Tomorrow at the early-ish hour of 6 PM, St. John's (0-1) returns to their home court to face Staten Island's Wagner Seahawks in non-conference play. The Seahawks, who play in the Northeast Conference (NEC), should be an easier test than the ranked Wisconsin Badgers, to whom the Red Storm lost to last week in the open plains of South Dakota, 86-75.
But as we know from recent history, Carnesecca Arena games can be closer for comfort than fans would like.
Let's get to know the familiar faces of the Wagner Seahawks, now led by head coach Bashir Mason, with an assist from John Templon, who runs the quantitatively-minded and prolific news and analysis site, Big Apple Buckets. With other writers, he covers the entire NYC-are hoops scene (including St. John's at times), so if you haven't given their work a read, go on and do it.
After you read this question and answer session, of course.
Q// Why does Bashir Mason think his Wagner Seahawks can compete for a title in the Northeast conference?
Well, the simple answer is that Wagner should have the deepest and most talented roster in the NEC. The Seahawks bring everyone but forward Jonathon Williams back from a team that was awfully talented last season, though lost at home in the NEC tournament semifinals, but they add Jay Harris. Wagner is deep at guard and has enough front court depth that they should be able to match up with any team in the NEC.
Of course, considering the success of some of the other NEC teams already this season you never know what will happen during conference play.
Q// If there's one strength to the Seahawks on the court, what is it? And is that strength negated by playing against high-major athletes?
Wagner's strength before this season was its defense. The problem is that Mason's defense is predicated on tough man-to-man pressure defense. The exact sort of stuff that the new rules are supposed to mitigate. He had some feelings about it in the preseason. The key to guarding without fouling is often being a better athlete than your opponent. Balance and length play a big part in the equation.
It's tough to judge whether a major conference team really mitigates that strength because of how few the Seahawks have played recently. Penn St. scored 1.03 points per possession, which is certainly higher than Mason would like, but not insurmountable either.
Q// Latif Rivers was the team's best three-point shooter, but was limited by injury. Any indications that he's better? Any idea about how his game should be different this year?
Rivers is apparently completely cleared from the injuries that hampered him last season. As a shooter Rivers works hard to find space to knock down easy shots and he didn't have the quickness last season to find those holes in a defense. Now he should. Rivers scored 22 points in his last game out (albeit against Division II Chestnut Hill), but he also scored 12 points against St. John's.
The one thing not quite back thus far? Rivers' timing on his three-point shot. He's just 1-6 on the season. Of course that could just be luck. Even when hurt last season Rivers shot a career-high 39.4% from three though only on 104 attempts due to missed time.
Q// Can Naofall Folahan stay on the court against St. John's? What other big man threats do the Seahawks have?
The guess here is probably not, but he really needs to. Folahan of course picked up five quick fouls against Penn State, in fact he managed to play just eight total minutes in that game. Wagner doesn't need Folahan to score. That's a luxury. What they need is his shot blocking and rebounding on defense. At 6'11" he's the closest thing the Seahawks have to a true center.
The key to the Wagner front court on offense is Mario Moody. The 6'7" junior is still learning how to be the go-to guy in the post, but he's athletic and can make a lot of things happen around the rim if given some space. Ideally Mason would like to have Orlando Parker for this game as well, but he was suspended three game and the St. John's game is only game two.
Instead, it's possible that either Hugo Naurais or Nolan Long might see some minutes. Neither is prepared to come in and make a big impact in this type of game.
Q// What has to go right for Wagner to pull off the upset, and is that realistic?
Well, Ken Pomeroy says that Wagner has a 12% chance of pulling the upset. That seems a bit low to me personally, but I wouldn't put it much higher than 20% or so. It's possible, but certainly not likely.
Kenneth Ortiz would need to shut down D'Angelo Harrison and Moody and Folahan would have to figure out a way to play the posts to a draw. At that point the rest of the Wagner backcourt, including Valparaiso transfer Jay Harris who is returning from his one-game suspension and Marcus Burton, could try and sway things in the Seahawks' favor.
This isn't said much when a heavy underdog is playing, but the other thing that might help Wagner is pushing the pace. Their big men can run the court, especially Moody, and getting out in front of the St. John's defense could lead to some easy baskets, which will be critical if the Seahawks want to stay in the game.