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Big 4's best, worst at midpoint

A quick rummage through the notebook about halfway through the Big 4 season:

Top player: Niagara went 2-6 without suspended junior Charron Fisher and entered Friday 6-2 with him. He's averaging 22.2 points (which would be 10th in the nation if he had enough games to qualify) and has completely changed the Purple Eagles' offense to an inside-out attack from the chuck-and-duck that ruined the season's first month. The Purple Eagles are the area's only NCAA Tournament hope.

Top freshman: Niagara's four-man recruiting class last year was a complete bust but the Purple Eagles got a sensational player this year in guard Tyrone Lewis. A tremendous defender and leaper with a sweet stroke on his jumper, Lewis could become one of NU's all-time greats if he stays healthy.

Most improved: University at Buffalo guard Eric Moore (2.1 ppg to 13.9) and forward Vadim Fedotov have made big strides as sophomores. Kudos also to Bona guard Tyler Relph, who has shown more consistency from three-point range and has been a vocal leader on and off the court.

From the junior college ranks: St. Bonaventure guard Zarryon Fereti and the Canisius forward duo of Shaun James and Pawel Malesa have quickly become key players. The 6-foot-8 James has three years of eligibility. The London, England, native averaged 5.7 points and 7.6 rebounds in a six-game stretch until leaving with an undetermined knee injury Thursday at Siena.

Best performance (win): Niagara was as entertaining as its 2005 NCAA team when it hit 15 three-pointers in Tuesday's win over Fairfield, the first game all year in which Fisher and Lewis played together. And UB's November squeaker at Temple in Fran Dunphy's home debut as Owls coach had to rile Bona fans, whose team has gone 0-28 against the Owls in Philadelphia.

Best performance (loss): UB led much of the way during its 70-67 loss to No. 2 Pittsburgh that was nearly the area's biggest upset since Niagara shot down Final Four-bound St. John's in 1984. The sellout crowd was enthralled but a gnawing question lingers: Where has that team gone? UB has been largely emotionless since and that doesn't bode well.

Worst performance: Canisius' 24-turnover, 0-for-13-from-three clunker Monday at Manhattan rates highly but the choice here is St. Bonaventure's 74-46 embarrassment against Boston University. No Atlantic 10 team should ever lose at home to an America East squad. Certainly not by 28. And certainly not when players openly quit on the game. This was the night Anthony Solomon's job status first became a legitimate question.

Most indifferent player: UB's Parnell Smith. Will he show any urgency or has senioritis hopelessly set in? Wednesday's six-point, six-turnover output against Kent State was not a good sign. Nor is 21 turnovers in the last four games, an outrageous number for a forward.

In need of a turnaround: Canisius freshman point guard Frank Turner seems to have a hit a wall after a brilliant start. He enters today's game at Saint Peter's shooting just 22.8 percent over the last four games and has made 33 turnovers in the last six.

In need of a quick recovery: Senior Chuck Harris (knee) had better get back to the Canisius lineup quickly because the Golden Griffins are lost without him, averaging just 55.8 points in the four games since he went down. They averaged 78.3 in the previous four.


Around the rim

*On Dec. 20, Wichita State was 9-0, ranked No. 8 in the AP poll and owned road wins over LSU, Syracuse, George Mason and Wyoming. Now the Shockers are 10-6 and tied for eighth in the Missouri Valley at 1-4. Five of the losses have been by five or fewer points, including Wednesday's 68-63 defeat at Indiana State.

*Former Boston College aide Ed Cooley is 3-14 in his first year at Fairfield and coached Tuesday at Niagara with a boot on his leg because he tore a calf muscle in practice. After the 85-76 loss to NU, he proved he hasn't lost his sense of humor. Said Cooley when asked about his leg: "The damn thing hurts. But I really don't know if I need painkillers for my leg or my team."

*In its first year under ex-Pittsburgh assistant Barry Rohrssen after Buffalo State grad Bobby Gonzalez left for Seton Hall, Manhattan's 3-8 start included embarrassing losses to New Jersey Tech and St. Francis of New York (which was 0-12 at the time).

*Things changed on a six-day California trip that started with a loss at Long Beach State but ended with an 89-87 win at Pepperdine. After Monday's win at Canisius pushed the Jaspers to 6-8 overall and 3-1 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Rohrssen said "There was some unity that developed on that trip. [Pepperdine] was a game where we didn't splinter, didn't fracture and that's helped us."

*Game of the Day (12:30, MSG): In a rematch of last year's dramatic overtime national championship contest, the second-ranked Duke women (17-0) look for some revenge when they host No. 1 Maryland (18-0) in sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium. The teams' rematch Feb. 18 at Maryland is already sold out and will be the largest women's crowd in ACC history at more than 17,000.


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