Here's another in the series previewing conference teams for the current season.
Up now ...
2012-13 RECORD: 13-5 in the MAAC, 19-14 overall.
KEY LOSSES: 6-2 guard Juan'ya Green (16.5, 4.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists last season), 6-6 swingman Ameen Tanksley (11.3, 6.0), 6-8 forward T.J. Cline (7.9, 4.6), 6-8 center Devon White (5.8, 5.1).
STARTERS SO FAR: 6-3 junior guard Antoine Mason (18.7, 4.1 last season), 5-11 senior guard Marvin Jordan (8.2, 1.8), 6-5 sophomore guard Tahjere McCall (4.0, 3.3).
KEY NEWCOMERS: 6-5 freshman forward Ramone Snowden, 6-8 senior forward Marcus Ware, 6-2 sophomore guard Cameron Fowler, 6-5 sophomore swingman Rayvon Harris, 6-2 freshman guard Wesley Myers.
NOTABLE: Not many programs have experienced the losses over the course of a year that Niagara has endured. Start with 15-year head coach Joe Mihalich, moving on to Hofstra, followed by first-team all-MAAC selection Green and leading rebounder Tanksley following him there. Green might have been the best player in the conference as a sophomore last season ... Also defecting was sixth-man and top front-court reserve T.J. Cline, who transferred to Richmond ... New coach Chris Casey has done a nice job of rebuilding the roster, bringing in key players Snowden (11.0, 11.5 through two games), Ware, a grad-school transfer from Monmouth who is immediately eligible (10.5, 5.5), guard Cameron Fowler, a walk-on at Iowa State last season, freshman Myers (4.0, 2.0) and incumbent Purple Eagle Ravon Harris, who was on the roster as a redshirt transfer from Rhode Island last season. Harris is averaging 5.0/4.5 thus far ... Casey has not abandoned the up-tempo style preferred by Mihalich, and is averaging 82.0 points through two games, a loss to Seton Hall and a victory over western New York rival Buffalo ... Mason, a big scorer in what was a more-balanced lineup last season, is the clear go-to point producer this year. He's averaging 29.5 points through two games and will almost assuredly challenge for the national scoring title this year ... McCall started at the point as a freshman last season, and is coming off the bench now but getting equal minutes with Fowler ... Jordan, mostly a spark-plug reserve in the backcourt under Mihalich, has started the first two games ... Snowden has been an aggressive basket-attacker and has gone to the foul line 18 times in his first two contests ... Ware is a big-bodied addition up front, much nbeeded considering the loss of last season's top three rebounders ... Harris, an athletic swingman, has also been helping out on the boards and Myers has been getting key minutes off the bench in the backcourt ... Things might be a little rough in the foreseeable future as the Purple Eagles are about to embark on a six-game stretch of games away from home.
STRENGTHS: Mason already showed he was capable of big scoring nights last year, and has just taken that to another level with 34- and 25-point games thus far this season. Snowden and Ware have helped fill some major gaps in post play. Despite all the defections, there's good experience around with Mason, Jordan and McCall.
WEAKNESSES: The team needs to find a consistent second option on nights that Mason doesn't explode. A year ago, it had Green. So far, Snowden is the second scoring option, averaging 11.0 ppg., and he's only a freshman. And, the 6-8 Ware has been the only significant contributor taller than 6-5 thus far. The team needs to find another "big" to help out.
REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: The Purple Eagles were picked, by league coaches, to finish eighth in the 11-team league, but this blogger thinks they can be better than that. The backcourt is more than adequately staffed with veterans and newcomers. Snowden has been a revelation and Ware provides at least one strong post presence. We'd expect Niagara to finish a little higher than eighth, maybe as high as fifth.