Each week CC will take a closer look at an under-appreciated team that Louisville fans can scoff at because of what they didn't achieve 20 years ago, but who in reality would probably dominate the Cardinals if they faced them on the hardwood tomorrow.
Team: Marist College Red Foxes
Record: 13-4 (5-1)
Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Coach: Matt Brady (3rd season) (42-31)
Brady came to Marist after an 11-year stint as an assistant coach at Saint Joseph's University where he developed a reputation as a superb teacher in the art of shooting. In just his second year at the helm of the Red Foxes, Brady orchestrated one of the most successful seasons in school history, guiding Marist to 19 wins for just the fifth time in the school's 25-year history as a Division I program.
Brady is yet to lead the Red Foxes to the NCAA Tournament, but they are the hands-down favorite in the highly competetive MAAC.
Best Win: 63-56 at Minnesota on Nov. 23
Worst Loss: 53-63 at Wright State on Dec. 19
Jordan's stat-line is initimidating to say the least. He's averaging 18.4 points (61st best in the country), 36 and-a-half minutes, 6.6 rebounds, and a nation's best 8.8 assists per contest. Last year Jordan led the nation in assists and playing time, and before this season he was named MAAC Preseason Player of the Year by Street & Smith, Athlon, CBS Sportsline, The Sporting News and Lindy's. He's expected by most experts to be selected in this year's NBA Draft.
"He's really a modest kid," teammate Will Whittington said of Jordan. "But I don't see how Jared couldn't excel in the NBA. I believe he can get his game to (two-time MVP Steve) Nash's level. There are players in the NBA right now who I couldn't say are better than him.
Maybe we're just recruiting the wrong players from the Northeast
Pomeroy Ranking: 118
Sagarin Ranking: 96
College Insider Mid-Major Ranking: 14
Points Per Game: 74.6 (78th in country)
Points Allowed Per Game: 67.6 (161st in country)
Marist assumed status as top dog in the MAAC over the summer when graduations of key players across the conference (especially at league champion Iona), player defections (such as Siena's Kojo Mensah to Duquesne) and key coaching losses (Manhattan's Bobby Gonzalez to Seton Hall) crippled some of the league's perennial powers.
The Red Foxes, who are 8-0 at home, have done nothing to diminish that distinction as of yet, winning at Minnesota and Richmond in non-conference play, hanging with Arkansas before eventually falling by 9, and dismantling usual league front-runners Rider (71-55) and Iona (87-65) in consecutive contests. Marist's only slip in conference play thus far came two weeks ago when Loyola of Maryland's Gerald Brown went nuts and scored 33 points as the host Greyhounds prevailed 77-69.
In addition to the losses at Arkansas and Loyola, Matt Brady's gang suffered set-backs in its season opener at Ohio (83-66), and on Dec. 19 at Wright State (63-53) in a game Jared Jordan sat out because of an ankle injury.
The biggest story in the MAAC this season hasn't been Marist, but defending champion and perrennial powerhouse Iona, which finds itself 0-16 and at the bottom of the conference food chain for the first time in ages. Taking advantage of the misfortune of the Gaels are Loyola (Md), Manhattan and the Red Foxes, who are 5-1 and tied atop the league standings.
If there's one bad thing about all the attention that Jordan has garnered, it's that the play of backcourt mate and fellow senior Will Whittington has been largely overlooked. Whittington, who averaged just four points as a freshman in his only year sans the assistance of Brady the shooting guru, is pouring in 17 a game and has drilled 65 three-pointers. He hit eight treys and scored 30 total points in the Red Foxes' December win at Richmond, this coming just three days after he hit seven threes and netted 24 points in a win over Old Dominion.
The final piece in MC's three-headed senior monster comes in the form of 7-footer James Smith, a junior-college transfer averaging just over 12 points and six rebounds. Despite his 250 pound frame, Smith, like the majority of his teammates, is extrmely comfortable behind the arc where he's drilled 29-of-62 (47%) attempts on the year.
Brady's contract ends after this season and with his departure seemingly imminent, and the nucleus of the team four and-a-half months from graduation, you get the feeling that everyone involved with Marist hoops senses that they may not get another shot to do something big for quite some time.
The Red Foxes are undoubtedly the class of the conference, but all it takes is one bad game in March to miss out on the shot at glory you've worked an entire year for. MC has struggled some on the road and winning three games in three days in Fairfield (the site of the '07 MAAC Conference Tournament) is definitely far from a given.
Coming soon to a BCS Conference team near you
If Marist makes the NCAA Tournament we truly believe that they will have a chance to win their first-round game in the last two minutes. Great coach + talented star + capable second option + experienced core group of seniors= Cinderella.
Predicted Final Record: 26-6 (15-3)
Predicted Conference Finish: First
Predicted Postseason: NCAA Tournament, First Round