Today begins the highly anticipated series that examines each conference program, men's and women's.
We'll start from the bottom of the men's standings and work our way up, but we'll alternate between men's and women's reports. For instance, we're starting with the Marist men (this season's last-place finisher), but will then follow that up with the report on the Marist women (which finished first).
As always, there is much to look at related to last season and much to look ahead to for the future.
So, first up ...
2010-11 RECORD: 3-15 in MAAC play, 6-27 overall.
2010-11 RECAP: Almost anything had to be better than the previous year's 1-29 disaster, and Marist added five more to this past year's victory total. Those were little steps, but signs of improvement nonetheless. The team did win two of its final four games, including a 73-61 victory over Niagara in a conference tournament play-in round game before dropping a 55-31 contest in the quarterfinals to Fairfield. Generally 2010-11 appeared to be a nice building block as a solid group of young players got much-needed experience. And, then, three of the team's better youngsters opted, just after the season, to leave the program. More on that, below.
WHAT WENT RIGHT IN 2010-11: There was a 2-game early season winning streak, wins over Niagara and Canisius, that created some early season optimism. And, then, came the 2-22 finish in the final four contests that created some future hope.
Individually, Sam Prescott made a nice step forward as a sophomore, averaging a team-best 11.4 points and showed signs of being even better. Powerful 6-10 freshman center Adam Kemp looked like a capable inside performer (5.3 points, 6.3 rebounds) before suffering a season-ending injury after 18 game. Jay Bowie, a 6-5 freshman, also showed signs of being an above-average MAAC player, averaging 6.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and scoring 13 points against Niagara in the post-season tournament victory. And Anell Alexis, a 6-6 red-shirt freshman (5.2, 3.5) had a breakout game (22 points, 8 rebounds) in a late-season contest at Siena, maybe a sign that he'll be a nice building block.
WHAT WENT WRONG: First, too many young players to expect much better than last season's record. And, then, a continuation of the type of personnel defection rarely seen at a mid-major level program. Within three weeks after Marist's last game, it nearly lost an entire recruiting class when Prescott, guard Candon Rusin (7.8 ppg., a team-high 47 3-pointers) and 6-8 man-mountain forward Menelik Watson (4.7, 3.3) all announced they were leaving the program. All three came in the recruiting class prior to the 2009-10 season. By this scribe's count, that's eight players who have left the program over the past two seasons. And, all eight either had been significant contributors, or had been projected to be ones.
There were also in-season losses. Kemp, who provided credible inside play in the first half of the season, didn't play due to an injury in the team's final 15 games. And, guard R.J. Hall, who was Marist's second-leading scorer (9.2 points), missed 14 games due to academic woes.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Expect the continuation of a building process that, due primarily to player defections, appears stuck in neutral. Every year, it seems, there are reasons to view the future optimistically ... either because of the development of young players, or via the optimism of incoming recruits. And, then, key players leave the program. Head coach Chuck Martin annually does a strong job recruiting, and appears to have done so again for the coming season. If everyone stays aboard Marist will eventually move up from what has been, now, a 2-year stretch at the bottom of the conference standings. For now, though, Marist fans will need to be content with another season of watching player development. Kemp, Bowie, 6-6 junior-to-be Dorvell Carter, 6-1 junior-to-be Devin Price and Alexis all are, at minimum, effective MAAC players. But, there's not a lot of experience there. If those five all step up, and some of the incoming freshmen are as good as advertised, then better days are ahead for Marist. The top incoming recruits appear to be 6-5 guard Chavaughn Lewis and 5-8 point guard Isiah Morton, both prolific scorers at the high school level.
2011-12 PREDICTION: Considering the lack of quality experience, the lack of any real inside game other than Kemp and the player defections from last year's team ... it's hard to envision Marist making much improvement over this past season. But, if the returnees can use the season to improve and the freshmen are as good as advertised, then the real move forward starts coming in the 2012-13 season. Morton could easily be an early season starter and Lewis looks like he'll be able to contribute relatively quickly. But, they'll still both be freshmen and it's a rarity that freshmen are immediate program-changers. It's likely Marist will be picked to finish last in the 2011-12 conference standings, and anything above that would a positive.