Niagara Basketball Preview: #65
Overall Rank: #65
Conference Rank: #2 MAAC
2008-09: 26-9, 14-4
2008-09 postseason: NIT
Coach: Joe Mihalich (205-132 at Niagara, 205-132 overall)
For winning 26 games, Niagara had a pretty quiet season that ended with a first round loss to Rhode Island in the NIT. The reason for the lack of respect was because Metro Atlantic rival Siena was garnering all the national attention. Yet, the Purple Eagles will have another chance to unseat Siena atop the conference pecking order.
Key Losses: C Benson Egemonye
Niagara pretty much ran a four guard lineup with Benson Egemonye in the middle and now Egemonye is gone. Thus, the newcomers will have to help fill that void and Coach Joe Mihalich has a few decent options. Scooter Gillette, Luuk Kortekaas and Eric Williams are all big men who must be ready to play as freshmen. Gillette might be the most talented, but Williams and Kortekaas were at least on the sidelines last year and have a year in the system.
Few teams have as much experience on the perimeter as Niagara. It all starts with junior point guard Anthony Nelson. Not only did he dish out 5.5 assists per game and only turned it over 2.1 times, Nelson also tallied 8.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Rob Garrison is another quality ball handler who can score in a multitude of ways. He might take a few too many outside shots, but Garrison has a great mid-range game and should once again eclipse the ten point per game mark. However, it is Tyrone Lewis who is the pure scorer on this team. Lewis connected on nearly three three-pointers per game last season and the 5-11 guard should be in for a huge senior season.
The biggest question is who is going to replace Egemonye? Demetrius Williamson won the conference’s sixth man award last year after averaging 7.6 points and 3.0 rebounds. But at 6-6 and 195 pounds, he is not exactly the type of player you want creating space under the basket. Kashief Edwards is only 6-5, so he will only provide depth at the forward spots and not under the basket. Kamau Gordon could be the answer. At 6-7 and 260 pounds, the senior has the size and the experience to be a decent player under the basket, but he only averaged 8.1 minutes per game last year and will need help from the newcomers.
Who to Watch:
It is the skills of Bilal Benn that allowed the Purple Eagles to play small last year. Benn is only 6-5, but he simply dominated the glass with his 9.3 rebounds per game. He is also a quality outside shooter and a great scorer. Against bigger defenders he will simply use his speed to get to the basket. Having a player like Benn made it possible for Niagara to be a good team on the glass despite being undersized.
Can Williamson play the five? Can anybody play the five? If this team does not want to get dominated on the glass and in the paint on the defensive end, a few players have to step up and fill Egemonye’s role. Somebody has to score in the paint so the shooters can get space on the perimeter. Somebody has to block some shots under the basket and somebody has to help Benn on the glass. If nobody can, it is another trip to the NIT for Niagara.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Anthony Nelson, Junior, Guard, 8.1 points per game
Tyrone Lewis, Senior, Guard, 16.2 points per game
Rob Garrison, Senior, Guard, 10.9 points per game
Bilal Benn, Senior, Guard, 13.8 points per game
Demetrius Williamson, Senior, Forward, 7.7 points per game
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