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Four Mile Brewing Pre Game: vs. Niagara (3-8)

By: Mike Morgan and Ian Nolan

The Skinny on Niagara: The Bonnies travel to Buffalo to take on the Niagara Purple Eagles of the MAAC. This game will be a neutral court battle at KeyBank Center and part of the Big 4 Classic. The game will tip off at 1 pm. The Purple Eagles are coached by Chris Casey, who is in his fourth season on Monteagle Ridge and has compiled a 25-81 record. The Bonnies have won the last five match-ups in the storied series, which came on the heels of an eight game Niagara win streak. The last time these two teams met in Buffalo, it resulted in a 74-59 Bona victory in 2014. Niagara is currently 3-8, but does have one top 100 win according to KenPom. They are ranked at 276th, while SBU is 200 places higher up the list. They were losses came at the hands of Hartford (323) and Youngstown State (277).

As any western NY hoops fan knows by now, Niagara has fallen on tough times following the departure of previous coach Joe Mihalich to Hofstra. Mihalich did a great job of bringing tough athletes and elite scorers to Lewiston and they ruled the series for nearly a decade. His departure ended a Philadelphia recruiting pipeline, and led to a mass exodus of recruits and players for Casey. The results have not been kind and the Purple Eagles come into this match-up with just those three poor wins on the season after dropping an overtime game to Youngstown State last night. Niagara does sport an impressive 16-point victory over conference foe Iona, who is routinely at the top of the MAAC. The Purple Eagles are very young, with only one senior on the roster, so SBU needs to take advantage of their youth. If these young players develop, Niagara will be “OK” in a few years but getting players to come to Lewiston is tough when there has been a tough four-year stretch and the losses mount year after year.

This is very similar to what happened at SBU in the mid-2000’s when it was tough to win for a variety of reasons. We all know how tough that turnaround can be and how patient the athletic department and fans must be. It’s a long road, but they can get the right coach in there, they’ve got a shot…Is Casey that guy? We’re not sure, and probably, neither is Niagara.

A player to watch for Niagara is Matt Scott. The 6-4 junior guard has been the bright spot for the Purple Eagles this season. He is averaging nearly 18 points a game and is also the team’s leading rebounder. He was third team All-MAAC last season and is the known. Scott shoots 35% from three and 41% from the floor. He’s scored 20+ points five different times and scored 30 against Rutgers.

Kahlil Dukes is also having a good start to the season. This is his first year of eligibility after transferring from USC. He is scoring 16 points per game and is shooting 97% from the foul line, missing just once this year. These two players are in the top 10 in scoring in the MAAC. Nearly half of Niagara’s points come from this back court duo. Dukes shoots it 42% from deep and sports an offensive rating of over 120 on KenPom; a fantastic number. He’s 5-17 from three in their last three games.

Niagara ranks only 241st in offensive efficiency, so if SBU can shut down just one of this pair you’d think they’ve got a great shot to win the game. It’s hard envisioning the Purple Eagles winning this game without their top two scorers leading them.

The Purple Eagles are averaging 75 points a game with 38 rebounds. They only rank 346th in turnover ratio defensively, so SBU should be able to take care of the ball and limit their turnovers in this game. Limiting fast break points against inferior teams is critical, and assuming the Bonnies can hold serve in this area, they’ll make Niagara beat them in the half court. There, Niagra scores it much better from the outside than the inside, so the Bonnies will have to focus their efforts on protecting the three point line. They should be fine on the interior in this one. 

It should be noted that Niagara ranks 30th nationally at the FT line, so giving them too many chances at the stripe is a bad idea. SBU has made plenty of teams pay for this in the past, and they don’t want to be on the receiving end of this on Saturday. 

According to KenPom SBU is the best team Niagara will face this season, so if they needed any other reason to get up for this historic match-up, that’s one more. Next to the Bonnies, Monmouth (76th) is the top test Casey’s team will face. Bonas will wear their throw back uniforms in this one.

The Stats and Roster:


Three Things to Watch:

  • Purple Eagles back court vs Bonnies back court – Clearly the Bonas back court is the cream of the crop as far as this match-up is concerned, but Niagara does sport a pairing of their own that could make things interesting. After Scott and Dukes, there’s a significant drop off in scoring on Niagara’s roster, so if Mark Schmidt can take away one of those two, the Bonnies will be in good shape. Forcing guys like Robb, Prochet and Gatling to make big shots down the stretch is not something the Purple Eagles want to see, if they can avoid it. SBU will focus on perimeter defense in this one, and coming off the UNCW game where they got burned on the three ball, it should have been a point of emphasis all week. Speaking of which…
  • Defending the three point line- SBU ranks 297th in defending the three, averaging 39.2% defense…incredibly poor. Last year’s club ranked 44th, and held teams to just 32.1% shooting. Have the departures of Posley and Wright hurt that much defensively? It seems a stretch. While Wright could guard four positions, he wasn’t an overly impressive defender and Posley’s calling card was never his defense. To me, SBU’s team defense right now is just poor. Bad and slow rotations, missed assignments, giving up too many back cuts, etc. As the season goes on this should improve, let’s hope it starts tomorrow because it’s tough to win allowing that many three pointers each night.
  • Nelson Kaputo’s Return- Sophomore point guard Nelson Kaputo returns to action tomorrow after sitting out the first nine games due to academic issues. Kaputo will provide the team with the back-up PG they desperately need, and allow Schmidt to move Adams off the ball, if he so chooses. It would be fun to see a Kaputo-Adams-Mobley back court if Niagara does go small enough. Surely he will be rusty, but his abled body alone should provide depth which this team lacks. After he gets some games under his belt we can see if he’s made any real gains since last year when he looked impressive in for two months, but then faded and found the bench during A10 play. For now, let’s just be happy we have a back-up PG again.

Three Things That Will Happen:

1. Bonnies will out rebound Niagara by double digits, and haul in 12+ offensive boards
2. David Andoh scores in double figure for the fifth straight game
3. Bonnies D will force 15+ TO’s

Twitter-Length Closing Take: The Bonnies take it to Niagara early and keep the Purple Eagles at bay, winning their sixth straight game against their Little 3 rival.

Prediction: SBU 77 Niagara 64


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A member of the class of 2008, Nolan spent four years as a student assistant with the program. He has written professionally for such outlets as espn.com/insider, Athlon Sports Magazines, Cox Sports Online and Blue Ribbon Previews. Ian was named one of the “140 Personalities to Follow in College Basketball” on twitter by The Sporting News.