Thursday, November 8, 2012

Issues Facing Teams As Season Approaches

The college basketball season is here, tipping off tomorrow (Friday) for first-allowed games.

As teams get ready for their initial contests, let's take a look at one interesting issue within each program, a look at each team's opener and one other non-league contest of note. We'll start with the men.

CANISIUS: The key issue is the infusion of so much new talent at once and whether it can all fit together. Quality newcomers include four transfers, all eligible for this season and all potential starters or reserves who will get big minutes. They include 6-10, 280-pound senior center Freddie Asprilla (from Kansas St;ate), 6-2 junior guard Billy Baron (Rhode Island), 6-3 senior guard Isaac Sosa (Central Florida) and 6-10 junior center Jordan Heath (Robert Weslyan). Baron had 22 points in the team's exhibition game, while Heath had 9 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. Asprilla, though, will miss the first three games while on suspension for a violation of school policy that occurred last year.
SEASON OPENER: Boston University at Canisius, Nov. 12.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Canisius at Syracuse, Dec. 15, first round of the Gotham Classic.

FAIRFIELD: The Stags need to find an inside game. Its guard trio of Desmond Wade, Derek Needham and Colin Nickerson is as talented as any league program's. But, no one on its roster taller than 6-foot-5 has previous college-level experience. Junior forwards Keith Matthews and Maurice Barrow are both solid front-court players, but each is only 6-5. The Stags will either play small, or hope someone emerges in the middle. It might be 6-10 freshman center Josip Mikulic, who had eight rebounds in the team's exhibition game, or 6-8 freshman forward Amadou Sidibe, who had seven points (3-of-3 shooting) in the exhibition contest. Mikulic is a native of Croatia, who came to the U.S. to play two seasons at North Broward (Fla.) Prep School where he averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds per game last season. Sidibe comes in from Cardinal Hayes H.S. in the Bronx, where he averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds per game last season.
SEASON OPENER: Fairfield vs. Central Connecticut State, Saturday in Hartford.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Fairfield at Providence (coached by former Stags' coach Ed Cooley), Nov. 23.

IONA: Trying to keep track of everyone without a scorecard. Much like Canisius, it will be interesting to see how chemistry develops here, but there is no doubt that there is as much talent on hand as any team in the league has at its disposal. Nine new players join the program for this season, including four from the junior college ranks, two via transfer from four-year schools, two "traditional" freshmen and a graduate student who already played three seasons at a four-year program. One of the new players ... and, maybe the best one ... 6-8 multi-talented forward David Laury, isn't eligible until after first-semester games are over. One more transition from a returnee: guard Momo Jones takes over at the point with the graduation of last season's NCAA assist leader Scott Machado. As one "astute" observer of Iona basketball relayed, the Gaels will benefit more if Jones is an 18-point, 6-assist guy rather than a 24-point, 4-assist player. But, he's more than capable.
SEASON OPENER: Denver at Iona, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: A potential Iona vs. Connecticut meeting in the U.S. Virgin Islands Classic, Nov. 17. For that to happen, Iona would need to beat Quinnipiac and UConn would need to beat Wake Forest in first-round tournament games.

LOYOLA: The Greyhounds will need to match the intensity, particularly on the defensive end, that carried them to last season's NCAA tournament, while finding suitable replacements for underrated 6-10 center Shane Walker (graduation) and key reserve Justin Drummond (transfer). And Loyola also needs to get through its first 18 games without sophomore point guard R.J. Williams, suspended due to a violation of team rules. Williams will not be permitted to play until January 17 against Marist, the Greyhounds' 19th game of the season.
SEASON OPENER: Binghamton at Loyola, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Loyola at Memphis (picked to win Conference USA), Dec. 30.

