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Wagner could be pesky, but this is a game Mizzou should win easily

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Previewing tonight’s game against the Wagner Seahawks (8:00 pm CT, ESPN2).

NCAA Basketball: Wagner at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Game one is in the books, and the Tigers are 1-0 despite only getting a couple of minutes out of star freshman Michael Porter Jr. So lets turn the page to game No. 2 as Mizzou gets set to take on Wagner.

Meet your Staten Island Rival, the Wagner Seahawks!

NCAA Basketball: Wagner at Providence Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

That’s right, Wagner is located in Staten Island, New York. Now you know.

Bashir Mason has been the head coach of the Wagner Seahawks for five full seasons, this being his sixth, and he’s still only 33 years old. Mason was a four year starter for Drexel from 2003 to 2007, and in 2008 he joined the staff at Marist as an assistant. By 2012 he was hired at Wagner as the head coach and he’s performed quite well.

Two second place finishes, a third place finish and a first place finish in his five seasons. One one season did the Seahawks fail to finish in the top 3 so it’s easy to see how Mason could be making a solid name for himself as a coach on the rise.

The Northeast Conference isn’t one of the elite basketball leagues, but it’s much tougher than you’d think. Mount St. Mary’s was the automatic qualifier last season and played Villanova tough after a play-in win against New Orleans. Fairleigh Dickinson has been in and out of the NCAA tournament, as have Robert Morris and LIU-Brooklyn. Wagner hasn’t been in the tournament since 2003 when they lost to Pitt in the first round.

The average KenPom rating for the Seahawks under Mason is 232, which is heavily weighed down by one particularly bad season. They’re sitting at 280 right now, but in half of his seasons they’ve finished inside the top 200.

With only one game under their belt, it’s hard to tell exactly who is going to be the players to watch for Wagner this year. If I’d have been asked before the season, sophomore guard Blake Francis would’ve been in the top three, but he completely stood out in game one against NJIT, by scoring 22 points in 37 minutes. JoJo Cooper played all 40 minutes, but he (like the rest of the team) struggled from the field in the game.

WAGNER: STATS & STUFF

player year pos %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos %min %pts ts% %ov
Blake Francis SO CG 92.50% 36.67% 83.21% 39.63%
Tyler Plummer FR CG 52.50% 18.33% 105.31% 5.68%
Nick Madray SR POST 50.00% 10.00% 48.20% 6.62%
JoJo Cooper SR PG 100.00% 10.00% 29.53% 36.89%
Elijah Davis JR WING 67.50% 8.33% 30.41% 0.66%
AJ Sumbry JR POST 32.50% 5.00% 46.51% 2.40%
Nigel Jackson FR CF 47.50% 5.00% 20.78% 5.09%
Devin Liggeons JR CG 42.50% 3.33% 45.05% 5.85%
Jamar Brown FR POST 15.00% 3.33% 81.97% -1.51%
Chase Freeman FR PG 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

Obviously with just one game to go on, these are skewed a bit.

But it’s clear the offense runs through both JoJo Cooper and Blake Francis. The Seahawks didn't particularly play at a quick pace, with their adjusted tempo being a hair over 70 and the actual possessions at just 69, that would rank in the lower half of Division one. So a fairly slow paced team running everything through a couple smaller guards aren’t likely going to try to mix it up too much with the pace that Mizzou wants to play with.

Projected Starters

  • PG: JoJo Cooper vs Kassius Robertson
  • CG: Blake Francis vs Cullen VanLeer
  • WING: Elijah Davis vs Jordan Barnett
  • CF: Nigel Jackson vs Michael Porter Jr
  • POST: A.J. Sumbry vs Jeremiah Tilmon

We’re still projecting Michael Porter Jr start because there’s been some indication he might play, and if he plays he’s probably starting.

If I were Mizzou, unless MPJ feels like he’s 100% I’d sit him. We’ll see, but that’s what it would take for me to mess with the prized player. Basically, if Mizzou can beat Iowa State without MPJ by 15 points they should be able to dispatch of Wagner without him as well.

If MPJ sits, I’d expect Kevin Puryear to get the nod. Puryear played an efficient game offensively against Iowa State. The only other question is at point where we’ll find out if Cuonzo likes what what he gets from Kassius Robertson and Cullen VanLeer at the guard positions. Clearly he was trying a bunch of combinations at guard, but Robertson was the primary option at point most of the time.

KenPom Wagner at Mizzou

As Cuonzo Martin continues to experiment with combinations, I don’t expect we’ll have too much trouble with Wagner. I like Bashir Mason as a coach and think he has a bright future, but even the best of teams from the NEC shouldn’t be able to hang with a top half SEC team at home, regardless of whether their best player plays or not.

We’ll see if MPJ makes it. If he does, I think this gets away early and Mizzou possibly wins by 25 or more. If he doesn’t play, I’d expect a more steady separation, something that ends with about a 22 point win. I’ll guess 87-65.