Wagner-Vermont Observations

Vermont’s non-conference slate has (so far) been exceedingly tumultuous. John Becker’s squad was picked by many to finish atop the America East Conference, but despite the squad’s overall seniority — per Ken Pomeroy, the team is the nation’s fifth most experienced — the Catamounts look confused.

Currently in the midst of a northeast road trip, the team is 1-4, and against Wagner last night, the squad took the entirety of the first half to shake off what appeared to be rust and finally execute their gameplan, taking the lead at one point before ultimately losing by seven.

What follows are five observations from the game.

What happens to Wagner’s offense when Kenneth Ortiz is sidelined? In spite of the senior’s defensive prowess — no other Seahawk has a higher steal rate than the guard — Ortiz also commits a very high numbers of fouls (nearly five per 40 minutes). Wagner’s offense is dynamic when Ortiz runs the point — his presence shifts Jay Harris off the ball and allows Marcus Burton to float around the perimeter, getting open when Ortiz’s drives draw defenders from the junior (who is converting 44% of his threes). When Ortiz goes to the bench, though, Wagner’s offense visibly becomes stilted: Harris hasn’t consistently shown he can create offense for himself, and often curls around down screens (or comes off cross screens) for a clear look (per Hoop-Math.com, 50% of his twos and 86% of his threes are assisted). Both Burton and Latif Rivers function more as jump shooters, and aren’t capable of breaking down a defender and then dumping off a pass. Ortiz is the ideal point guard for Bashir Mason — his assist rate hovers around 30% — and while his head is constantly swiveling for an open teammate, he also has the athleticism to make a play when the shot clock is under ten seconds. At one point versus Vermont, Ortiz split two defenders, spun to get the Catamount on his hip, and made a layup with his left hand.

Vermont’s best offense is their frontcourt. Sandro Carissimo and Candon Rusin use more than 23% of the squad’s attempts, but both are in an offensive quagmire, and the rest of the team simply cannot make a bucket from beyond the arc. The team’s three-point percentage was low last year (32%), but has sunk to 26% this season, and the team looks hesitant to unfurl from deep.

Luke Apfeld and Clancy Rugg are the only Catamounts with an offensive rating over 100, and keyed Vermont’s second half surge in Staten Island. Using either picks or dribble drives, Carissimo was able to find Apfeld for a short corner jumper (he hit at least two) and Rugg illuminated what could be a crucial hole in Wagner’s defense, grabbing six offensive rebounds and either connecting on putbacks or drawing fouls. More than one half of Vermont’s points came from within the paint.

Wagner’s defensive identity. Wagner’s uniqueness in 2013 was fueled by how often they forced teams into committing a turnover. During the first half, Wagner continued to harass and generally make Vermont look unsure on offense. However, Vermont’s offense soon began to flow: the squad made 61% of their twos in the second half, grabbed countless offensive boards (sometimes three in one possession), and appeared more comfortable running their sets. The Seahawks struggled to force Vermont’s primary ballhandlers to give up the ball, and as a result, couldn’t get out as often in transition (Wagner scored only four fast-break points, as compared to ten in the first 20 minutes) and allowed Vermont some breathing room. While Wagner again looks like the cream of the NEC, are they defensively vulnerable? Not only is the squad causing a turnover on just 14% of their defensive possessions, they aren’t attacking the glass, allowing teams to generate additional chances. Just as concerning is their foul rate, which woefully ranks last in DI. Wagner’s bigs are particularly hack-friendly, and the propensity to pick up pointless fouls could portend defensive disaster for a team whose defensive efficiency rate ranked second in the NEC last season.

Vermont needs to get healthy soon.
Becker traveled with ten Catamounts, but only nine saw minutes, yielding a very thin bench (which only scored 11 points) and the squad looked visibly gassed at times. Ethan O’Day, a 6’9″ forward who made 52% of his twos during his freshman season, is out up to six weeks with a hand injury, and both Ryan Pierson and Brendan Kilpatrick will be out for some time. While it would appear, barring any setbacks, that the Catamounts could have a full squad in time for conference play, the schedule will not yield any breaks before AE play. After the game, Becker told John Templon that he purposely scheduled a tough out of conference slate — “I scheduled tough with the thought that we’d have all of our guys and still it was going to be difficult” — and the upcoming games are daunting for both the team’s record and confidence: tilts against Duke, Quinnipiac, San Francisco, and Harvard.

Is Wagner pushing the pace? The Seahawks have joined the 70-plus possession ranks, using 71 or so possessions per game through the first five games. Mason’s squad was in transition on both makes and misses, forcing Vermont on their heels and utilizing the Seahawks’ athleticism to create easy scoring opportunities (14 points). However, the added trips could be attributed to the increase in possessions felt across the nation (the average, per Pomeroy, is 69.5, a jump from 65.9 in 2013). As teams continue to feel out the new foul rules, and gain ease with which they run their offensive sets, it will be interesting to see if Wagner’s pace slackens or whether Mason intends for it to be sustainable.

