4. Marist (2006-07 Record: 25-9, 14-4 MAAC)
Head coach: Matt Brady
Returning Starters: 2- G/F Ben Farmer (senior): 6-5, 193; F/C Ryan Stilphen (senior): 6-8, 222.
Although it was a disappointment to the Marist program to miss out on the NCAA Tournament, they did get to play some more basketball after falling to rival Siena in the MAAC Tournament. They didn’t hang their heads; they simply went to Stillwater and beat Oklahoma State in the first round of the NIT. And while they lost a tough game at NC State in the second round, the 06-07 edition set a school record for wins in a season (25) and won their first-ever outright MAAC title. The win over the Cowboys was Marist’s first postseason win, but two of the primary contributors to 2006-07 are now graduated. The backcourt of Jared Jordan and Will Whittington, who gave headaches to coaches throughout the MAAC during their time in Poughkeepsie, has graduated along with seven-footer James Smith. How Coach Brady and his staff fill in the gaping hole left by those backcourt stalwarts will tell the story of just how good Marist can be this season.
Newcomers will have to step into the limelight in the backcourt, and the most talked about has to be senior Louie McCroskey, who sat out 06-07 after transferring from Syracuse. While he didn’t score much at Syracuse, McCroskey has the ability to get to the basket. And after a year of work under Coach Brady, his outside shot should be more consistent. The other newcomers of note are sophomore junior college transfer David Devezin (Houston, TX; San Jacinto JC) and freshman Dejuan Goodwin (Baltimore, MD). Devezin began his college career at Texas A&M and was one of the best players in the Houston area his senior year of high school. Goodwin missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the redshirt freshman helped get his high school to number eight nationally his senior year. Devezin will start at the point, and Goodwin will be at the two in the early going. Another freshman, Jay Gavin (Seat Pleasant, MD), should also be in the mix for playing time this year.
The frontcourt will be led by seniors Farmer (5.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Stilphen (11.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Spongy Benjamin (5.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg). Farmer is a capable shooter who does a good job of not forcing the issue on the offensive end. Stilphen is Marist’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, and he’s a very good defender as well. Benjamin is the wild card of this trio; the man who stands to make a solid jump in production with the increase in playing time. And he’s off to a good start, going for 21 and 17 in Marist’s season-opening win over Delaware. Other returnees looking to contribute more in 2007-08 are senior Shae McNamara (3.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and junior Kaylen Gregory (2.1 ppg).
In regards to the newcomers in the frontcourt, a pair of players who sat out 2006-07 should be able to help make up for the loss of Smith. Ryan Schneider (Vermont transfer) and Lawrence Williams (redshirt) both stand 6-7 and will add some height to the front line. However, while Williams is more likely to stay around the basket, Schneider can stroke the ball from the perimeter. Also looking to crack the rotation is freshman Korey Bauer (Whitehall, PA), who sat out his senior year due to a heart condition but is now cleared to play. At 6-8, 208, Bauer will give the Red Foxes another body inside.
Schedule-wise, after the opening win over Delaware Marist heads off to Puerto Rico for the Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic. They’ll open with the Hurricanes of Miami, who feature one of the best scorers in the ACC in Jack McClinton. But since McClinton began his college career at Siena, Marist should be somewhat familiar with him. The second round could bring either Houston or VCU. Quite simply, this is a tough tournament, but it’ll help get the newcomers prepared for MAAC play. Marist will also appear in the Aeropostale Holiday festival, taking on St. John’s December 28th and either Hofstra or Virginia Tech on the 29th. The last time these two teams met, Marist won in the Garden. The MAAC once again will be tough to navigate, with up to five teams having a decent chance to win the league this year. Conference play opens at Canisius on December 5th.
No one said that replacing the likes of Jordan and Whittington would be easy, but that’s the task in front of Marist this season. It may take some time for all the newcomers to become acquainted with the system and each other, but this is a talented team with the ability to win a lot of games this season. While picked to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason poll, the Red Foxes have the ability to finish higher if the backcourt performs well. The man to watch is Devezin, who has the keys to the Marist attack from day one. But given the amount of firepower returning at Siena and Loyola, it’s tough to say that Marist can win the league right now. But in March, you never know. Expect Marist to finish anywhere from three to five in the MAAC.