8. Wagner (2006-07 Record: 11-19, 8-10 NEC)
Head coach: Mike Deane
Returning Starters: 4- G Mark Porter (senior): 6-1, 190; G Joey Mundweiler (junior): 6-2, 180; G Jamal Smith (junior): 6-5, 210; F James Ulrich (senior): 6-6, 215.
It’s nice to have four returning starters, but in the case of the Wagner Seahawks, those four aren’t the primary source of optimism on campus. The man to watch is senior Durell Vinson, who missed all of last season after being an All-NEC performer in 2005-06 (15.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg). When he’s on, Vinson is a double-double threat every night out. But the key to his effectiveness, along with that of the entire team, will be who steps up to help him out in the paint. James Ulrich, who played center in Vinson’s absence, gets to move back over to his more natural forward position this season. Ulrich averaged 13.2 ppg and 6.7 rpg, the latter number was a team-high last year. Other returnees who will look to contribute up front include junior Justin Drummond (5.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and sophomores Llewchean Radford (4.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Doug Elwell and Michael Orock.
The backcourt returns some key components as well, led by the returning starters Porter, Smith and Mundweiler. Porter, who led the Seahawks in both scoring (13.8 ppg) and assists (5.2 apg; second in the NEC), also averaged five rebounds last season while playing the point. He will get to move back to his more comfortable shooting guard position, and we’ll touch on why a little later. Smith (11.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), a versatile guard who was able to stay healthy and play in all thirty games last season, can score either inside or out. Mundweiler (11.6 ppg, 39.3% 3PT), who stands to come off the bench this season, is the team’s best three point shooter and can get hot in a hurry.
So, why is it that Mark Porter can move back to the 2? Incoming freshman Jaren Haley (Woodbridge, VA) is the reason why. Standing at 5-10, Haley has the speed and creative ability to get the Wagner offense headed in the right direction. He averaged sixteen points per game as a high school senior, but he won’t have to score as much with the options around him. Three of the other four newcomers will add some size to the program, although they won’t be counted on for major contributions just yet. Brian Szczpanski (6-11, 270), Clifton Spiller (6-7, 225) and Clayfell Harris (6-7, 240) all possess the bulk previously lacking in the Seahawks program.
In regards to their schedule, the Seahawks have a good mix of non-conference games that will have them prepared for a run at the top half of the NEC. Games of note before they hit Northeast Conference play include Manhattan (November 14th), Yale (December 1st), Columbia (December 4th), and Kansas State (December 29th). Conference play will be highlighted by a three game road swing to begin February: Central Connecticut State (2nd), Mount St. Mary’s (7th) and Quinnipiac (9th). The season ends with two home contests: FDU on February 28th and Quinnipiac on March 1st.
Even with the number of returnees back last season, we learned just how valuable Vinson is to this team. Now that he’s back, look for an improvement on that 11-19 record from a year ago. Matt Vitale will be missed more from a leadership perspective than scoring, as he only averaged seven points per game last season. But how well Wagner plays this year could ultimately be decided by how well Jaren Haley plays at the point. If he’s up to the task, look for Wagner to be among the challengers in the NEC. If Porter has to move back to the point, then they could struggle some. I’ll play it safe and pick them to finish in the middle of the NEC (fifth).