If it is the latter, Wagner’s speed could be useful to generate easy two-point field goals. The team doesn’t have a frontcourt player who can demand the ball and then score on the block — both Mario Moody and Naofall Folahan are best when set up along the backline or trailing the break. It is clear that the bulk of the team’s offense is tied to their perimeter shooting; when those attempts aren’t falling, Wagner’s offense stalls, so the new pace could be a reflection of Mason’s desire to manufacture easy twos.

NEC Team Primer: #1 Wagner Seahawks

Wagner Seahawks logo

Head Coach: Bashir Mason, 2nd Season (19-12, 12-6 NEC)
Last Season: 19-12, 12-6 (NEC), Lost to LIU Brooklyn in NEC tournament semifinals, 94-82
RPI/KenPom: 135/180
NEC Preseason Poll: 1st out of 10 teams
State of Programs: NEC Favorite
Starters Returning: 3

Key Loss(es): Jonathon Williams (15.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Eric Fanning (16.7 mpg, 6.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg), Josh Thompson (23 starts, 3.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
Incoming Players: Nolan Long (F), Greg Senat (F)

Wagner Seahawks logoProjected Starting Lineup:
PG: Kenneth Ortiz (11.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.3 rpg, NEC Defensive POY)
G: Latif Rivers (13.0 ppg, 39.4% 3pt%)
G: Dwaun Anderson (4.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
F: Mario Moody (6.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg)
C: Naofall Folahan (3.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Key Reserves: Jay Harris (G), Orlando Parker (F), Marcus Burton (G)

Major Storylines:

  • Managing the Backcourt Minutes – Wow, there is a ton of talent available in the Wagner backcourt. The addition of Jay Harris gives the Seahawks four legitimate potential starts at the point guard and shooting guard positions. The biggest addition might not even be Harris, but a healthy Latif Rivers. Rivers struggled coming back from a knee injury last season and was never quite the same. Now with a full offseason he’s going to be even more effective.
  • A Teacher and a Student – As successful as Wagner was last season the Seahawks were working with a first-year head coach in Bashir Mason. Mason – who is working on his graduate degree – is also learning on the job as a head coach. He’ll be more prepared during his second season and I expect he’ll have some ideas about how to fix some of the defensive deficiencies the Seahawks had last season.
  • Finishing What They Started – The Seahawks have been one of the best teams in the NEC the past two seasons, but both have ended in disappointing home losses in the NEC tournament. Wagner needs to find a way to get past the final four in the conference and advance to a championship game, because if the Seahawks can get to the NCAA tournament they have the talent to give a team a scare.

The Skinny:
The Seahawks are the most talented team in the NEC. Whether they can put it all together is the question. Injuries didn’t help last season, but it appears that Latif Rivers is completely healthy. A healthy Rivers gives Wagner an outside shooting option that it definitely needed last season after they shot 35.3% in NEC play last season. Another player that could help the three-point shooting is Jay Harris. The Valparaiso transfer is going to give the Seahawks another dynamic scorer in the backcourt. Considering this team also has Marcus Burton and the reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz that means there is going to be a lot of opportunities for Bashir Mason to pick and choose the hot hand.

There are also options on the wing. Dwaun Anderson is the type of player that could have a breakout season in his sophomore year. A former top recruit, Anderson basically spent last season getting reacclimated to competitive basketball and adjusting to the speed of Division I. Still, all of those ESPN Sportscenter Top 10 plays were representative of elite athleticism that isn’t often seen in the NEC.

Mason also has options in the front court. Orlando Parker, Mario Moody and Naofall Folahan form a nice trio of talented forwards. They also offer different abilities. Moody is an elite defender on the level of his teammate Ortiz. Given more minutes he could lead the team in blocks. It also appears that Moody is going to be given a bigger role offensively and he has the skill to be a double-double type player if he can stay on the court. Folahan adds a lot of veteran leadership that should just help anchor the Seahawks’ defense and help Mason keep everything together. It’ll also be interesting to see how the two freshmen, Nolan Long and Greg Senat, are integrated into the lineup.

Mason wants to use this deep lineup as much as possible. Whether or not he’ll really play 12 guys come March is a whole different question, but for now the Seahawks are the deepest and most talented team in the NEC.

Key Quotes:

“That guy can really shoot… And he’s buying into defense and the way we push the pace. He’s a good guy. Hopefully he’ll have a really big year for us.” – Kenneth Ortiz on Valparaiso transfer Jay Harris

“Right now in my mind I plan to play 12 guys.” – Bashir Mason on how deep his rotation will go

“Mario Moody with an extended role I think he’ll fill in nicely for Jon Williams. He brings a different dynamic. He’s a different type of player. More athletic and has natural play-making ability. He’ll be another shot-blocker on the court. I’m looking forward to him stepping into that role and playing well.” – Mason on how Moody’s development can offset the loss of Williams


Ryan – Injuries can always derail a season, but out of all the NEC teams, Wagner is prepared the best for such misfortune. With a bevy of athletic guards, polished shooters, and defensive minded big men down low, Bashir Mason has a lot of weight on his shoulders. He must juggle the rotation and determine his optimal lineup come January. There’s no way he’ll play 12 guys in the second half of the season, but you can bet he’ll have the best group of 9-10 guys playing 10+ minutes per game. (18 wins, 11-5 NEC)

