UB’s biggest challenge of the 2012-13 campaign will be trying to fill the void left by one of its greatest players in school history. Mitchell Watt, the MAC Player of the Year last season, tried out with Memphis in the NBA summer league after graduation, but now is off playing professionally in Israel. Watt led the team in scoring, rebounds and blocks. The team has nine players returning, although only one of their top five scorers is back. Junior Javon McCrea, who was second on the team on scoring last season, will be heavily counted upon to lead the way down low. The junior was named to the East Division Preseason All-MAC Team. McCrea started in all 31 games last season, averaging almost 15 points and 7 rebounds a game. Coach Reggie Witherspoon said he needs Javon “to be more assertive in the way he approaches the game and with that different parts of his game will evolve.”
UB’s tough schedule includes a tough trip to play at #25 Florida State in their second game, road games at Washington State, Tulsa, St. Bonaventure and Canisius and a home tilt with Niagara. The season opens Saturday with a visit from Princeton at Alumni Arena. Winning 20 games again as they did last year would be a tremendous season considering the schedule and the losses to graduation. The media has picked the Bulls to finish fourth of six in the MAC East. Ohio and Toledo were the media’s selections for the division winners in the conference.
Being young has its perks, but also its challenges and the Purple Eagles experienced all of that and more during their 2011-12 season. The team was one of the youngest in the country and finished tied for sixth in the MAAC last season and 14-19 overall.
Coach Joe Mihalich, entering his 15th season, said he hopes the learning experience from playing such a young squad last year will help within this year’s games and lead to more wins. Helping his cause will be returning MAAC Rookie of the Year Juan’ya Green who averaged 18 points a game and Antoine Mason and his 15.1 points per game from last season. Look for Niagara to play its traditionally up and down the court fast pace and hope the 3-ball goes in for the Purple Eagles to succeed.
Mihalich told me that he considers Loyola and Manhattan as the teams to beat the in MAAC, but said Canisius may have the most talent in the conference. The Purple Eagles play at #21 Notre Dame in late December and two NCAA tournament teams from last year in Bucknell and Vermont. Niagara opens their schedule Friday night at Oregon State, a game that can be heard on WGR Sports Radio 550 at 9pm.
There is no place to go for the Canisius Golden Griffins but up in the 2012-13 campaign. New head coach Jim Baron inherits a team that won just five games last season (5-25), and just once in the MAAC (1-17). Seniors Harold Washington and Alshwan Hymes help lead an older Griffs roster, in addition to the transfer of Billy Baron from Rhode Island to Canisius. Center Freddy Asprilla will have to wait three more games to make his Canisius debut. The senior sat out last year after leaving Kansas State, and was suspended for the first three games of this year for violating team rules prior to Baron’s arrival.
The Griffs may be the biggest wild card among the Big Four. Washington will be looking to build on a stellar junior season in which he garnered Second Team All-MAAC honors. The guard was named to the Preseason MAAC All-Conference Second Team, and is the only Griffin to be a First Team Preseason All-Big Four honoree. A tough schedule early in the non-conference portion may help the group in the long run this season. In addition to Big Four meetings with St. Bonaventure and UB this month, in December the Griffs travel to the Carrier Dome to take on nationally ranked Syracuse.
How do you follow up one of the most successful seasons in school history? That is test for St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt, and he will have to do it with the best player of his five-year tenure: Andrew Nicholson. With the big man moving on to the NBA, the Bonnies are will look to more than just one player to step up, according to Coach Schmidt. Senior forward Demetrius Conger will look to help plug the gap, along with the likes of junior Charlon Kloof. Conger was named to the All-Big Four Preseason First Team, while Kloof is a Second Team honoreee.
Not much is expected out of Olean this season around Atlantic 10, with the Bonnies picked 11th out of 16 schools in the preseason poll, and the additions of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth make the path to the conference tournament that much more daunting. The A-10 has become one of the premier “non-BCS” basketball conferences, and is taking their postseason tournament to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this year. The Reilly Center will sit vacant for much of November, but quickly flips to frequent host when the Bonnies play five of seven games in December at home.