By Nick Veronica
Niagara had the worst record in the MAAC last season at 3-17. Leading scorer Antoine Mason took his 25.6 points per game to Auburn and second-leading scorer Marvin Jordan graduated. Tahjere McCall, Joe Thomas and Aaron Bodie also transferred out, leaving the Purple Eagles with no seniors and just one junior, Rayvon Harris, who has only started four games in his career.
That would seem to point to a bleak outlook in Lewiston, but coach Chris Casey doesn’t see it that way. Despite those factors, he says his offense will be better in 2014-15 than it was last season.
“I think we’re going to score the ball as well if not better than we did last year, through more guys on the floor that can score and through better team play,” Casey said Wednesday at the First Niagara Center during Big 4 Media Day.
“I also think we’re going to have better shot-making, some more guys on the floor that can make a shot. I think we have a number of guys who can score the ball. We’re stressing team play, ball movement, everyone involved.”
Niagara ranked fifth in the conference last year in points per game (75.3) and field goal percentage (.429) thanks in large part to Mason, who was the nation’s second-leading scorer. However, he also tied for first nationally in field goals attempted and missed the most shots in the country while averaging only 1.5 assists per game.
So when Casey looks at his offense, he sees a less one-dimensional team that is more willing the share the ball.
“I think we’re going to be a more team-oriented offense,” he said. “I think we’re gonna have more guys who can make shots, I think the ball’s going to move better. Antoine did a lot of good things for us but I think when you get more guys on the floor who can score and more guys who are willing to move the basketball, you end up with a better situation offensively because there’s more guys out there that are a threat.”
That line about “more guys who are willing to move the basketball” is possibly a slight against Mason but was the theme of Casey’s interview Wednesday. The Purple Eagles will certainly need to take it to heart – they’ll have to do better than last year’s 10.0 assists per game, which ranked 334th nationally.
Other Niagara notes:
— The throwback jerseys the teams will wear to the Big 4 doubleheader are great. But if you look closely, Niagara’s jerseys are the only ones without true Buffalo Braves colors. The stripes down the uniform are purple and black. Multiple sources told me that was a bit of a sticking point for the Niagara brass. “We weren’t going to wear them any other way,” one Niagara source said of having purple on the jerseys. So while Canisius will be in a nice Columbia blue, St. Bonaventure will be decked out in Braves’ orange and UB wears white the light blue trim, Niagara will have Braves-type stripes with their own traditional colors.
— Guard Wesley Myers and forward Ramone Snowden were named to the Big 4 Preseason Second Team.
— Casey had good things to say about the work Myers and Snowden put in this offseason: “They both had very good final 10 games of the season. … They worked extremely hard in the summer, both have put on some size and strength in the weight room, they’ve continued to work on their games in the summer, they both worked diligently. They both have winning attitudes. They come in, they work, they want to be good and they want to win.”
Niagara opens the season at ACC power Pitt on Nov. 14.Follow @NickVeronica