Team of the week: Wagner
Results: W 77-62 @ Monmouth, W 60-59 vs. St. Francis (PA)
After a sweep of this past week’s foes, the Seahawks are the lone undefeated in the Northeast Conference with a record of 5-0. Overall, Wagner (12-4) has won seven of their last eight with the lone defeat coming at the hands of Michael Beasley and the Kansas State Wildcats. In a conference that many judged to be wide-open by many prognosticators when the season began, the Seahawks may be the closest thing to a clear favorite. Durell Vinson (14.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg) has had the impact many projected for him when he returned after missing 2006-07, and he showed off his versatility against Monmouth by putting up eighteen points and eight boards off the bench.
The second half defense was outstanding in that victory, holding the Hawks to 22% from the field. Two days later, a Justin Drummond three-pointer with 1:06 left gave the Seahawks a home win over the Red Flash. Mark Porter scored fifteen in the win, and averaged 16.5 ppg for the week’s games. Two things that have helped them of late: leading the NEC in field goal percentage defense (42.3%), and ranking behind only Quinnipiac in rebounding margin (+ 4.8). The Seahawks will need to improve upon their free throw percentage (last in the NEC) if they are to close out games throughout the rest of the season, but this team has more than enough to win the regular season crown.
Player of the Week: Jay Gavin (Marist)
Numbers for the week: 23 points, 5 rebounds vs. Manhattan; 21 points, 7 rebounds vs. St. Peter’s; 23 points vs. Fairfield
Need a good reason as to how the Red Foxes are back atop the MAAC standings? You can start with Gavin, a freshman guard from Seat Pleasant, MD who has been on fire of late. The raw point totals are impressive enough, but check out what he did from beyond the arc in the three games, all Marist victories: 6-8 against Manhattan, 5-7 against St. Peter’s and 7-11 against Fairfield on Sunday night. Add that up and you get 18-26, good for an impressive 69.2% clip. And the rebounding numbers show that Gavin is capable of doing more than simply letting fly from behind the arc.
There was a lot of talk about what the addition of players such as Louie McCroskey and David Devezin would mean to a team looking to replace the likes of Jared Jordan and Will Whittington, and rightfully so, but I’m not sure many people expected this kind of shooting from Gavin. Now comes the hard part, as MAAC foes should be well aware of Gavin’s ability to put the ball in the basket. But he’s added another dimension to the Marist attack that could once again be a threat to win the league title.
Other Observations on the week that was
- Seton Hall may lack the interior presence (and depth) needed to get to Madison Square Garden.
The Pirates lost the Big East’s best defender, Paul Gause (once again leading the league in steals), to a broken hand in their win over Morgan State last Saturday. This loss put even more stress on a rotation that already lacks a consistent presence in the paint. While the Hall was able to hang in with Marquette until late on Wednesday, the lack of depth and post play was clearly evident in their 84-70 loss at Pitt.
While it isn’t unreasonable to hope for one man’s contribution from the combo of John Garcia, Mike Davis and Augustine Okosun, I’m not sure if they can combine to make up for that deficiency just yet. And in a league like the Big East, you’ll have a tough time winning games if you don’t have the answers inside, no matter how well your guards play.
- St. Francis (NY) can make a run towards the top of the NEC if they continue their good work on the glass.
The Terriers got two key road wins in conference play last week, thanks in part to their work on the boards. In the 88-83 win at FDU on Saturday, SFNY out-rebounded the Knights 45-22, led by Marcus Williams’ thirteen rebounds. Two nights prior in their win at Sacred Heart, they made up for a relatively small rebounding advantage (33-27) by shooting over fifty percent from the field in the 73-63 victory. They may not be the best shooting team out there, ranking tenth in the NEC in field goal percentage, but they are fourth in the conference in rebounds per game and rebounding margin. Only the top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament, so anything they can do to separate themselves from the pack would be to their benefit.
- Despite having four players averaging double digits in scoring, St. Peter’s is still 4-12, having lost ten of their last eleven games.
Todd Sowell is an absolute warrior in the paint, and players such as Wesley Jenkins and Raul Orta have also contributed for the Peacocks, but they’re ninth in the MAAC in scoring defense (73.1 ppg allowed). The following week offers them opportunities to improve upon this, as Loyola (6th in scoring offense) and Fairfield (9th) have both struggled at times to put the ball in the basket. But rest assured SPC will have their hands full with Gerald Brown and Marquis Sullivan (depending on which Sullivan shows up) on Saturday.