MANHATTAN: The Jaspers matched the most improvement (a positive 15-game swing) of any team nationally last season. Now, they just have to maintain without being a "surprise" any longer. To do so, the program likely needs to find just a little more help in the paint. Rhamel Brown, Roberto Colonette and Emmy Andujar make up a talented front-court, but Brown and Colonette are both 6-7 and Andujar is 6-6. Maybe freshman Adam Lacey (6-10, 230 pounds) can help out quickly. He averaged 14 points and nine rebounds per game at San Diego H.S. last season.
SEASON OPENER: Manhattan at Louisville, Nov. 11.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Hard to dispute Manhattan at Louisville (Nov. 11) when Manhattan coach Steve Masiello meets his mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Louisville won 30 games last season and could be even better this year.

MARIST: Marist needs continued improvement/maturation from its young players. The Red Foxes are definitely a team of the future ... it's just a matter of how quickly the future gets here. Two starters (6-5 swingman Chavaugn Lewis and 5-8 point guard Isaiah Morton) and a top reserve (6-5 forward Manny Thomas) are all sophomores. Lewis is going to be one of the MAAC's best players at some point. How fast he gets there, and the continued progress of some young teammates will dictate the Red Foxes' degree of success this season.
SEASON OPENER: Stony Brook at Marist, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Marist at Army, Dec. 4, in a meeting of proximitous programs. Only about 30 miles separate the two schools.

NIAGARA: Very simple situation here: avoid being a "donut" team, i.e. having a hole in the middle. Incoming transfer from La Salle Devon White, a rugged 6-8 post player, was expected to literally be a "big" answer. Instead, he ruptured an Achilles tendon in June and isn't expected back on the court until late December. Without him, the Purple Eagles' front court includes 6-7 sophomore Joe Thomas, slender 6-8 senior Scooter Gillette and 6-8 freshman T.J. Cline. If White can get back by late December, there's still the bulk of MAAC games to play and things should be fine by the MAAC tournament. If not, Niagara is still capable of scoring a lot of points, but will have a "big" weakness inside both defensively and on the boards.
SEASON OPENER: Niagara at Oregon State, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Niagara vs. St. Bonaventure, Nov. 24 at the Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester, N.Y.

RIDER: Can the Broncs deal with some transition at, arguably, the program's two most-important positions? Former head coach Tommy Dempsey is gone (to Binghamton), replaced by six-year assistant Kevin Baggett, who makes the not-always-easy 18-inch move from an assistant's seat to the head spot. But, there's familiarity between him and players, so the expectation is for a smooth move. The other transition is fitting in potentially prolific scorer Nurideen Lindsey, a 6-3 junior guard from St. John's, where he started nine games last season before transferring. He had 10 points in the Broncs' exhibition game, and could be among the conference's leading scorers this season.
SEASON OPENER: Robert Morris at Rider, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Rider at South Carolina, November 19, first round of the Hoops for Hope Classic.

SAINT PETER'S: To be something more than than a last-place team as is the general consensus in the preseason polls, and the Peacocks seem to have the manpower to creep up several spots from that expectation in the MAAC standings. To do so, though, the team will have to find some offensive fire power beyond incoming guard Desi Washington, who averaged 13.1 points per game at Delaware State two years ago as a freshmen. The likelihood is that points will come by committee. What Saint Peter's has, unlike last year, is plenty of depth ... an ability to go nine or 10 deep ... plus the personnel to get back to playing quality defense.
SEASON OPENER: Saint Peter's at Rutgers, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: Saint Peter's at Seton Hall, Nov. 25.

SIENA:  A year ago it was depth as Siena only had six players it could rely on. This season the depth is definitely there, but the question now is the team's experience level. Siena could take dramatic steps forward, and could be on the verge of another nice multi-year run  But, that will only begin this season if a large group of young players develop and mature quickly.And, the depth diminished for the first three games with the recent announcement that expected off-guard starter Rakeem Brookins and reserve forward Trenity Burdine would be suspended for the team's first three games due to an unspecified violation of the team's academic policies. It means the team opens with only three players who saw any significant minutes last year, will use a freshman as a back-court starter and freshmen as top reserves.
SEASON OPENER: Vermont at Siena, Friday.
NON-LEAGUE GAME OF NOTE: UAlbany at Siena, Dec. 1.                                                                         

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