As the nitty-gritty of the Big 4 women's basketball season gets under way, let's recap: Two teams have mounted surprising turnarounds, one has continued solid play and one continues to struggle.
Niagara and St. Bonaventure have already surpassed last season's win totals. Each has succeeded with defense and team chemistry.
Canisius has been solid at times but has also struggled to maintain consistency throughout games. This pattern has cost the Griffs against the better teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
The University at Buffalo has shown glimpses of solid teamwork and talent but has faltered in close games, going 0-3 in games decided by five or fewer points.
Canisius (11-8, 3-5 MAAC)1
The Golden Griffins are the deepest of the Big 4 teams, with nine players averaging double-digit minutes.
The offense has been evenly distributed, led by forwards Megan Lyte (11.4 ppg) and Abby Radunske (10.5) and guard Amanda Cavo (10.0). Cavo's points come even as she battles the pain of tendinitis in her shins.
Point guard Jessie Lamparski continues to be one of the most underrated contributors on the team. While she may not set the stat sheet ablaze, Lamparski is the glue that holds the unit of five together at both ends of the floor. The freshmen have folded themselves into the rotation and Britanne Russell and Brianna Lucas are becoming consistent three-point threats.
Consistency is the potential downfall of the Griffs, who have endured long droughts of scorelessness or sloppy play, particularly against the better MAAC teams.
Niagara (11-8, 3-5 MAAC)1
Last year, the Purple Eagles were without a leader and flopped around without any chemistry to speak of. Now, the group is more cohesive, thanks in part to spending all summer together and from coach Bill Agronin having the returning players take a military leadership course offered by the school's ROTC chapter.
Shaunna Ambrose continues to be the most capable scorer for the Purple Eagles. She is the lone player averaging double figures (16.6 ppg). Michelle Manfredi is the cog that makes the team work. The point guard is the team's leading rebounder (8.7) while averaging 8.0 points and 3.2 assists.
There have been some pleasant surprises -- freshman Jenn MacNamee and junior forward Sara Pryble have come through with big games at key times.
Their weaknesses still include rebounding (opponents are pulling down an average of eight more boards a game) and streaky shooting. If the Purple Eagles' offense heats up, they can upset some teams come MAAC Tournament time.
St. Bonaventure (11-8, 1-3 Atlantic 10)1
Defense has the been the pride of this team as it is holding opponents to 58.9 points a game and 39 percent shooting from the field. The Bonnies also are outrebounding opponents by almost seven a game, giving the team more possessions.
The problem is they negate those extra possessions with turnovers. Bona is averaging 17 turnovers a game and with an offense that doesn't always support its defensive effort, those can lose games.
Senior forward Audrey Latendresse leads the Bonnies with 12.9 points per game followed by freshman standout Dana Mitchell's 11.9. Ashley Edwards has been a force on the boards, averaging 7.2 a game while scoring 8.7 points.
The Bonnies are a young team and the Atlantic 10 is often a baptism by fire. If they can weather the first part of their A-10 schedule and continue to play good defense, they could qualify for the conference tournament.
Buffalo (6-12, 1-5 Mid-American)1
The rebuilding process continues for the Bulls. They're committing 18.6 turnovers a game, shooting just 60 percent from the free-throw line and averaging just 60.4 points per game.
They've kept themselves in games with defense, holding opponents to just 64.6 points.
Heather Turner leads the Bulls with 13.1 points and 8.0 rebounds a game while Stephanie Bennett is averaging 12.2 points.
Injuries early in the season, most notably to three-point threat Flynn Pyykkonen and sophomore forward Jamie Schiebner, set back the Bulls' development. Schiebner has been a bright spot since returning from a concussion, especially on the boards. Pyykkonen has played only five games.
The Mid-American Conference is again stacked with talented teams, making improvement in conference play difficult. At this point, UB doesn't look ready to play the role of spoiler come tourney time.