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Big 4 Hoops: Time is now for Niagara to turn corner


Where the Program Stands: Coach Chris Casey is 32-96 in four years. Finally he has enjoyed a year of continuity. Niagara’s administration exhibits great patience, partly out of financial necessity. Niagara returns a veteran roster. The time to win games is now.

2016-17 Record: 10-23, 6-14 (10th in the Metro Atlantic).

Players lost: G Shane Gatling (4.7 ppg), F Maurice Taylor Jr. (3.0), F Ali Tew (1.3).

Outlook: Niagara returns 88.4 percent of its scoring. That’s sure to be among the nation’s leaders. Niagara’s defense wasn’t bad last year. It was fifth in the MAAC in points allowed and sixth in shooting percentage allowed.

The offense needs to be better. It was seventh in points but only 10th in shooting percentage. The Purple Eagles take good shots from the perimeter. They need more scoring inside in the half-court offense and could use some more transition baskets (who couldn’t?). Matt Scott, third-team all-conference wing, is back for his senior season. He averaged 17 points and 7.0 rebounds last year. Impressive. Kahlil Dukes is a good scorer. He was forced to take over the point guard spot and did an admirable job.

It would be nice if another reliable point guard emerged to take some of the load off Dukes and allow him to split time at shooting guard. Niagara brought in two more freshman point guards, prolific high school scorers Dom Fragala and Keleaf Tate. Freshman guards tend not to be great defenders. We'll see how fast they come along. James Towns and Dwayne Pow look like spot-duty guys until they prove otherwise. Chris Barton quietly improved his game last year. He’s a good defender and a good shooter. Kevin Larkin could be an X-factor. He showed flashes last season of being a instant-offense contributor off the bench. Can he do it more often and play some defense?

The Low Post: Niagara ranked last in the MAAC in two-point field goal percentage (.445). Dominic Robb and Marvin Prochet have been force-fed minutes the last two seasons, seeing playing time than they would have received on any top-half MAAC team.

Can they both take a step up as juniors and help make the Purple Eagles a top-five MAAC team? Niagara isn’t deep in the frontcourt. But in Greg King, a transfer from Eastern Kentucky who sat out last year, it could be much improved at the No. 3 forward spot.

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