Men’s Basketball Entry Roundtable: After MAAC Championship Game Appearance, Where Does the Team Stand?

With the Marist men’s basketball season beginning on November 6 in an away game against Army, we gathered our writers to assess the team’s expectations for the 2023-24 season.

The Red Foxes finished 6-14 and last in the MAAC Conference standings last season but made a run to the MAAC championship game. How can they build off that run for this season?

Marley Pope, Men’s Basketball beat writer: The run to the MAAC championship should build confidence in the returning players for this season.

In their four tournament games, the Red Foxes held opponents to 60.5 PPG. That would have been the top-scoring defense in the MAAC during the regular season. Prior to postseason play, Marist went 1-7 against the teams they faced in Atlantic City, but turned the tide in South Jersey by winning three of their four matchups. Sophomore guard Isaiah Brickner broke out in a big way, scoring 21 points and adding six assists and rebounds apiece in the quarterfinal win over Quinnipiac. Despite finishing the season at the bottom of the standings, by making their first-ever appearance in the MAAC championship game, the players and coaching staff showed they can win games when it matters most.

Danny Destler, Assistant Managing Editor: The Red Foxes are coming off a Cinderella run last season in the MAAC Tournament. They fell just short of the ultimate goal, losing to Iona in the championship game. After being just a game away from making March Madness, this team has a lot to look forward to this season. They need to look back on last season, assess where they stood coming into the tournament, and build from there. The team played phenomenally in the tournament,  but they do not want to be in last place going into the tournament once again.

Jimmy Tsiantoulas, Assistant Editor: The MAAC championship run was something out of a storybook. Seeing the team come together when it mattered most was a prime catalyst for what unfolded. Now the team is without MAAC All-Championship center Patrick Gardner, and with a number of new faces, this team now has an uphill battle in front of them. Coming into the season ranked eighth in the preseason MAAC polls is just another hurdle they will have to climb, but I believe this is something they can use as fuel. If the team can replicate what they did back in March, then the Red Foxes will shock a lot of people.

Dan Aulbach, Editor-in-Chief: The 2022-23 Red Foxes created many lasting memories due to an unbelievable and unprecedented run to the MAAC finals against Iona for the first time in the program’s history. You can point at multiple factors towards that success: the dominance of center Patrick Gardner (now a member of the Brooklyn Nets G-League affiliate on Long Island), Isaiah Brickner’s 21-point breakout against Quinnipiac, and even the highs and lows of the championship game against Iona, where Marist showed how far the team had progressed from their last-place position in the regular season.  

At first glance, this is a roster with numerous moving parts once again, with plenty of room for newcomers to make names for themselves. Marist, like many of the other MAAC schools, has been a clear example of a program that has been hurt and helped by the transfer portal. With six new faces– three transfers and three freshmen– there are plenty of vacancies for starting spots in John Dunne’s rotation, but a ton of mystery. There’s a lot to reminisce about, but there’s also much to improve upon; Dunne’s program cannot afford to hover around the bottom of the regular season MAAC standings once again.

William Rosen, Contributor: Last season, the Red Foxes were in a strange position. They had arguably the best player in the MAAC in Patrick Gardner,yet finished last in the MAAC regular season, but also somehow ended up in the MAAC championship game. This season will rely on the momentum from the tournament in Atlantic City. Returners such as Isaiah Brickner, Kam Farris, Noah Harris and Javon Cooley all want to get back to the championship game and want to win. Brickner is this year’s glue guy; after posting impressive numbers in his freshman year (7.4 PTS, 3.3 REB, 34% 3PT) and earning ALL-MAAC Championship honors, his success will be key to building off of last year’s run.

How will Patrick Gardner’s production be replaced?