- Until Hofstra takes better care of the basketball and plays better defense, they will stay at or near the bottom of the CAA standings.
No one said it would be easy to replace Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera, both of whom are now playing professionally in Europe, but did anyone really think the Pride would be 3-11? Other than Antoine Agudio and Charles Jenkins, no one has provided a consistent scoring option to Tom Pecora’s team. But if you can’t score, it is possible to win games on the other end. They’re not doing that, giving up seventy-two points per game and ranking dead last in the CAA in scoring margin (- 7.3 ppg). Add to that the league’s worst turnover margin (- 3.5 per game) and you have all the makings of a 3-11 team. Agudio will be the man every opponent looks to take out, so someone else will have to step up and make some plays.
Games to keep an eye on this week
- Long Island @ Central Connecticut State (Monday, 7:30 MSG, Fox College Sports)
In the midst of a crowded middle of the Northeast Conference are the Blackbirds and the Blue Devils, two teams in serious need of a league win. While Central won their lone game last week against St. Francis (PA), LIU lost to Sacred Heart last Monday. In regards to individuals, Jaytornah Wisseh and Tristan Blackwood should be a good matchup to keep an eye on.
- George Washington @ Fordham (Wednesday, 7 PM Atlantic 10 Network)
This one is essentially a must-win for the Rams if they want to entertain any thoughts of competing for a top-four spot in the Atlantic 10 after their 0-2 start to conference play. But their opponent hasn’t exactly been a power this season either, despite their “holding” St. Louis to twenty points last week. Not really sure what’s going to happen in this one, due to the inconsistency of both teams, but it sure would help Fordham if Bryant Dunston were to go off.
- Marist @ Loyola-MD (Thursday, 8 PM)
The Red Foxes have the unenviable task of figuring out a way to contain G Gerald Brown. Brown averages 18.7 points per game, down a couple points from his torrid pace of 2006-07. But the key to slowing down the Greyhounds could actually be Marquis Sullivan. When he’s a capable second option to Brown in the Greyhound attack, Loyola can give teams a tough time. When he disappears, most recently in their home loss to Fairfield, they can struggle as a team on offense. Both teams have players capable of putting up big offensive numbers, so this should be an entertaining affair.
- Fairfield @ Iona (Friday, 7:30 PM)
Both Fairfield and Iona will need a win in this game, and for slightly different reasons. The Stags, 3-3 in MAAC play to begin this week, are stuck in the middle of the conference with a chance to head in either direction during the next couple weeks of play. Iona, on the other hand, needs a conference win to get closer to avoiding the first Friday of the conference tournament.
Fairfield may have the better league mark, but the Gaels have more weapons from which to choose on offense. While Devon Clarke is second in the MAAC in field goal percentage, players such as Dexter Gray, Milan Prodanovic and Gary Springer Jr. have also shown the ability to score. And don’t forget about Kyle Camper, either. Fairfield will have to defend like they did last season (best scoring defense in the MAAC) if they want to get a key road win.
- Louisville @ Seton Hall (Saturday, 8 PM ESPN Full Court)
The race to New York is now on for the Pirates, and what’s a short trip geographically could become more distant if they don’t get a win here. Louisville has been an enigma for most of the season, but it was about this time last year when the Cards made their run to a top four spot in the Big East. They certainly have the talent, but will they bring the effort to “The Rock”? With some area natives on the team (Edgar Sosa, Derrick Caracter and Earl Clark), that should not be a problem. As for the Pirates, they’ll need to force turnovers and hold their own on the glass if they want to get their first conference win. If not, they may only be spectators in MSG come March.
Updated Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Wagner (3)
2. Marist (2)
3. St. John’s (3)
4. Seton Hall (1)
5. Army (7)
6. Yale (8)
7. Columbia (10)
8. Fordham (5)
9. Sacred Heart (12)
10. Long Island (6)
11. Fairfield (11)
12. Fairleigh Dickinson (9)
13. Iona (15)
14. Manhattan (13)
15. St. Francis-NY (18)
16. Stony Brook (14)
17. St. Peter’s (16)
18. Hofstra (17)
19. NJIT (19)