Game 1 Preview: Wagner Seahawks

USA TODAY Sports

The Lions tip-off the season in the BJC tomorrow against the Wagner Seahawks, the near-unanimous preseason pick to win the NEC conference.

Who: Wagner Seahawks
When: Today, 4:00pm
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: Big Ten Digital Network
KenPom Rank: 171
Line: N/A, PSU -9 via Kenpom.com

After eight long months, the Penn State cagers are calling the Bryce Jordan center home once again as they tip-off their 2013-2014 season today against Wagner out of the NEC conference. So after some gridiron action, be sure to tune in to the start of what should be a much more exciting hoops campaign for the Nittany Lions.

Scouting the Opposition

The Seahawks are the sexy pick to win the Northeast conference this season ahead of Robert Morris and another PSU non-conference opponent, Mount St. Mary's. While they did not make the NCAAs last year, they did win 19 games and finished 12-6 in conference play. They lost to eventual NEC champion Long Island in the semis of their conference tournament.

It's year two under head coach, Bashir Mason, who took over the resurrected program last year from Danny Hurley after spending two years as an assistant. Mason is all of 29 years old (the youngest in D-1) and was recently balling it up at Drexel University as the team's starting point guard in 2007. The Seahawks are looking to improve on two consecutive 2nd place finishes and breakthrough by securing the NEC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

There's good reason for optimism around Wagner as they return eight players from their 10-man rotation last season, including 3 starters. It begins with 6'0" senior point guard Kenneth Ortiz, who is similar to Tim Frazier in that he doesn't shoot a lot of threes and is great at involving others and getting opportunities at the foul line. He's also the returning NEC Defensive Player of the Year to boot. He is supported in the backcourt by 6'1" senior Latif Rivers, who averaged 13.0 PPG with solid efficiency (102.7 ORtg, 39% from 3), six-foot junior Marcus Butler (8.6 PPG, 102.0 ORtg), and Michigan State transfer, Dwaun Anderson. They also add Valporaiso transfer and former Top-100 recruit, Jay Harris, who is expected to be one of the conference's top newcomers with his playmaking ability and sharpshooting.

Much like PSU, Wagner's frontcourt personnel doesn't matchup with their backcourt mates. The biggest loss the Seahawks endured over the offseason was the graduation of Jonathon Williams, who was the team's leading scorer last year at 15.6 PPG. They do return 6'8" senior Orlando Parker and 6'7" junior Mario Moody, but neither provided much scoring on the interior (5.5 and 6.9 PPG, respectively). If the Seahawks can get some balance from these guys in their offense, they shouldn't have a problem finding their way towards the top of the NEC in March.

Key Matchup

This contest clearly boils down to which backcourt has the upper edge. There will be plenty of guards on the floor for either side for extended runs in this game. If Penn State's frontcourt isn't able to dominate the interior, which is not how this team is built to score, the backcourt will have to outduel the formidable group of Seahawks guards.

Going up against Ortiz should be a great first test for Tim Frazier in his first game back from a ruptured achilles. Whichever point guard can penetrate/get the other in foul trouble will give their team a significant advantage throughout the course of the game. It will also go a long way for the Nits if they're able to outscore their opponents from the 3-point line. With Allen Roberts and Graham Woodward in the Blue and White along with refined shooting mechanics from Frazier and DJ Newbill, hopefully the Lions are much more efficient from behind the line this season.

Prediction

This is a very intriguing first game to kick off what is perceived to be a promising season. It certainly wouldn't do the program any good to lose a home-opener to an opponent from the lowly NEC, but the Seahawks could be for real, and they do have a fighter's chance at stealing an upset in this game. Don't forget, they upset Pitt at Peterson just two years ago.

I'm not buying it, though.

Tim Frazier has an emphatic return while the Lions' confidence is on display with a fabulous shooting performance. I'll take the Lions over Wagner, 75-63. Free Big Macs for all!

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, welcome back, PSU shootyhoops!

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