Marley: Gardner was on pace to break the program record in scoring by 400 points if he played for four years. He had a stellar season for the Red Foxes, averaging 19 points, shooting 50% from the field and 38% from three on top of averaging 30 minutes a night. To replace what he did, every player that gets minutes will need to take a step. No other player averaged more than 10 points last season; that will need to change. I think it should change as Isaiah Brickner will be handed the keys to the offense. Guards Noah Harris and Kam Farris, a junior and senior respectively, will have less pressure to handle the ball and will get better shooting opportunities. 

Danny: It will take more than one player to replace Patrick Gardner. Marist will need more people to step up in the big moments like he did. I believe that Isaiah Brickner and Kam Farris will take big leaps this season. Farris coming off the bench was the spark this team needed, especially in the tournament. Brickner has the ability to win MAAC Player of the Year if he takes that leap. His decision to return to Mairst and not enter the transfer portal was a big storyline in the offseason and it proves that he wants to be here and win at Marist.

Jimmy: Patrick Gardner was a one-in-a-million player who elevated the program to new heights. Sure, they finished 6-14 in the MAAC, but he and the team came to play when it mattered most. Now that he is gone, it will have to be a massive group effort to replicate what he brought to the team. Players such as Isaiah Brickner are going to be pushed into a more substantial role, and I can totally see senior forward Javon Cooley taking that leadership role since he is the longest-tenured on the team. This team is going to need to play with some fire coming into this season, and if they do, they have the ability to prove doubters wrong again.

Dan: Gardner didn’t just place himself in the Marist record books, he was a MAAC unicorn well on his way to a career in professional basketball. An incredible find in the portal from Dunne, it would take another jackpot acquisition in the portal to replace Gardner’s leadership presence and versatility on the floor in one player.

We know that Brickner has plenty of expectations this year as a Preseason Second-Team All-MAAC recipient, but Marist needs to fill the frontcourt positions while newly-hired assistant coach Derrick Phelps, who was a defensive-minded point guard who won a national championship with UNC, works with the guards. With Gardner and former center Stephane Ingo pursuing professional basketball careers, in addition to junior Rollin Belton transferring out, the Red Foxes need to establish a true center down low and a forward rotation that can complement the strengths of the guards to have any hope of replacing the dynamic play of Gardner. I’d like to see any of the forwards on the roster – veteran senior Javon Cooley, sophomore Trace Salton, sophomore Matt McCool – take a jump this year to boost the Marist frontcourt.

William: Oh boy, what a joy it was to watch Patrick Gardner in the MAAC Championship game, NBA Summer League, and FIBA World Cup. However, he is no longer with the Red Foxes (though we will be watching him in the G-League), stressing a need for more perimeter shooting around the entire team. Marist has a fair share of spot-up, knockdown shooters including Kam Farris, Noah Harris and Javon Cooley; the three returners each shot over 31% from beyond the arc last season. With a lack of a true post-up interior center on the roster this season, the iso-ball play should diminish into more shooting opportunities for the shooters. Last season, Marist attempted 7.7 three-pointers per game; if they can get above 10 a game, I believe that the offense will be the most seamless we have seen in many years.

What newcomer to Poughkeepsie will carry the most significant impact?

Danny: I am going to give you two names who are potential starters: graduate student guard Isaiah Sulack and sophomore center Max Allen. Both transfer students are coming in, and I believe each of them possesses the ability to make an impact. Allen, standing at 6’9”, gives Marist a player who can go up and grab those rebounds that Stephon Ingo and Gardner were responsible for last year. He will bring a defensive presence in the paint that is sorely needed after the departures from last season.

Sulack is an interesting player, as he did not get much playing time at Tennessee. Coach Dunne went out into the portal looking for someone who could shoot the ball. Sulack is 6’5” and can rise over the defenders and shoot from deep range. Marist ranked ninth out of 11 MAAC teams last season in three-point percentage and Sulack can help in the category.

Marley: Jackson Price will be an integral part of Marist’s success this season. A junior transfer from The Citadel, Price averaged 6.7 points per game across 16 minutes, shooting 50/44/74 percent splits. At 6 foot 8, his ability to spread the floor could be reminiscent of what Gardner did for the Red Foxes last season. He possesses a good shooting touch, and can also finish around the rim. His talent is apparent, he just needs more playing time to make plays. He should get said playing time in Poughkeepsie.

