Niagara Purple Eagles
Overall Rank: #101
Conference Rank: #2 Metro Atlantic
2007-08: 19-10, 12-6, 3rd
2007-08 postseason: none
Quick, which player led the nation in scoring last year? Tyler Hansbrough? Stephen Curry? Michael Beasley? Some guy from VMI? Not quite. The answer is Charron Fisher of Niagara who tallied 27.8 points per game last year. The 6-4 wing has now graduated and the question for the Purple Eagles is whether or not they can continue their success without Fisher.
Fisher was not just a scorer. He also grabbed 9.5 rebounds a game and could pass and play a little defense too. The questions on the perimeter continue with the departure of Stanley Hodge. Hodge did not take as many attempts from long range as Fisher and some others, but he did knock down 1.7 three-pointers per game and led the team shooting 36.2 percent from beyond the arc. Hodge also ranked third on the team in rebounds and second in assists. Another guard, Andrew Patterson, has transferred and will not be suiting up for the Purple Eagles this season.
Niagara and Coach Joe Mihalich will not need any of the newcomers to be Fisher or Hodge right away, but a few of them should play a major role this season. Big East transfers Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison have the most experience. Benn, who played two years at Villanova, is a strong wing who can help out on the glass. At 6-5, he is a little undersized to play the four spot, but Niagara is lacking in experienced size and Benn is strong enough to handle most opposing power forwards in the MAAC. Like Benn, Garrison saw limited playing time during his two years in the Big East. Garrison, who returns to Niagara after a stint in Storrs, Connecticut, showed promise as a freshman, but only played in 12 games as a sophomore. The 6-2 guard can handle the ball and will provide an outside shooter, something this group could really use. Austin Cooley is not too bad at hitting the long balls either, but the 6-4 incoming freshman is better known for getting to the basket. Cooley, much like Hodge who he will help replace, can fill up the stat sheet. How much he can do as a freshman remains to be seen, but Cooley certainly has the potential to make a big impact off the bench. Redshirt freshman Kashief Edwards will add more depth at the small forward spot and incoming freshmen Eric Williams and Dutchman Luuk Kortekaas are both intriguing prospects for the frontcourt.
Who to Watch:
Despite losing Fisher and Hodge, the group on the perimeter still has a couple dangerous weapons. Tyrone Lewis managed to average 16.1 points per game and that was with Fisher taking over 22 shots a game. Now this is Lewis’ team and his scoring could stretch a little closer to Fisher-type numbers. Yet, what Lewis lacks is size. At 5-11, Lewis is just not that effective finishing around the basket. He will still be very aggressive with the ball and get to the charity stripe quite often, but the size does cause some problems once he is there. Anthony Nelson started all 29 games as a freshman and dished out an impressive 5.1 assists per game. On a team that likes to score, and could run more this year, Nelson did a decent job committing just 2.7 turnovers per contest. As a sophomore that number should get better.
It is possible that Cooley and Benn will be on the floor, or even starting, at the same time. That would be a pretty small team, but it would probably put the five most talented players on the floor. The big man in the middle would be Benson Egemonye. After averaging less than eight minutes a game two years ago, the 6-10 center emerged as a quality big man in 2007. For his senior season, Egemonye hopes to improve on his 9.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He will need to stay out of foul trouble if he wants to see more minutes, but Egemonye can certainly score. He shot an amazing 62.6 percent from the floor…now he just has to take more shots. Demetrius Williamson could see plenty of time if the team wants to go a little bigger and Kamau Gordon will battle the newcomers for minutes off the bench. As long as the power forward spot can be effective, the Purple Eagles have enough talent to stick around the top of the conference race. If not, Fisher and Hodge will not be around to mask the team’s weaknesses.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Anthony Nelson, Sophomore, Guard, 5.7 points per game
Tyrone Lewis, Junior, Guard, 16.1 points per game
Austin Cooley, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Bilal Benn, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Benson Egemonye, Senior, Center, 9.0 points per game