Here's another in the series previewing MAAC teams this season. Up now ...
2009-10 RECORD: 8-10 in MAAC play, 15-17 overall.
2010-11 COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for seventh in the preseason poll of conference coaches.
KEY RETURNEES: 6-4 senior guard Julius Coles (13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds), 6-7 senior forward Greg Loggins (10.2 points, 6.1 rebounds), 6-6 senior forward Elton Frazier (8.8 points, 5.7 rebounds), 6-7 senior forward Tomas Vazquez-Simmons (6.8 points, 6.7 points, 74 blocked shots).
KEY LOSSES: 5-10 point guard Frank Turner (16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists).
NOTES: Their best player of recent vintage, 5-10 point guard Frank Turner, has graduated but everyone else returns. The bad news is that this group has never had much success, although it keeps getting closer. Four seniors are almost certain starters and, together, they have been 2-16 in league play as freshmen, 4-14 as sophomores and 8-10 as juniors. Overall, after a 6-25 record as frosh, they improved to 11-20 two years ago and 15-17 last season.
But, this program has been down for some time. The last time it had a winning record in conference play? Remember Kevin Worley and Jamie Cammaert? Those were the two best players in 1998-99, the last time the Golden Griffins (11-7) were above .500 against MAAC competition. Since then their record in league play has been 67-131. Whew.
If there were ever a year where all that could be expected to change, this is it. And, it better be because so many players who will play so many minutes won't be back after this season.
How do your replace Turner? Most likely with Gaby Belardo, a 6-2 transfer from South Florida where he played 18 games as a freshman in the 2008-09 season but only averaged 0.7 points and 0.5 rebounds. Still, he is perceived as a point guard who will take care of the ball a little better than Turner did yet is still capable of scoring double figures on a regular basis. His development is almost assuredly the key aspect to the Griffs' hopes to move forward this season.
Otherwise, they might be a little small, relatively, but there have been enough cases of teams with 6-7 and 6-6 forwards having success at this level. And, the Griffs did outrebound opponents by an average of 1.5 per game a year ago.
The other potential weakness is the lack of a go-to player, which Turner definitely was for most of his career. But, 6-4 Julius Coles could step into that role this year, and the other three seniors - Loggins, Frazier and Vazquez-Simmons - are all above average "support" players. Considering the fact that the four seniors have played together for the past three years should almost ensure team chemistry and smart play. It doesn't hurt that Belardo practiced with the team all of last season and, according to some observers, was often the best player on the floor.
Depth? That's here, too, particularly if Reggie Groves, a 6-2 redshirt freshma guard, makes a full recovery from a torn ACL suffered last December. He did appear in seven games a year ago, averaging 18.6 minutes and 2.4 points per game, and looked capable of providing much more. Then, there's another 6-2 guard, sophomore Alshwan Hymes, who averaged 4.4 points per game last season and should take a step forward this year.
Finally, there's the MAAC's all-time tallest player, 7-3, 225-pound Marial Dhal, a native of Uganda and a transfer after playing at hillsborough (Fla.) Junior College where he averaged 3.0 points, 6-0 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game last season. Dhal, though, is strictly a shot-blocking specialist who remains greatly offensively challenged.
HOW CANISIUS WILL SUCCEED: Veteran teams traditionally do well in this conference, and there's no team with more contributing seniors than the Golden Griffins. That alone brings significant optimism. If Belardo is a reasonable replacement for Turner, and the team's depth holds up ... why isn't another step forward a reasonable expectation? This very easily could be the year Canisius not only gets over .500, but gets over that standard by a considerable amount. An improvement of even four wins from last season gets the team pretty close to 20 overall victories, which isn't out of the realm of possibility. It's easy to see why coaches wouldn't pick Canisius higher. It's tough to lose a player of Turner's abilities. But if Belardo is the real deal, then the coaches' pick is way too low. However, if Belardo doesn't perform as the Canisius faithful hope, then the Griffs will probably struggle to get over the .500 mark.
The team appears to have everything else. Solid, rugged front-court play, depth and some playmakers at perimeter positions. But, at this level, the point-guard position is as important as it gets, so Belardo's emergence is the big key here.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "We've got one of the most-experienced rosters in the country, which is a lot different than having one of the youngest just a few years ago," said Canisius coach Tom Parrotta. "I like where we are right now. We've got five seniors (the fifth is 6-1 guard Robert Goldsberry, who started 24 games a year ago), and when one of those five say something the young bucks tend to follow. We've also got five newcomers to the program. Three years ago we would have been forced to play those young guys. Now, we only need them to fill roles. This is going to be a senior-driven team and I'm pretty confident that we can continue our growth process. We've gone from 6 to 11 to 15 overall victories , and we're aiming high this season."
PREDICTION: Tough call because so much rides on whether Belardo can be a factor at the point, and no one knows the answer to that for certain right now. If he plays well ... and all he has to do, really, is be an effective distributor who takes care of the ball ... there's enough in place for the team to get into the upper half of the league standings. And, maybe, be even better than that. If, however, the point guard situation is an issue, then no matter how solid the surrounding players are, Canisius won't get above .500. The expectation here, for now, is an optimistic one. Expect at least a couple more wins than a year ago, and maybe more.