Jimmy: My mind immediately goes to recent graduate transfer Isaiah Sulack. Coming from Tennessee, an SEC squad, he has been in the highest level of competition at the college level. Although he did not see the floor much (he only appeared in six games in his three seasons there), the knowledge he acquired will be monumental in helping his new team.  

Something the Red Foxes desperately need help with is three-point shooting, as Marist finished ninth out of 11 teams in the MAAC. With Sulack’s tall frame, he can step in right away as a catch-and-shoot threat. 

Dan: Give me freshman Jadin Collins, the 6’1 freshman guard out of Rutgers prep. Hailing from Noah Harris’s high school alma mater, Collins averaged 20/6/4 in his senior season and nearly averaged four steals per game. If there are two traits I’d like to see improve in guard play from the Red Foxes, it’s perimeter defense and interior scoring, two traits Collins excels in, and a reason why he can make an immediate impact in a crowded guard room. 

From the tape, Collins is a natural fit for an offense that lets most of its interior scoring come from the frontcourt. He’ll occasionally shoot from outside the arc, but is crafty, letting his footwork do the talking when driving towards the rim. He’s a difficult body to shake off on defense due to his speed and skill in getting a hand to the ball. I see Collins becoming a quick favorite among the rookies and a reliable scoring option off the bench. There’s an easy path to Collins becoming a starter if the perimeter defense sticks out as well

William: Are we in for a treat? Yes, yes we all are! Jadin Collins will be special, the Rutgers Prep graduate is one of the top recruits that Marist has landed in the last five years. Like Dan mentioned above, he has demonstrated superb defensive skills, garnering four steals per contest in high school. It does not stop there, as the De’Aaron Fox-esque energy makes the rookie an exciting offensive prospect. His one-step, dribble drive got him to the basket against high-level New Jersey competition in his senior year of high school and that will not stop in the MAAC. With shooting, quick hands, and major athleticism; at the end of the season, Jadin Collins will be a household name in Poughkeepsie.

What players need to step up to improve Marist’s offense, which ranked 9th last season in PPG (63.9) and 10th in Field Goal Percentage (41%) in the MAAC?

Danny: Noah Harris. Harris shot 30% from three last season. He has games where he can’t miss from three, such as the game against Boston University last season where he had seven made three-pointers. He also has games where he struggles. Harris needs to be as consistent as possible for the Red Foxes if they want to win games.

Marley: A player that comes to mind is senior Javon Cooley. The lefty forward from Chicago performed well last season, knocking down 35% of his threes and averaging 7 points and 4.5 boards. As one of the two seniors on the roster, I believe he needs to take another step in being more involved offensively. A tick-up in his aggressiveness will lead to a more fluid and dangerous offense for Marist.

Jimmy: As I mentioned earlier, Javon Cooley is the longest-tenured player on this team, as he has been here since his freshman year back in 2020. Seeing the floor consistently comes with a large amount of trust, and he has come through for Marist every time. Although he does not score a lot (he averaged seven points per game on 40% shooting last season), he needs to take that leap to become the first or second option alongside Isaiah Brickner. Bumping his averages up to 10 to 12 points on 45% shooting, I think would help this team out immensely.

Dan: Sure, it certainly doesn’t help that Gardner is gone. This team needs a primary scoring option; behind Gardner in points per game was Noah Harris with 8.7. The answer is Brickner, the player with the most room to grow on this roster. Comparing stats with fellow starter Cooley, the two had similar years in efficiency numbers for scoring, but Brickner led the team in assists last year with 87, good enough for 14th in the MAAC last season (Marist was also ninth in the MAAC in assists)

After re-watching the tape from his Quinnipiac breakout, it’s clear the sophomore guard has confidence in his game and a chip on his shoulder after missing the NCAA tournament by one game. There are plenty of capable defenders on this squad; Brickner’s primary focus into his sophomore year should be cementing himself as the team’s most capable shot creator and scorer.

