Arena: Alumni Arena, 175 Webster Road, Amherst (6,783 capacity).
Coach: Nate Oats (fourth season, 64-39).
Last season’s record: 27-9, 15-3 MAC.
Key returnees (last season’s stats): 6-3 Sr. G CJ Massinburg 17 ppg, 7.3 rpg; 6-7 Sr. G Jeremy Harris 15.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 46.3 FG percentage in MAC; 6-8 Sr. F Nick Perkins 16.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg; 6-2 Jr. G Davonta Jordan 6.9 ppg, 4.6 apg; 6-1 Sr. G Dontay Caruthers 7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.1 apg.
Key losses: G Wes Clark 14.6 ppg 5.3 apg, 3.5 rpg.
Key newcomers: 6-5 Fr. F Jeenathan Williams; 6-0 Fr. G Ronaldo Segu.
Outlook: Massinburg, a 6-foot-3 guard, led the Bulls in scoring and rebounding last season, and was chosen as the MAC Preseason Player of the Year. He is ninth in school history in scoring with 1,354 career points, but needs 751 points to break Javon McCrea’s record. He will have plenty of help from senior guard Harris, who was second-team all-conference last season, senior forward Perkins and junior guard Jordan. Newcomer Williams is a rare top-150 recruit among the local schools. This UB team is experienced and deep. A top 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question.
Season-defining stretch: UB won the MAC East by six games last season, and this one should be no different. The Bulls will play five of seven games on the road between January and February, so it will be important for them to remain focused and stay healthy as they prepare for the stretch run and postseason tournaments.
What the coach said: “Everybody is expected us to do well. There’s a little bit more pressure with that, but I would rather have that than not have any expectations,” Oats said. “We’re fortunate in today’s day with transfers and everything, it’s hard to end up with five seniors that are all really good and can play. Hopefully we can take advantage of the situation we put ourselves in this year with all of the experience and veteran leadership we have. And I think our guys are primed to have a pretty good year.”
Prediction: 25-6, 16-2 MAC.
Canisius Golden Griffins
Arena: Koessler Athletic Center, 1829 Main St., Buffalo (2,196 capacity).
Coach: Reggie Witherspoon (third season, 39-28; 17th season overall, 237-256).
Last season’s record: 21-12, 15-3 MAAC.
Key returnees (last season’s stats): 6-5 Jr. G Isaiah Reese 16.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, 73 steals; 6-5 So. G Takal Molson 12.6 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.6 apg; 5-10 Jr. G Malik Johnson 7.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.6 apg; 6-4 Sr. G Jonathan Sanks 5.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 41.1 3-point shooting percentage.
Key loss: F Jermaine Crumpton 17.1 ppg, 48.1 FG percentage.
Key newcomers: 6-4 Fr. G Jordan Henderson; 6-3 Fr. G Sam Rautins; 6-9 Fr. C Ivan Hadzic; 6-6 Jr. F Kejuan Johnson-Alls; 6-2 Jr. G Gianni Ford.
Outlook: The Golden Griffins have a lot of returning experience, but need to replace leading scorer Crumpton. Canisius returns its top four guards, including Reese, who was chosen MAAC Preseason Player of the Year. Molson and Johnson are no slouches either, and the three-headed guard attack could help deliver a regular-season championship. The question is who will become the dominant force in the frontcourt? Junior-college transfer Kejuan Johnson-Alls could be an answer.
Season-defining stretch: Canisius plays an ambitious non-conference schedule, opening with defending Patriot League champion Bucknell. The Golden Griffins then play Albany (22 wins last season), at Florida State (NCAA Tournament), vs. defending national champion Villanova and either Oklahoma State or Memphis. Winning eight of 12 non-conference games would considerably boost the Golden Griffins’ RPI and postseason profile.
What the coach said: “Building a strong team chemistry is the next step in the process as we continue to build this program,” Witherspoon said in a news release. “We obviously want to build a strong basketball team, but part of our mission here is to build our players into strong men for others, so they are ready to be productive and successful when their playing days are over.”
Prediction: 21-9, 15-3 MAAC.
Niagara Purple Eagles
Arena: The Gallagher Center, 2009 Niagara University, Lewiston (2,400 capacity).
