Team preview: Niagara

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


Niagara's dynamic backcourt duo of sophomores Juan'ya Green and Antoine Mason has the rest of the MAAC on guard.

"They are very young and they have great talent," Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said.

After taking some lumps early in the MAAC season, the Purple Eagles, who were the third youngest team in the nation, won four of five conference games going into the tournament. Then, they made it to the quarterfinals before falling to eventual champ Loyola.

The Niagara faithful are hoping the second year with Green (17.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.8 spg) and Mason (15.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 spg), who both started every game and logged more than 30 minutes per night apiece, will be even better.

Niagara Purple Eagles

"He was learning the game and was still our best player," Mihalich said. "He has all the things you can't teach. Some people play basketball and some people are just basketball players."

The 6-3 Green was the MAAC rookie of the year -- the first in Niagara history -- after scoring in double figures 27 times and setting the freshman school record for points with 585. He finished the year as NU's leader in scoring, assists and steals, which was accomplished by only two other freshmen in the nation and 18 players overall.

In addition, Green also finished second at Niagara in 3-pointers made (61) and was an 80-percent free-throw shooter, which ranked him fifth in the MAAC.

Mason, the son of former NBA power forward Anthony Mason, was equally as dangerous. He tallied 27 double-digit scoring games along with being the team's second leading scorer and rebounder.

"He has a way of scoring, a will to score," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said.

Mason actually gave NU a sneak peak of his ability the year before, averaging 16.7 points in three games as true freshman before a foot injury ended his season.

The youth movement was just from those two guards either. NU's top six scorers were either freshmen or sophomores and 90 percent of the team's points came from underclassmen.

The old man of the group was 6-8 forward Scooter Gillette (4.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg), the lone senior on the roster.

Marvin Jordan (10.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg) came off the bench in 19 of 33 games and made a team-high 83 3-pointers (35 percent), including a school-record eight against Rider. The 5-11 junior guard tied Mason for second with 70 assists and was also second in steals (46).

"He's a microwave guy," said Mihalich, who appropriately uses the nickname "Microwave" for Jordan.

How hot can Jordan get?

Over a string of six games in January, Jordan averaged 13.2 points and led the team in 3-pointers (20), 3-point percentage (.435) and free-throw shooting (86.7).

Niagara had another impact newcomer in Ameen Tanksley (8.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), a 6-6 swingman who led the team in rebounds. Tanksley started 32 games and averaged 27.5 minutes a night. He was particularly tough on Fairfield in his rookie season, with both of his double-doubles coming against the Stags.

"He's a tough kid and rebounds the ball well," Mihalich said.

Malcolm Lemmons (8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), a 6-3 junior, appeared in only 23 games. A bout with mono sidelined him for 10 games after the opening win against Central Connecticut. Despite the setback, Lemmons turned into an offensive weapon who shot a team-high 81 percent from the free-throw line.

The Purple Eagles lost one guard with sophomore Josh Turner (3.4 ppg) not returning along with junior forward Ali Langford and seldom-used forward Eric Williams.

However, 6-5 junior Skylar Jones (1.5 ppg), and 6-7 sophomore Joe Thomas (3.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) have experience off the bench. Thomas played in all 33 games and even started four while averaging 15 minutes a night and leading the team with 26 blocks.

NU added only three players in its recruiting class, but it has hope graduate student Devon White, a 6-8 center from La Salle, can make a speedy recovery from a ruptured Achilles' tendon. White appeared in 93 games over three seasons and averaged 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in about 16 minutes per game.

"We hope to have him for the second half of the season," Mihalich said.

Also on board are two freshmen, 6-8 forward T.J. Cline, who is the son of women's basketball pioneer Nancy Liberman, and 6-4 guard Tahjere McCall.

"I think they both can help us, but I don't like to put too much pressure on them," Mihalich said.

Cline averaged 16.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals a game for the Plano (Texas) West Wolves. He will give the Purple Eagles some much-needed size up front, especially with White out for an undetermined amount of time.






The MAAC's young guns are dreaming big this season, and the rest of the conference seems to believe the Purple Eagles are capable of achieving their goals.

Green and Mason are special players, but Niagara needs to make sure the supporting cast gets the job done as well. The real concern will be up front, where NU lacks size and depth, especially with White out to start the season.

One thing the program has done well in recent years is finish strong. Niagara is 34-13 since the 2006-07 season, including 21-3 at the Gallagher Center, in February. Last season it went 4-4 in the final month to give Mihalich his sixth straight .500 or better record in February.

In a league that could have up to six fighting for a championship, peaking at the right time could make the different between receiving a ticket to the Big Dance or going home.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.