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Northeast Conference team preview: Even without Corey Henson, Wagner has the backcourt to contend

The Seahawks have had a drama-filled offseason.

Our summer preview series of the Northeast Conference rolls on. This week, we look at the Wagner Seahawks, led by head coach is Bashir Mason.

How Wagner fared last year: Wagner finished third overall in the NEC and fell in the conference tournament to Saint Francis PA, 71-70. The Seahawks finished 16-14 overall, and 11-7 in conference play. Their high point was an opening-night upset over then-18th-ranked Connecticut.

2017-18 Roster Outlook:

Wagner’s offseason has consisted mainly of the dramatic saga of Corey Henson. When the season ended, many believed that Henson would transfer. Then, Wagner received great news when he announced he would return to Staten Island. Fast-forward to Monday, and he is now headed to Nevada.

Henson was set to return with Romone Saunders in the backcourt, making them perhaps the best guard duo in the NEC. So where does this leave Mason’s roster heading into 2017-18?

Wagner will still have a formidable backcourt returning in Saunders (15.0 points per game) and JoJo Cooper (8.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.6 apg). Cooper is already the leading returning assist-man on the team, but he will need to increase his scoring production to make up for Henson’s transfer. Rising sophomore Blake Francis had a promising freshman campaign and will get a chance to shine as well.

In the front court, the Seahawks are thin, with top rebounders Michael Carey and Mike Aaman from last year’s team having graduated. AJ Sumbry will be the top returning big, but he played only 14.8 minutes per game and averaged 4.2 points and 4.0 rebounds last season.

The Seahawks will add an additional four players to their 2017-18 roster in freshmen Chase Freeman and Nigel Jackson, and transfers Tim Graham and Nick Madray.

Freeman will have competition ahead of him at point guard, but will bring scoring off of the bench. He averaged 19.9 points per game as a senior at Station Camp High school in Tennessee.

Graham, who is a JuCo transfer from Northwest Kansas Technical College, has two years of eligibility remaining and is known as a stretch-4 who can both shoot the three and rebound.

Jackson hails from high school basketball powerhouse Mt. Saint Joseph of Maryland. His high school numbers are not overly impressive, as he came off the bench for one of the best high school teams in Maryland. However, at 6-5, he will have the chance to see action early on with Wagner’s slim front court.

Madray is a graduate transfer from Eastern Michigan. As a 6-9 forward, he will be the most important new addition to this Wagner team, as he brings mid-major Division I experience and double-double potential to the table.

Season Outlook

Instead of having a veteran, talented, two-headed monster to prepare for, opposing NEC coaches will be able to focus their gameplan largely on containing just Saunders, which changes the threat level of this Wagner team in conference play.

Wagner’s complete schedule has not been released yet, but some notable non-conference games include NJIT, Hartford, Fairfield, and Rider. The Seahawks will also challenge themselves in the non-conference on the road against Seton Hall and Dayton.

With a challenging-but-manageable early schedule, Mason should have time to figure out some of the questions his team has in the front court and find a consistent second-scorer in the backcourt.

Fortunately for Wagner, the other top NEC teams are in the same position in terms of depth up front, aside from Sacred Heart. The Pioneers have talented bigs, but lack guard play. Wagner’s strength in the backcourt, even without Henson, could make it a top-three team in the league.

After a one-point loss in the NEC semifinal last year and a loss in the championship game two years ago, Wagner will certainly be hungry. The Seahawks should be a top-half finisher in the NEC at minimum.