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Mid-Major Top 20 Preview: Wagner Seahawks

As the season grows nearer, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a look at the top 20 mid-major teams from last season as measured by the MRI. We will assess the chances that they can repeat the success of last year, and what the realistic outlook might be for this coming season.

Coming in at No. 20 on the list are the Wagner Seahawks, a team that finished 25-6 yet did not compete in any of the postseason tournaments. Wagner was bounced in the second round of the Northeast Conference Tournament by Robert Morris, a team they had beaten in the regular season.

The loss cut short the chance for a third shot at the eventual Northeast champion, Long Island. The Seahawks were beaten twice by the Blackbirds, a team that overpowered them with speed and precision.

Part of Wagner's high ranking came from the non-conference season that saw the Seahawks finish 9-2, the only two losses to eventual NCAA Tournament teams Lehigh (by one) and UConn. The strong pace continued into the conference season, and Wagner finished with the best defense and turnover margin in the Northeast.

With that kind of resume, hopes should be high for the Seahawks entering 2012, especially with four starters returning, most of the bench, and the addition of transfer Dwaun Anderson from Michigan State. But the numbers and other changes could hint at a different story.

The Seahawks are another of the teams that end up being greater than the sum of their parts. Each individual contribution doesn't amount to much on its own, but together the team was a formidable force.

Part of that success came on defense. Not one member of the team -- not even the lowest bench player -- was a suck on the defensive end. That meant any player could step into the rotation and continue to keep the opponents at bay.

But in terms of total value, no player was a "star". The best starter on the team was senior Tyler Murray, who wasn't that much better than any other of the starters. He is gone this season and most of the focus will be on Latif Rivers, a 1.15 HOOPWAR player, who made our list of the top 10 players in the conference.

Maybe the dark horse will be Kenneth Ortiz, who had a 1.84 HOOPWAR and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in the Northeast Conference. Ortiz had the second highest value among starters last season.

Yet the outlook for much improvement isn't there among the best. Moving from sophomores to juniors, and without a significant tick up in playing time, or responsibility, Ortiz and Rivers would do best just to hold form.

The best hope for a major contribution this year could come from Mario Moody, who came on strong after recovering from an early season injury. Moody led the team with a 2.09 HOOPWAR last season, and could strongly improve that this coming year. The sophomore will be in line to grab more minutes off the bench and this year, and with a full offseason should turn in a strong performance for the Seahawks.

The nagging factor here though is the change at the top of the program. Far be it for me to criticize a former Drexel Dragon, but Bashir Mason is being thrust into his first head coaching job, and taking over from strong coaching bloodlines in Dan and Bobby Hurley, who are off at Rhode Island now. It remains to be seen what Mason can do on the sidelines, or if he can duplicate the success of the team in the same manner.

There is one thing going for Mason. His hiring may have been the deciding factor in keeping Dwaun Anderson from transferring after the Hurleys left Wagner. The addition of a top-100 talent to the mix should help to bolster the bench and could be a deciding factor in the coming years as the conference powers rotates away from LIU.

Bottom Line: Wagner will be hard pressed to duplicate the success of last season, with a change at the top and a talent void compared to the rest of the conference elite. However, the Seahawks have a program in place to succeed beyond the talent and another run at 20 wins could be in the cards should things break their way in the non-conference slate.

But duplicating last year's shocker over Pittsburgh with a similar victory against Syracuse, and defeating the elite in the Ivy League (Penn and Princetion) along with Temple could prove difficult.

Consider the Seahawks among the favorites in the conference, but with a much more difficult path to the title than either LIU or Robert Morris.