With a majority of the NEC basketball scholarships filled for the 2014-15 season, it’s an excellent time to go over the conference’s transfer list. While this list isn’t final (remember, Shivaughn Wiggins leaving Mount St. Mary’s in July last season?), we’d be surprised if there was more activity this offseason. So without further ado, let’s break down the most important players departing from the NEC. Continue reading
Halfway through the second half in their November matchup versus Wagner, Coppin State had enough of Mario Moody. Within the span of five, maybe six minutes, the super athletic 6’7” forward had thrown down several Earth shattering dunks that brought the sparse Baltimore crowd to its feet. Even though it didn’t seem possible, each successive Moody dunk was more spectacular than the last. When the smoke cleared, Wagner enjoyed a comfortable double-digit lead heading into the under-8 media timeout. Continue reading
On the final Thursday of the NEC regular season, several teams were jockeying for playoff position and seeding. Let’s recap all five games from tonight. Continue reading
Right now Wagner is LIU Brooklyn’s worst nightmare and the Seahawks proved it again on Thursday night at the Steinberg Wellness Center. Continue reading
Lackluster Wagner allowed Lafayette to go on a big run early in the first half and never recovered in a 77-65 loss at the Spiro Sports Center on Staten Island this Tuesday night. Continue reading
Vermont’s non-conference slate has (so far) been exceedingly tumultuous. John Becker’s squad was picked by many to finish atop the America East Conference, but despite the squad’s overall seniority — per Ken Pomeroy, the team is the nation’s fifth most experienced — the Catamounts look confused.
Currently in the midst of a northeast road trip, the team is 1-4, and against Wagner last night, the squad took the entirety of the first half to shake off what appeared to be rust and finally execute their gameplan, taking the lead at one point before ultimately losing by seven.
What follows are five observations from the game.
What happens to Wagner’s offense when Kenneth Ortiz is sidelined? In spite of the senior’s defensive prowess — no other Seahawk has a higher steal rate than the guard — Ortiz also commits a very high numbers of fouls (nearly five per 40 minutes). Wagner’s offense is dynamic when Ortiz runs the point — his presence shifts Jay Harris off the ball and allows Marcus Burton to float around the perimeter, getting open when Ortiz’s drives draw defenders from the junior (who is converting 44% of his threes). When Ortiz goes to the bench, though, Wagner’s offense visibly becomes stilted: Harris hasn’t consistently shown he can create offense for himself, and often curls around down screens (or comes off cross screens) for a clear look (per Hoop-Math.com, 50% of his twos and 86% of his threes are assisted). Both Burton and Latif Rivers function more as jump shooters, and aren’t capable of breaking down a defender and then dumping off a pass. Ortiz is the ideal point guard for Bashir Mason — his assist rate hovers around 30% — and while his head is constantly swiveling for an open teammate, he also has the athleticism to make a play when the shot clock is under ten seconds. At one point versus Vermont, Ortiz split two defenders, spun to get the Catamount on his hip, and made a layup with his left hand.
Vermont’s best offense is their frontcourt. Sandro Carissimo and Candon Rusin use more than 23% of the squad’s attempts, but both are in an offensive quagmire, and the rest of the team simply cannot make a bucket from beyond the arc. The team’s three-point percentage was low last year (32%), but has sunk to 26% this season, and the team looks hesitant to unfurl from deep.
Luke Apfeld and Clancy Rugg are the only Catamounts with an offensive rating over 100, and keyed Vermont’s second half surge in Staten Island. Using either picks or dribble drives, Carissimo was able to find Apfeld for a short corner jumper (he hit at least two) and Rugg illuminated what could be a crucial hole in Wagner’s defense, grabbing six offensive rebounds and either connecting on putbacks or drawing fouls. More than one half of Vermont’s points came from within the paint.