Coach: Chris Casey (sixth season, 51-110).
Last season’s record: 19-14, 12-6 MAAC.
Key returnees (last season’s stats): 6-7 Sr. F Marvin Prochet 10.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg; 5-10 Jr. G James Towns 9.1 ppg, 2.1 asp; 6-8 Sr. F Dominic Robb 7 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.5 bpg; 6-7 Sr. F Greg King 4.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg; 6-3 Sr. G Chris Barton 5 ppg, 80.3 FT percentage.
Key losses: G Khalil Dukes 21 ppg; G Matt Scott 19.1 ppg.
Key newcomers: 6-10 Fr. F Ousmane Diop; 6-2 Fr. G Raheem Solomon; 6-2 Fr. G Steven Lesnaic.
Outlook: The Purple Eagles have increased their wins total in each of the last three seasons, and won 19 games last season en route to their first postseason appearance since 2013. Niagara will have to fill the backcourt production lost by the graduation of Scott and MAAC co-player of the year Dukes. The duo combined for 40 of Niagara’s MAAC-leading 83.3 points per game. Prochet, who led the MAAC with nine double-doubles last season, returns and is expected to be an on-court leader. Town and Barton have their work cut out for them, but their development is crucial for the Purple Eagles. Robb and King will pay key roles in the frontcourt.
Season-defining stretch: The Purple Eagles have an excellent opportunity to establish themselves in league play with eight of their first 12 games at home. If Niagara can take advantage and finish the first half better than .500 in the MAAC, it could set itself up for an intriguing stretch run when it closes with five of its last seven league games on the road.
What the coach said: “My family, staff and I are very excited to continue our time here at Niagara University,” Casey said last week when it was announced he received a contract extension through the 2021-22 season. “We look forward to building upon the work and success we had last season, as we pursue a MAAC championship.”
Prediction: 14-19, 5-13 MAAC.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Arena: Reilly Center, 3261 West State Road, St. Bonaventure (5,840 capacity).
Coach: Mark Schmidt (12th season, 192-152; 18th season overall, 274-242).
Last season’s record: 26-8, 14-4 A10.
Key returnees (last season’s stats): 6-5 Sr. F Courtney Stockard 13.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.2 apg; 6-6 Sr. F LaDarien Griffin 8.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg; 6-10 Jr. C Amadi Ikpeze 4.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg.
Key losses: G Jaylen Adams 19.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.2 apg; G Matt Mobley 18.1 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.4 apg; G Idris Taqqee 5.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg; F Josh Ayeni (transfer) 5.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg; G Izaiah Brockington (transfer) 4.3 ppg, 11.6 mpg.
Key newcomers: 6-4 Jr. G Jaylen Poyser; 6-6 Jr. F Melkisedek Moreaux; 6-3 Fr. G Kyle Lofton; 6-5 Fr. G Dominick Welch; 6-10 Fr. F/C Osun Osunniyi; 6-5 Fr. G Alpha Okoli
Outlook: The Bonnies return just seven players from last season, including only two of their top six. Stockard is back after averaging 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, and Griffin returns after averaging 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. But replacing the production of Adams and Mobley and the depth that was provided by Taqqee, Ayeni and Brockington will be difficult. Poyser is a transfer from UNLV who can make an impact after sitting out last season. Moreaux is a junior-college transfer who averaged a double-double last season for Northeast (Neb.). Bona has won at least 10 games in Atlantic 10 play in each of the last four years.
Season-defining stretch: From Dec. 18 until Feb. 1, St. Bonaventure will play two home games, one against Saint Joseph’s and the other against Dayton. That’s a lot of time away from home for a team that is rebuilding. If the Bonnies can come out of that 10-game stretch with a .500 record, it would be a sign they are on the right track.
What the coach said: “Hopefully we can get off to a good start,” Schmidt told A10.com. “Last year, we knew who the top eight guys were. After the first practice, it was ‘Here’s our eight.’ This year, it’s like ‘Here’s our two,’ and we have 10 [other] guys and ‘Who wants to play?’ So it’s a whole different mentality.”
Prediction: 16-15, 7-9 A-10.