The Big Picture: The Purple Eagles have become a victim of their success.
With a string of finishes at the top of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and an appearance in the championship game last season, they have set the bar pretty high.
Losing just one starter, Niagara was picked to finish second in the MAAC coaches' preseason poll.
"I guess it's kind of a concern really," coach Joe Mihalich said. "We stole a quote from (Temple coach) John Chaney, who was asked once about high expectations and he said, "The weakness of our team is the high expectations other people have for us because if you get caught up in that, you lose sight of the fact that you're just trying to become the best you can be.' He kind of ends it saying, "You don't want to live in the image of someone else.'
"I think it's based on what people think, not what people know. We think we're going to be a good team, but we still don't know."
What's Up: Talent. The first six players for Niagara rank among the best in the conference.
Junior swingman Tremmell Darden was a third-team All-MAAC selection, averaging 13 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. Junior forward James Reaves was a power on the boards, averaging 15.7 rebounds in the MAAC Tournament, while leading the conference with an 8.8 season average.
Then there's the trio of sophomores - Alvin Cruz, Juan Mendez and David Brooks - who had impressive freshman campaigns.
Cruz started 23 of 32 games at the point last season and evolved into one of the Purple Eagles' best outside shooting threats, hitting nearly 49 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of the season. Mendez was the conference's Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 9.9 points and 6.1 rebounds.
With the success they enjoyed, Mihalich and his staff decided to keep the playbook the same, hopefully facilitating success through comfort.
"You always talk at the end of the season what changes you want to make, whether it's an X-and-O change or whatever," Mihalich said. "We concluded that these three struggled through the learning stage last year. Now they have learned so many things that we do, why change?
"Change should be really limited. Now they know what we want to do, and now they can be even better at it because they have a year under their belt."
What's Down: Experience. Six of Niagara's 11 players are freshmen and sophomores. There are only two seniors on the roster - backup guard Rhossi Carron and center Luis Villafane, and Villafane is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
And no one is Daryl Greene. The senior guard was a first-team All-MAAC selection last season who willingly played the role of clutch player.
The Purple Eagles will miss that emotional leadership - one of those intangibles that alone can win games in the MAAC.
"We don't know for sure yet who our big-shot guy is going to be," Mihalich said. "For three years it was Daryl Greene, and he's gone. That's great because we were lucky to have him, and now it's going to give a great group of guys a chance to find someone who's going to step up and be our next leader. It could be a bunch of guys because I really like the guys that we have. But we are an unknown."
Outlook: Depth is a concern. There don't seem to be any breakout players in the freshmen class like last year's jackpot, but that does not rule out their ability to learn the system and contribute.
If the Purple Eagles stay healthy and out of foul trouble, they can play anyone on their schedule. An 18-win season sounds reasonable, and a return trip to the conference final is very much in reach.
No. Name Pos Yr Ht
1 Jarrett Howell G Fr. 5-11
4 Tremmell Darden G Jr. 6-4
10 Alvin Cruz G So. 6-1
12 James Mathis F Fr. 6-4
32 David Brooks G So. 6-3
33 Barry Durosier G Fr. 6-1
43 Juan Mendez F So. 6-7
44 Paul de Wet F Jr. 6-10
53 James Reaves F Jr. 6-8
55 Rhossi Carron G Sr. 5-10
Head Coach: Joe Mihalich
Assistants: Mike Elfers, Matt Dillon, Akbar Waheed