Here's another in the series that looks back and ahead at conference programs.
Up now ...
2011-12 RECORD: 7-11 in MAAC play, 14-18 overall.
2011-12 RECAP: A sub-.500 usually isn't considered a notable achievement, but in light of the fact that the Red Foxes finished 1-17 in league play and 1-29 overall just two years ago (2009-10), this past season was one of considerable progress. And, there were plenty of bright spots. For instance, after a 7-7 start the team lost eight games in a row at midseason and could easily have lost its enthusiasm. Instead a cast of youthful players hung in there and won seven of its last 10 games, including a post-season tournament play-in game (a 61-57 victory over Saint Peter's) before losing to Iona (87-63) in the event's quarterfinals.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The youth grew up quickly, as evidenced by that 7-3 finish down the stretch, including a victory over Loyola, the MAAC's representative to the NCAA's. There was one senior on the roster (R.J. Hall), and he was a lightly used role player. Second-leading scorer Devin Price was a junior and everyone else in the eight-man playing group was younger than that.. Frosh 6-foot-5 swingman Chavaughn Lewis (14.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals) did enough to merit Rookie of the Year honors in most seasons, but had the misfortune to be a first-year player in a year of standout freshmen. Still, he crafted a solid foundation for becoming one of the league's elite players in future years. Price, who was wildly inconsistent earlier in his career, developed into a mature leader and a real scoring threat (13.6 points per game). Sophomore 6-10 center Adam Kemp, who only played 16 games before an injury a year ago, stepped up as a serviceable big man (8.5, 7.2, 2.2 blocks). Isaiah Morton, a 5-8 freshman point guard (7.8, 2.6 assists) developed nicely as the season progressed. Sophomores 6-5 Jay Bowie (7.3, 4.3) and 6-6 Anell Alexis (4.2, 3.1) and 6-5 freshman Manny Thomas (5.3) all were nice support players who appear capable of becoming significant contributors in the future.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Too much youth. In a league where players develop and veteran teams have the most success, Marist was among the youngest teams in the MAAC. Lewis and Morton, among others, had early season growing pains. Much of the early season was spent developing not only young players, but overall team chemistry. Remember, three key players from the previous year left the program with eligibility remaining, and that kind of turnover was bound to mean some growing pains this season. Then there was the significant loss of 6-6 junior swingman Dorell Carter, who was averaging 11.7 points through three games before an ACL injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. And, there were problems inside. Kemp ws the only player taller than 6-6 who played significant minutes, and that lack of height showed up on the defensive end as opponents pounded the ball inside. Marist's field-goal defensive percentage of 46.2 percent was the worst in the league.
WHAT'S AHEAD: More progress, and it should be interesting to see just how much. The program went from that 1-29 finish two years ago to 6-27 overall last year to this year's 14-8 mark. There probably won't be another eight-game improvement to the overall record, but it's not difficult to think that the continued development of the youth (one can envision how effective the slender Lewis can become, for instance, with an additional 10 pounds of muscle) along with better team chemistry will result in a better-than .500 record in 2012-13. For sure, the Lewis/Morton tandem will be fun to watch develop. If Carter comes back healthy, he adds a veteran offensive presence. The need, though, is for some inside help for Kemp, whether it be just from returning players bulking up a little or from incoming freshmen 6-10 Eric Truog (Kenston H.S./Baimbridge, Ohio) or 6-7 Phillip Lawrence (Mount St. Joseph's H.S./Baltimore).
PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: It's not hard to envision Marist finishing in the upper half of the league standings. Right now Loyola and Manhattan look like the conference's top two teams, but Marist is right there with the next group of pretenders. If all stays in place and the development continues ... could Marist be the 2013-14 season's early choice for the league's top team?