William: Max Allen has to step up, replacing the best center that Marist has had since Rik Smits. Allen a transfer from San Jose State University, is the probable starting center this season, standing at 6’9, 250 pounds. Allen only appeared in eight games for SJSU, however reviewing high school highlights and film, the big man gets rebounds at ease and has a jump shot that he is not afraid to use. He might not be a high-level scorer, but with his size and being around all the shooters (as mentioned above), if Allen can grab boards left and right, those points will increase.

Give your predictions for the Red Foxes this season. What’s their overall record and where do they finish in the MAAC?

Danny: Marist was ranked eighth in the preseason polls, and I think that is a little low for this team. Coming off a championship game appearance, this team should be valued a bit higher. But, I see why because of the team’s departures. I would say this team will finish around fifth or sixth in the MAAC due to players maturing and being there before. For my record prediction, with 29 regular season games, I see the team going 14-15 because of how hard their non-conference schedule is, and for the MAAC I believe the team will go 10-10 in conference play.

Marley: For their non-conference schedule, I believe the Red Foxes will go 5-4. In MAAC play, I think they will improve on their 6-14 record last season to 8-12, which puts them seventh in the MAAC standings, and an overall record of 13-16. There are a lot of moving parts to this team, and the loss of Patrick Gardner will prove to be a difficult one to make up for. However, the team possesses good talent and youth that will be exciting to follow as the season progresses.

Jimmy: This team was just one game away from March Madness last year is doubted time and time again. They beat the odds at every turn and did something no one else thought was possible. That being said, the loss of superstar Patrick Gardner is definitely going to deter voters and opposing teams. 

With the new additions, and current players expected to take that next step, I could see the Red Foxes finishing as high as third in the MAAC behind Rider and Iona, but a modest fifth-place finish is more likely. I think they will finish the regular season 10-10 to 12-8 in the conference, with big upsets against the top teams of the MAAC. 

Dan: Look. There’s no sugarcoating how young this team is compared to other squads in the MAAC that have retained talent since last year. This is the first year in several that former Iona head coach Rick Pitino will not be ruling the MAAC conference and that Iona isn’t topping the Coaches’ poll by a landslide. Rider is a refreshing top team with two of the top ten players in the conference– redshirt seniors Merwin James (forward) and Allen Powell (guard)– that each scored more than 10 points per game even with former All-MAAC First team guard Dwight Murray Jr. leading scoring for the Broncs last season. Canisius, Siena, and Quinnipiac also retain key players that bolster their lineups despite the nature of the portal.

Even new head coach Tobin Anderson–the former Fairleigh Dickinson coach that took a No. 15 seed past No.1 Purdue–managed to fill up an entirely blank roster and assemble a team that has veteran transfers surrounded by lone returner preseason All-MAAC First team forward Osborn Shelma. I look at the teams mentioned above, and I see sustainable scoring and success throughout the regular season. Aside from the Gaels, Marist might just be the most mysterious team in the MAAC; if the rookies pan out while Sulack and Brickner develop, there is no reason they can’t be a middle of the standings-type team. For now, I think the polls are fairly accurate; I’m picking the Red Foxes to go 8-12 in conference and 4-5 non-conference, good enough for 12-17 overall. There’s no reason another cinderella run can’t happen once more in the MAAC tournament

William: This team will shock many people. They are in a strange spot from last year — yes, however, they are exceptionally deep. I believe with Collins and Brickner becoming a top-tier MAAC duo and shooting that should compliment those two beautifully, I have Marist going 6-4 in MAAC play and 17-12 this season. I think every team in the MAAC is beatable, especially without Pitino in Iona; let’s see where Marist finishes.

Edited by Luke Sassa and Dan Aulbach

Graphic by Cara Lacey; Photos via Marist Athletics

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