Sunday, December 18, 2011

Niagara Men's Preview: Growing Pains

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD TO DATE: 0-2 in MAAC play, 4-7 overall.

2010-11 RECORD: 5-13 in the MAAC, 9-23 overall.


KEY RETURNEES (this year's statistics): 6-3 freshman forward Antoine Mason (14.0 points, 5.2 rebounds), 5-11 sophomore guard Marvin Jordan (11.6, 3.4, 2.9 assists), 6-8 junior forward Scooter Gillette (5.6, 3.0), 6-8 junior forward Eric Williams (1.7, 1.8).

KEY LOSSES: Guard Anthony Nelson (15.4, 5.0 assists, 3.4 steals), forward Kashief Edwards (12.4, 6.2).

NOTES: Niagara will be trying to avoid just the third losing season in head coach Joe Mihalich's 14 seasons in the program ... Although Mason is technically a "returnee," he only played three games last season before foot issues kept him out after that. The team's top four scorers include three freshmen and a sophomore. Of the team's top seven scorers, only one (Jordan) played more than three games in the program a year ago ... The key newcomer and the team's top scorer is 6-3 freshman guard Juan'ya Green, whose 19.9 points-per-game average is 2nd best nationally among freshman players, best of all conference players and 27th-best nationally ... He should be getting help soon as 6-5 swingman Josh Turner is expected to join the program for the second semester, and Mihalich says Turner could quickly become the team's best player ... The program suffered a huge graduation loss in do-everything guard Anthony Nelson, who averaged 5.0 assists and a nation-leading 3.4 steals per game. The Purple Eagles haven't' replaced his ball-handling skills. Green leads the team with 3.3 assists per game, but the entire team only averages 10.5 assists per contest ... With youth comes inconsistency. In its first weekend of MAAC play, it only lost to Fairfield by four points and, then, dropped a 96-62 decision against Iona ... The team also lacks consistent inside production, a point recently made by Mihalich. It hurt that Kashief Edwards left the program a year early, and that 6-8 junior Eric Williams hasn't been able to even match his 4.1 points, 3.2 rebounds production of last season.

HOW NIAGARA CAN SUCCEED: Find the reverse of the Fountain of Youth. There's plenty of talent on board, but it's extremely young and prone to the mistakes of youth. On some nights, particularly when Green, Mason and Jordan are making outside shots, the team will look very good. On other nights, when shots don't fall, the team won't look so good. Turner will also have to come in, get acclimated quickly and provide help not only with scoring but on the boards. The team also needs its inside players to improve as the year goes on. All that might be a lot to ask.

PREDICTION: Mihalich isn't trying to fool anyone. He's on record as saying this isn't a year his team will compete for a league title. He'll be happy going through a building year as long as year-long improvement is evident. When Turner comes aboard, it will likely mean the team's top five players include four freshmen and a sophomore, not exactly a recipe for success at the mid-major level. The team, right now, appears destined for one of the bottom four spots in the league standings, unless there's a drastic maturation of the youthful roster. But the talent level is high enough to think that Niagara might be capable of flirting with a .500 overall record and, then, be looking at much better days ahead in future seasons.

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