Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Marist Men's Team Atop Standings

By now they're more than used to this in Poughkeepsie. Having the Marist College team atop the MAAC standings is nothing out of the ordinary.

After all, the school's women's team has monopolized the conference like no one else in league history.

Oops ... wait a minute. Those are the men's standings we're looking at.

And, yet, there are the Red Foxes at 2-0, sharing first place with Saint Peter's and Iona.

This is, basically, the same Marist team that finished 1-29 last season. Last season's 1-17 league record matched the worst ever by a MAAC team (only Loyola's 2003-04 team also finished 1-17), and its overall record was the singular worst ever turned in by a conference team.

And, this is the same team that started 0-6 this season against non-league opponents to run its losing streak to 24 dating back to its only victory from last season, an early January decision over Manhattan.

But, suddenly, this isn't the same Marist team. Already the Red Foxes have doubled last season's victory total after earning home-court wins over Niagara, 80-72, on Friday; and over Canisius, 74-64, on Sunday.

It's a vastly different team, actually, as four of five starters either weren't playing at all or were getting limited court time at the end of last season.

Marist's starting lineup for its two victories has been 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman Manelik Watson, who sat out last season; 6-3 sophomore swingman Sam Prescott, who was academically ineligible for the second half of last season; 5-10 junior point guard R.J. Hall, who missed last season's first half with academic difficulties and, then, came off the bench for the team's final 15 games; 6-5 true freshman forward Jay Bowie and 6-4 sophomore guard Candon Rusin, the team's top returning scorer (9.5 points per game) and the only returning starter still in that role.
The other thing notable is that the Red Foxes use only one player (Watson) over 6-5.

"We defended well in our non-league games, but lost when height and talent (of opponents) took over," said Marist coach Chuck Martin, after his team's victory Sunday over Canisius. "Back in our league we're not the biggest team but we're not the smallest team any more and we're starting to see the results of that in our last two games."

Marist is doing it so far not with any individual stepping up but with a balanced effort.

Against Niagara, Prescott had 18 points, Rusin had 17, Bowie had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Hall had 13 points and five assists.

Against Canisius, Prescott had 13 and 10, Hall had 13, and Bowie and Rusin each had 12 points.

If statistics are any indication, the relative lack of size results in a quicker, more athletic and more-difficult to guard lineup. The result has been that Marist is getting fouled more often than opponents.

Against Niagara, it made 25-of-36 free throws to just 13-of-21 for the Purple Eagles. Against Canisius it made 28-of-42 from the charity stripe while the Golden Griffins made just 7-of-10.

Neither of Marist's two vanquished foes are expected to compete for the conference title.

Still, two wins ... after a season that produced just one victory total ... is cause for some early celebration.

We'll see how the Red Foxes do when league play resumes when they travel to Loyola on Jan. 3. We'll see what happens when Marist matches up against some of the better conference teams, and we'll see if the team's relative inexperience can continued to be overcome.

But optimism exists again where there wasn't much of that emotion last season.

"We feel like if we can keep working hard we can keep winning," said Bowie in the post-game press conference after Sunday's contest.

Right now there's no reason to think otherwise.


Mulldog said...

Who would've thunk it?

Mulldog said...

Fairfield/Siena tonight Steve, who wins it?