Youth will be served when the Big 4 men’s basketball teams convene next month for their first doubleheader in 16 years.
All four teams are relying on young players to fill key roles this season. Canisius and Niagara are in all-out rebuilding mode, with the youngest rosters their respective coaches ever have had at the college level.
A younger University at Buffalo team is picked to finish fourth out of six in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference, although coach Bobby Hurley’s team has enough proven talent to make waves in the MAC.
St. Bonaventure is picked to finish 10th out of 14 in the Atlantic 10 Conference, although coach Mark Schmidt’s squad has a top center in Youssou Ndoye and realistic hopes of a better finish.
All four teams will be under the roof at First Niagara Center on Nov. 29. Bona plays Niagara at 2 p.m. UB faces Canisius at 4:15 p.m.
The four teams will honor the history of the NBA’s Buffalo Braves by wearing Braves-inspired throwback uniforms for the games.
Meanwhile, post-season prospects look brighter on the women’s side of the Big 4.
UB’s women were picked Wednesday to finish first in the MAC East. Coach Felisha Legette-Jack’s team returns four starters from last year’s 17-13 squad. That was UB’s best finish in 11 years.
St. Bona’s women are picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10. Coach Jim Crowley’s team made the NCAA’s Sweet 16 three years ago and the Women’s NIT last year.
The Canisius and Niagara women were middle-of-the-pack finishers last year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and have hopes of moving up this season.
Big 4 coaches and administrators convened at the First Niagara Center Wednesday for a preseason news conference.
The doubleheader is a welcome addition to the early season basketball schedule.
“We’re very, very pleased that all the groups have come together and really are doing it for college basketball in Western New York,” said Canisius Athletics Director Bill Maher. “Everybody has to give up a little something to make it all work. We’re pleased everybody is willing to do it, and we hope we can continue the tradition forward.”
The death of former Braves coach Jack Ramsay in April prompted Big 4 administrators to start thinking about a way to commemorate the history of Buffalo’s NBA franchise.
“There was some discussion ... to say is this an opportunity for us to showcase college basketball, to bring a little bit of honor and tradition to the Buffalo Braves and try to create a little bit of a unique event,” Maher said. “The student-athletes love uniforms, love changed uniforms. They weren’t so excited about the short shorts. We made ’em a little shorter but maybe not as short as they wore in the ’70s.”
“We haven’t talked to the coaches yet, but we’re really expecting them to wear leisure suits,” Maher joked.
UB and Canisius will wear the Columbia blue, black and white uniforms the Braves wore from the 1973-74 season to their conclusion in the 1977-78 season. Canisius will be dark, UB white.
Bona and Niagara will wear the styles the Braves wore from 1971-72 to 1972-73, which featured orange jerseys with black and white slash stripes down the front. Bona will wear orange. Niagara will wear white, with purple and black trim.
The schools eventually will auction off the uniforms for charity.
Also announced Wednesday were the preseason all-Big 4 teams.
On the men’s side, Bona’s 7-foot Ndoye was preseason player of the year. He averaged 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks last year.
Joining him on the first team are: UB forward Will Regan and UB guard Shannon Evans, Canisius guard Zach Lewis and Bona guard Jordan Gathers. The men’s second team is: UB’s Jarryn Skeete, Canisius’ Phil Valenti, Bona’s Dion Wright and Niagara’s Wesley Myers and Ramone Snowden.
Bona forward Katie Healy, a junior from Lancaster, was picked as the top women’s player. She averaged 16.5 points last season. She’s joined on the first team by Buffalo’s Mackenzie Loesing, Canisius’ Kayla Hoohuli, Niagara’s Meghan McGuinness and Bona’s Nyla Rueter.
The women’s second team is: Buffalo’s Kristen Sharkey, Canisius’ Tiahana Mills, Niagara’s Kelly Van Leeuwen and Bona’s Hannah Little and Emily Michael.
Loesing and Sharkey both were picked among the top five in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division by the MAC coaches. Central Michigan was picked as favorite to win the league title. The MAC East ratings were: 1. UB. 2. Bowling Green. 3. Akron. 4. Ohio. 5. Miami. 6. Kent State.
Elsewhere, UB’s Hurley confirmed that 6-8 junior Jamir Hanner was dismissed from the squad in the past week for violating team rules.
Hanner sat out last year after transferring from Marshall. He figured to be a reserve forward this season.