to do that again in order to replace the likes of Patrick Gardner and Stephane Ingo.
The backcourt trio of Isaiah Brickner, Noah Harris and Kam Farris gives the team a solid foundation. Marist has an array of talent on the wing in Javon Cooley, Jaden Daughtry and Trace Salton. The biggest hole in the roster is the center position, which I believe can be filled in the transfer portal. As I’ve said before, Gardner is nearly irreplaceable for what it’s worth, but the Red Foxes need a new presence down low. If the program does well in the portal and adds a few talented freshmen, Marist will be in contention for a top-five or six seed next season.
Matthew Spirio: Unlike last year, the Red Foxes will actually return a number of guard and wing players, which is crucial in college basketball. Another year of development for the guard trio of Brickner, Harris and Farris should allow each to really find their niche, and allow Dunne even more time to figure out the best way to use them all together.
Replacing Gardner will be the toughest task that this coaching staff has had to deal with in a long time, but for a team that typically deals with a laundry list of problems to fix, having one glaring issue compared to several small headaches feels like a win for Marist.
With every player that leaves another MAAC team, Marist gets stronger, so the real success of this team will come in the form of the continued overturn of a conference that has been the subject of Power 5 plucking in recent seasons.
Edited by Luke Sassa and Andrew Hard
Photo from Kira Crutcher