Princeton tips off the 2011-12 season on Saturday, and to provide you with detailed insight on the Tigers' opening opponent I talked with Staten Island Advance writer and Associated Press College Basketball Board member Cormac Gordon (not pictured above) for the first Know! Your! Foe! of the year.
A transcript of our conversation recorded over the weekend can be found after the jump. If you cover a team the Tigers will face down the line, let us know. We'd love to talk with you.
Wagner went from 5-26 two seasons ago to 13-17 a year ago. How much improvement is fair to expect in 2011-12?
That really is the crux of the question for them. I think the answer to that is kind of difficult for this reason: Last year they improved with three freshmen and basically other kids that came into their own. Tyler Murray for instance, who was named first team all-league preseason last week. He's a two/three man shooter/scorer. He's a senior, 6'4" or 6'5". He really helped them immensely last year, as did a freshman guard named Latif Rivers who played great.
Rivers got injured at the end of last season. They lost five of their last six games while Rivers was out. He underwent surgery for a shoulder issue in the offseason and is supposed to be better.
They went 13-17 with that group but this year they bring in some very well-regarded freshmen and the question is how quickly will they become college basketball players? They have Marcus Burton, a guard from North Carolina, who is a very good player but he's kind of slight. He's 6'4" and maybe 170 pounds, not physically ready to really take on major role in college. They have a kid from France who is a terrific shooter, a 6'8" forward named Hugo Naurais. He is a very, very good and deep shooter who will give Danny Hurley a lot of flexibility offensively - a four man at that size who can step out and shoot. Again, this is his first shot at college basketball. We'll see how he adapts. Then they have a very, very highly regarded freshman named Mario Moody from East Orange. College coaches around the country have told me he was a higher level player. He's a 6'7" wing inside/outside player sort of player and a very good athlete. The question is how long will it take for him? They have a JuCo named Jonathon Williams - a very physical 6'6" junior from the west coast who is probably ready to play pretty much right away. Then they have a kid named Kenny Ortiz, who is a Southern Miss transfer and a point guard. That is the key element of the new players they have. They didn't have a point guard last year and now they have one. Ortiz is a real point guard.
Tyler Murray (91.2% of all possible minutes) and Latif Rivers (80.5% of the same) both played a lot of minutes for the Seahawks last season. How much of the burden falls on their shoulders again this season?
I think the wealth will definitely be spread more. The question is how quickly they come along. I expect Kenny Ortiz to be the starting point guard and then you have Latif and Chris Martin also at the two who played a lot of minutes last year. Tyler at the three and I would not be surprised if they started the same guys they started last year at the four or five - 6'11" Naofall Folahan is a project who has a lot of upside and a 6'8" four man named Orlando Parker from Florida who could be pretty good.
The two, four and five spots, a lot of kids are going to be vying for minutes. It is a much deeper team than it was but how that translates into wins and losses is going to be difficult to tell.
They're playing Princeton, who won 25 games last year. We know who they are. They have some guys back. Is Wagner going to be good enough at what they do to negate what we know Princeton is going to be good at? I don't know if that is going to happen quite yet.
Last year when these two teams met on Staten Island Princeton only attempted five three point shots (one a successful desperation attempt by Kareem Maddox as the shot clock expired) and were 14-21 on layups and dunks. Even without Maddox, do the Tigers still possess an advantage inside?
I think so, mainly because of the use of the inside players Wagner has. I don't know if at the end of the day who will be the better players but I think probably Princeton still has an advantage there.
I was surprised to see that Wagner was worst in the nation last season in allowing their opponents to go to the free throw line. What was the cause of that and how fixable an issue is it?
They committed more fouls I think than any team in America, I think. There are two reasons for that: Number one, Danny Hurley's defensive philosophy of "all out, all the time," guard the ball very, very, very heavily and the other part of it was they had a lot of guys who were just starting to get their feet wet in college basketball. For instance, if you look at the numbers of Folahan, his fouls per minute are probably number one in the world. He only played about 16 minutes a game and he fouled out of some games.
Wagner starts their season 1-0 if...
If they can rebound with Princeton and if they can get some sort of real offensive productivity on the block.
Princeton opens Mitch Henderson's coaching career with a win if...
If they can keep Wagner from playing at the tempo and speed that Wagner would prefer to play the game. They would prefer to play more quickly than Princeton would like to play.
Thanks to Mr. Gordon for his time. I really enjoyed talking with him.
To close this piece, here's Seahawks junior guard Josh Thompson DUNKING OVER HIS MOM at the school's Madness Before Midnight event.