Wagner’s defensive identity. Wagner’s uniqueness in 2013 was fueled by how often they forced teams into committing a turnover. During the first half, Wagner continued to harass and generally make Vermont look unsure on offense. However, Vermont’s offense soon began to flow: the squad made 61% of their twos in the second half, grabbed countless offensive boards (sometimes three in one possession), and appeared more comfortable running their sets. The Seahawks struggled to force Vermont’s primary ballhandlers to give up the ball, and as a result, couldn’t get out as often in transition (Wagner scored only four fast-break points, as compared to ten in the first 20 minutes) and allowed Vermont some breathing room. While Wagner again looks like the cream of the NEC, are they defensively vulnerable? Not only is the squad causing a turnover on just 14% of their defensive possessions, they aren’t attacking the glass, allowing teams to generate additional chances. Just as concerning is their foul rate, which woefully ranks last in DI. Wagner’s bigs are particularly hack-friendly, and the propensity to pick up pointless fouls could portend defensive disaster for a team whose defensive efficiency rate ranked second in the NEC last season.
Vermont needs to get healthy soon. Becker traveled with ten Catamounts, but only nine saw minutes, yielding a very thin bench (which only scored 11 points) and the squad looked visibly gassed at times. Ethan O’Day, a 6’9″ forward who made 52% of his twos during his freshman season, is out up to six weeks with a hand injury, and both Ryan Pierson and Brendan Kilpatrick will be out for some time. While it would appear, barring any setbacks, that the Catamounts could have a full squad in time for conference play, the schedule will not yield any breaks before AE play. After the game, Becker told John Templon that he purposely scheduled a tough out of conference slate — “I scheduled tough with the thought that we’d have all of our guys and still it was going to be difficult” — and the upcoming games are daunting for both the team’s record and confidence: tilts against Duke, Quinnipiac, San Francisco, and Harvard.
Is Wagner pushing the pace? The Seahawks have joined the 70-plus possession ranks, using 71 or so possessions per game through the first five games. Mason’s squad was in transition on both makes and misses, forcing Vermont on their heels and utilizing the Seahawks’ athleticism to create easy scoring opportunities (14 points). However, the added trips could be attributed to the increase in possessions felt across the nation (the average, per Pomeroy, is 69.5, a jump from 65.9 in 2013). As teams continue to feel out the new foul rules, and gain ease with which they run their offensive sets, it will be interesting to see if Wagner’s pace slackens or whether Mason intends for it to be sustainable.
If it is the latter, Wagner’s speed could be useful to generate easy two-point field goals. The team doesn’t have a frontcourt player who can demand the ball and then score on the block — both Mario Moody and Naofall Folahan are best when set up along the backline or trailing the break. It is clear that the bulk of the team’s offense is tied to their perimeter shooting; when those attempts aren’t falling, Wagner’s offense stalls, so the new pace could be a reflection of Mason’s desire to manufacture easy twos.
After losing to St. John’s and Penn State, two teams residing in a “power” conference, and defeating Division II participant Chestnut Hill, Wagner traveled to Baltimore on Monday evening for their first mid-major test. Coppin State, a MEAC team coming off an impressive upset over Oregon State, would serve as a terrific early season litmus test for the Seahawks. Continue reading
Head Coach: Bashir Mason, 2nd Season (19-12, 12-6 NEC)
Last Season: 19-12, 12-6 (NEC), Lost to LIU Brooklyn in NEC tournament semifinals, 94-82
NEC Preseason Poll: 1st out of 10 teams
State of Programs: NEC Favorite
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Jonathon Williams (15.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Eric Fanning (16.7 mpg, 6.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg), Josh Thompson (23 starts, 3.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
Incoming Players: Nolan Long (F), Greg Senat (F)
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Kenneth Ortiz (11.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.3 rpg, NEC Defensive POY)
G: Latif Rivers (13.0 ppg, 39.4% 3pt%)
G: Dwaun Anderson (4.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
F: Mario Moody (6.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg)
C: Naofall Folahan (3.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg)
Key Reserves: Jay Harris (G), Orlando Parker (F), Marcus Burton (G)
- Managing the Backcourt Minutes – Wow, there is a ton of talent available in the Wagner backcourt. The addition of Jay Harris gives the Seahawks four legitimate potential starts at the point guard and shooting guard positions. The biggest addition might not even be Harris, but a healthy Latif Rivers. Rivers struggled coming back from a knee injury last season and was never quite the same. Now with a full offseason he’s going to be even more effective.