John – I don’t know if Wagner is really going to play 12 players, but I know that the rotation will be deep and talented. The roster oozes potential. It’s up to Mason to put it all together. I think that in his second season that’s exactly what will happen and the Seahawks will be the team to beat in the NEC. (18 wins, 12-4 NEC)

Other NEC Team Primers:
#10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers

#7 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs
#4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils
#3 Robert Morris
#2 Mount St. Mary’s

Big Apple Bucket’s NEC All-Conference Second and Third Teams

With nearly half of the 2013 NEC all-conference selections no longer residing inside the conference, there’s plenty of opportunity for players to emerge into the limelight. Estimating who lands in the top 15 won’t be easy, but Big Apple Buckets will begin the process today by naming our all-conference second and third teams as the first installment of our two-part series. Tomorrow, we’ll present our NEC first team along with our player, rookie, coach, and defensive player of the year selections. Continue reading “Big Apple Bucket’s NEC All-Conference Second and Third Teams”

Top NEC Impact Transfers of the 2013-14 Season

The 2012-13 season was the year of the transfer in the NEC. Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott were vital in leading Mount St. Mary’s to the NEC title game. Matthew Hunter mastered Howie Dickenman’s up-tempo offensive scheme to garner a deserving all-conference third team selection. JUCO transfer Karvel Anderson, despite suffering from a gimpy wrist, terrorized NEC opponents with his long-range shooting. Continue reading “Top NEC Impact Transfers of the 2013-14 Season”

Wagner reloads with three talented newcomers

Wagner Seahawks — 25-6 (15-3 NEC) lost to Robert Morris in NEC semifinals

Players Lost:
Tyler Murray (30.7 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 2.1 APG, 79.5% FT%, 49.0% 3PT%)
Chris Martin (20.9 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 82.3% FT%, 31.0% 3PT%)
Ryan Schrotenboer (12 GP, 2.6 MPG, 0.3 PPG, 0.4 RPG)

Incoming Players:
Jay Harris, 6’2″ PG — Aurora, IL
Dwaun Anderson, 6’3″ G — Suttons Bay, MI
Eric Fanning, 6’4″ G/F — Trenton, NJ

Wagner had it’s most successful season ever last season and first 20-win season since 2007-08, but it ended in disappointing fashion when the Seahawks failed to get invited to the NIT. Head coach Dan Hurley is off to Rhode Island, but Bashir Mason takes over and brings back almost the entire core of last season’s team.

“That was something that was appealing about this job,” Mason said. “I had the luxury of knowing that we return 10 out of our 13 scholarship players. And even after the first year we’ll only lose two players. That gives me good confidence in knowing that I don’t have to go out and rush and find impact players. We need to find the right players. Guys that will fit well with our system.”

While transfer Jay Harris isn’t going to make an impact for another season, the former Valparaiso point guard has found a home with the Seahawks. He needs to work on his strength, but during summer workouts Mason has been impressed by Harris’ shooting ability. In 2013-14 Harris should slide right into what will be a very crowded guard rotation.

Wagner though needs shooters now to help replace the dynamic shooting of the departed Tyler Murray, who shot an insane 49.0% from beyond the arc last season. Two newcomers, Dwaun Anderson and Eric Fanning, will get the chance to fill that void. Anderson has been practicing with the team since January, so he knows the lay of the land.

“He’s used to our style of play. He’s used to the tempo,” Mason said about the former Michigan Mr. Basketball. “He knows the drills and he knows the physicality of the college game. It’ll be smooth for him to go from being a practice player to playing in the games.”

The one true newcomer on the roster is Fanning, who is a “gifted scorer” according to Mason. Fanning scored 1,000 points at two schools, including 1,163 points in just two seasons at Perkiomen in Pennsylvania. He was also named the MVP of the 2012 Mary Kline Classic.

The additions are going to have to fight for playing time. They’ll be competing not only with each other, but all the talented returnees. That’s why even though the Seahawks have one scholarship remaining it’s unlikely the spot will be filled.

It’s going to get even harder to crack the rotation if players continue to improve over the summer. Mason is taking advantage of the NCAA’s new rules allowing teams to work together during the summer and has players practicing on Monday and Tuesday. One of the players that has impressed since returning to campus is point guard Marcus Burton.

“He came back with about eight pounds of muscle added to his body,” Mason said. “I think he’s looking to have a breakout sophomore season.”

If Burton does improve on his solid freshman season, during which he averaged 3.5 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.6 steals per game in just 12.6 minutes, it should make Wagner even more difficult to play against.

All of it adds up to once making Wagner one of the top contenders in a loaded NEC and a force in the conference for seasons to come.

Jay Harris a great fit for Wagner

Bashir Mason has made his first big talent acquisition splash with the news that Valparaiso transfer Jay Harris has chosen to come to Wagner. Harris is a 6’1″ point guard that is looking for a bigger role than the one he played for the Horizon League regular season champion Crusaders last season. When he becomes eligible in the fall of 2013, he’ll certainly get the chance.

Continue reading “Jay Harris a great fit for Wagner”