Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, beware. Picked to finish last this year, Marist (6-9, 2-1) is in a groove and has a new secret weapon: Mike Taylor.
Who is Mike Taylor? He's a youngin' who came all the way from California to the mean streets of Poughkeepsie, walked on this fall, and made the team. Like most walk-ons, he didn't get much playing time when the season started.
Taylor scored his first points at the end of Marist's blowout loss at Memphis, where he hit a three-pointer in the final minutes, catching the eye of his coaches.
Though he registered DNPs in the stat book when conference play started, his effort and play in practice began improving. On Dec. 28, with starting point guard David Devezin still out with a heel injury and Dejuan Goodwin worn out, Taylor was given his first chance to play double-digit minutes as the Red Foxes were tearing apart Bucknell at home.
In 16 minutes, Taylor hit three three-pointers on four attempts and grabbed three offensive rebounds.
He's listed at 6'2", 180lbs, but he looks about 12 years old, 6'3", 150lbs (no joke, he's a twig), and plays 6'5", 220lbs. It's remarkable what he can do on the court as a walk-on freshman who could get snapped in half at any second.
I didn't get a chance to see the infamous Mike Taylor until last night's victory against MAAC opponent St. Peter's. After just two games of getting significant playing time, Taylor has worked his way up the Red Foxes' depth chart.
Freshman R.J. Hall was out due to injury last night, and Devezin was making his first start since coming back from the heel injury, so Taylor saw a career-high 23 minutes last night. He had eight points and five rebounds. He was a lightning rod each time he came in, seemingly waking up his teammates when they appeared flat.
Up 34-19 at halftime, Marist fell victim to a 12-1 run to start the second, as St. Peter's cut the lead to four, but responded with a 10-1 run of its own when Taylor was put into the game.
Marist eventually won 60-54, but it wasn't as close as the score indicates.
In the postgame press conference, head coach Chuck Martin addressed several issues surrounding the team, including his point guards.
Devezin is the starting point guard, but while he was out, Hall ran things much smoother than Devezin had. The offense clicked, and the team's chemistry was much better.
Martin even said things were noticeably different with Devezin back at the helm. He didn't sound optimistic or enthused about Devezin's return despite eight assists and a win.
It will be interesting to see how things work out, because Devezin is the best basketball player on the team (he was supposed to be the next Acie Law when he was at Texas A&M), but chemistry is important, and the Red Foxes have it with Hall working the point, not with Devezin.
I still think Devezin will be running things, with Hall coming off the bench and still getting considerable minutes. Marist is a much deeper team than anyone thought, and will not finish last in the MAAC, or even close to it.
As for the Peacocks, Wesley Jenkins' sweet shooting led to 16 points, and Ryan Bacon had 10 rebounds. St. Peter's doesn't seem to have an identity yet. The team was in the bonus for 19 minutes, but only attempted 18 free throws, making 11.
St. Peter's did a great job of getting the Marist big men in foul trouble, but couldn't capitalize.
Here is my prediction for how the MAAC will pan out. Not much has changed, as there is a huge difference between the top five teams and the bottom five teams. Each team's preseason rank is in parentheses:
1) Siena (1)
2) Fairfield (2)
3) Niagara (4)
4) Rider (3)
5) Loyola (5)
6) Marist (10)
7) Manhattan (6)
8) Iona (7)
9) St. Peter's (9)
10) Canisius (8)