- A Teacher and a Student – As successful as Wagner was last season the Seahawks were working with a first-year head coach in Bashir Mason. Mason – who is working on his graduate degree – is also learning on the job as a head coach. He’ll be more prepared during his second season and I expect he’ll have some ideas about how to fix some of the defensive deficiencies the Seahawks had last season.
- Finishing What They Started – The Seahawks have been one of the best teams in the NEC the past two seasons, but both have ended in disappointing home losses in the NEC tournament. Wagner needs to find a way to get past the final four in the conference and advance to a championship game, because if the Seahawks can get to the NCAA tournament they have the talent to give a team a scare.
The Seahawks are the most talented team in the NEC. Whether they can put it all together is the question. Injuries didn’t help last season, but it appears that Latif Rivers is completely healthy. A healthy Rivers gives Wagner an outside shooting option that it definitely needed last season after they shot 35.3% in NEC play last season. Another player that could help the three-point shooting is Jay Harris. The Valparaiso transfer is going to give the Seahawks another dynamic scorer in the backcourt. Considering this team also has Marcus Burton and the reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz that means there is going to be a lot of opportunities for Bashir Mason to pick and choose the hot hand.
There are also options on the wing. Dwaun Anderson is the type of player that could have a breakout season in his sophomore year. A former top recruit, Anderson basically spent last season getting reacclimated to competitive basketball and adjusting to the speed of Division I. Still, all of those ESPN Sportscenter Top 10 plays were representative of elite athleticism that isn’t often seen in the NEC.
Mason also has options in the front court. Orlando Parker, Mario Moody and Naofall Folahan form a nice trio of talented forwards. They also offer different abilities. Moody is an elite defender on the level of his teammate Ortiz. Given more minutes he could lead the team in blocks. It also appears that Moody is going to be given a bigger role offensively and he has the skill to be a double-double type player if he can stay on the court. Folahan adds a lot of veteran leadership that should just help anchor the Seahawks’ defense and help Mason keep everything together. It’ll also be interesting to see how the two freshmen, Nolan Long and Greg Senat, are integrated into the lineup.
Mason wants to use this deep lineup as much as possible. Whether or not he’ll really play 12 guys come March is a whole different question, but for now the Seahawks are the deepest and most talented team in the NEC.
“That guy can really shoot… And he’s buying into defense and the way we push the pace. He’s a good guy. Hopefully he’ll have a really big year for us.” – Kenneth Ortiz on Valparaiso transfer Jay Harris
“Right now in my mind I plan to play 12 guys.” – Bashir Mason on how deep his rotation will go
“Mario Moody with an extended role I think he’ll fill in nicely for Jon Williams. He brings a different dynamic. He’s a different type of player. More athletic and has natural play-making ability. He’ll be another shot-blocker on the court. I’m looking forward to him stepping into that role and playing well.” – Mason on how Moody’s development can offset the loss of Williams
Ryan – Injuries can always derail a season, but out of all the NEC teams, Wagner is prepared the best for such misfortune. With a bevy of athletic guards, polished shooters, and defensive minded big men down low, Bashir Mason has a lot of weight on his shoulders. He must juggle the rotation and determine his optimal lineup come January. There’s no way he’ll play 12 guys in the second half of the season, but you can bet he’ll have the best group of 9-10 guys playing 10+ minutes per game. (18 wins, 11-5 NEC)
John – I don’t know if Wagner is really going to play 12 players, but I know that the rotation will be deep and talented. The roster oozes potential. It’s up to Mason to put it all together. I think that in his second season that’s exactly what will happen and the Seahawks will be the team to beat in the NEC. (18 wins, 12-4 NEC)
Other NEC Team Primers:
#10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers
#7 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs
#4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils
#3 Robert Morris
#2 Mount St. Mary’s
Before John and I go over our actual individual awards tonight and on Monday, I wanted to present our fictitious All-NEC Surprise team. Since some of these players may not crack the all-conference team – although some may very well – allow me to call attention to some players who have unexpectedly provided significant value to their respective teams. Continue reading